Said to be inspired by the true-life story of Francois Picaud, who was a 19th century shoemaker from Nimes accused of becoming a spy for the English and imprisoned in Fenestrelle fortress, The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic novel that is still well-loved today.
The Story of The Count of Monte Cristo
Set in Marseille, the story begins in February of 1815, when a ship, the Pharaon, comes into dock, lead by Edmond Dantes, first mate after they lost their captain at sea.
It becomes obviously from the start that Edmond is a popular young man with the majority of the crew. However, he is not so well-liked by others.
Firstly, it is believed that he will be named the next captain of the Pharaon, causing the jealousy of one man, Danglars, to be forced to the surface. He believed that Dantes was too young and far too stupid to lead the men and therefore would consider doing anything to thwart that plan. There is then a second man, his father’s neighbour Caderousse, who appears to openly covet Edmond’s current fortunes, which in the grand scheme of things, is hardly nothing at all. Thirdly and finally, the reader is introduced to a young Catalan man, Fernand, whose heart is being ripped apart because of Edmond’s return, for he himself had hoped to win the love and hand of Edmond’s girl, Mercedes.
Within hours of Edmond’s return to shore, the three men are seen sipping wine together, conspiring against Edmond.
But what are they planning? Death, it seems would be too drastic, but I get the sense that something just as tragic is about to happen.
“Absence separates as effectively as death; so just suppose there were the walls of a
prison between Edmond and Mercedes: that would separate them no
more nor less than a tombstone.” (Page 35)
Within moments together, Danglers has supposedly come up with a suggested plan knowing that Fernand would do absolutely anything to win Mercedes, even if she doesn’t really love him.
Jealousy does silly things to people and before we know it Dantes is being arrested at his engagement dinner and imprisoned for the crime of being a Bonapartist and for treason. Dantes has no idea what is going on, although he does know that he is not guilty and therefore convinces himself that everything will resolve itself and he will soon be back with his loved ones.
“The Château d’If is a state prison, meant only for major political
criminals. I haven’t committed any crime.” (Page 77)
As if going to prison for a crime he has not committed was not unjust enough, shortly after arriving Dantes is sent to the dungeons where he remains without exercise, reading materials or any social interaction, simply because he asked to speak to the Governor in order to try and clear up what he quite rightly thought, was a grave mistake.
Unbeknown to Dantes at the time, he was betrayed for a second time by the local magistrate, Villefort. While he believed that Villefort was going to help prove his innocence he was, in actual fact, doing the exact opposite. If Villefort declared that Dantes was not guilty of treason he would have been jeopardising those closest to him.
It is a decision that will ultimately destroy him later.
After years of being subjected to the confines of his cell, Dantes believes that the only way out is to slowly kill himself. Hanging isn’t an option, so he makes the drastic decision to starve himself. An act he would have succeeded in achieving had he not heard the scratching coming from next door.
He took this noise to be a sign from God. Finally, God had listened to his pleading and was providing a solution. For so long, he had been alone with only his personal, dark thoughts for company but now, there was someone else he could talk to.
Unfortunately, this solution appeared in the form of the madman, Abbe Faria, a man the prison long ago deemed beyond help and completely insane.
That madman however, went on to teach Dantes all he knew: languages, mathematics, and history. He also taught him how to remain mentally and physically prepared for anything. Most importantly though, he shared with Dantes the information of his unclaimed wealth; a wealth that many believed did not exist.
Sadly, after years together trying to break free, only one will succeed.
Thanks to Abbe Faria, Dantes time inside Chateau d’if were not spent in vain and he emerges a completely different person. He is no longer naïve to the world around him and is destined to achieve retribution on a grand scale.
“You look to me like a man who has been persecuted by society
and has a terrible account to settle with it.” (Page 317)
Will Dante successfully inflict pain and suffering on those that imprisoned him? Will he win the love of his life back?
This is a story of calculated planning and patience, and only time will tell if Dante has the ability to succeed.
My Thoughts on The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo may have been written in the 1800s, and yes the language does take time to get used to, but once you understand the sentence structure and use of formal language it is a story that jumps from the pages.
It is a story of vengeance and forgiveness that unfolds slowly. The reader gets to fully understand just how powerless Dantes feels with his situation and how helpless he is. It is difficult not to feel for the character and the treatment he has received for simply being what, I perceive at least, to be a pleasant, non-offensive, person. For this reason, I also saw it as a romantic love story of sorts. During the time of his incarceration the only thing keeping him alive is the thought of one day being reunited with the love of his life, Mercedes. It is his love for her that drives him forward, demonstrating the power that true love can have on the human psyche. His will to return to the arms of a loved one kept him going during those long years in solitude, without that hope he probably would have lost his fight for life.
It is however, also a story reflecting that revenge does not always satisfy. We often feel that when we are wronged we need to retaliate and then we will feel better but that is often not the case and The Count of Monte Cristo definitely highlights that. Dantes does in fact exact his revenge but is he any happier afterwards?
Finally, I suspect that the story also reflects the despair Dumas could have feeling at the time of writing. Perhaps, he was not simply noting down a story but also in an indirect way, was highlighting what was going on around him. The financial, political and judicial systems in France, during this time, were all corrupt and therefore The Count of Monte Cristo could also be demonstrating just how unsettled the country was.
Without worrying about the hidden meaning of the novel however this is a fantastic classic that more people should read. I know it is daunting to pick up a book with over 1200 pages, but I promise you this one is definitely worth it. The story is descriptive, no lagging, the dialogue is colourful and insightful and the main characters are all so well thought out and developed that you can visualise each and every one of them.
As a classic it encompasses many different genres – crime, historical fiction, fantastical melodrama and gothic romance, and therefore appeals to the masses. If you have yet to read any of Dumas’ work, and I know The Three Musketeers is his most popular novel, I strongly recommend you pick The Count of Monte Cristo up first.
Have you read The Count of Monte Cristo? Did you enjoy it? Which novels would you recommend to those that enjoy Dumas’ novels?
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