Shot from 2002 production of the Dumas novel
July 27, 2012

Monte Cristo

Revenge is supposed to be inspired by Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo, so I decided to take a break, and read the novel. Prior to this I'd only seen the movie adaptations of The Three Musketeers, and its sequels.

Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo gives what is arguably an early portrait of a superhero. When Edmond Dantes meets the Abbé in the Chateau d'If, the Abbé is at pains to impress Edmond with his erudition:

I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library at Rome; but after reading them over many times, I found out that with one hundred and fifty well-chosen books a man possesses, if not a complete summary of all human knowledge, at least all that a man need really know. I devoted three years of my life to reading and studying these one hundred and fifty volumes, till I knew them nearly by heart; so that since I have been in prison, a very slight effort of memory has enabled me to recall their contents as readily as though the pages were open before me. I could recite you the whole of Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, Titus Livius, Tacitus, Strada, Jornandes, Dante, Montaigne, Shakspeare, Spinoza, Machiavelli, and Bossuet. I name only the most important.”
You hear from time to time of people who memorized the whole of the Bible, or all of Shakespeare. In Islamic countries it's quite the thing to have memorized the Koran. You might not be able to read it, but by Allah you know the bloody thing. Now the Koran is a good deal shorter than the Bible or all of Shakespeare, so you might be able to cram one or two other books into your skull. But to memorize Plutarch, Xenophon, Livy, Dante, Montaigne, and over a hundred other authors in a three years span is pretty unrealistic.

The Abbé also teaches Edmond several languages. He speaks "German, French, Italian, English, and Spanish," and contends that a very small vocabulary is sufficient for getting by:

I know nearly one thousand words, which is all that is absolutely necessary, although I believe there are nearly one hundred thousand in the dictionaries. I cannot hope to be very fluent, but I certainly should have no difficulty in explaining my wants and wishes; and that would be quite as much as I should ever require.”
Dantes is able to surpass the Abbé and appears to become fluent in Greek, English, and other languages. In fact he is supposed to pass as a native in these languages. This is a tad improbable, as mastery of a language usually requires a long period of study, and practice. Without the feedback provided by a truly native speaker it is doubtful whether Dantes could have attained such facility with language.

The action that people really care about though is not Dantes' education, but the revenge that he brings about on the people who betrayed him. Dumas, knowing a good thing when he saw it, delays the climactic falls for several hundred pages. When they do come, they come with great effectiveness, and the people are destroyed either through suicide, insanity, or bankruptcy. When Madame Villefort murders her son, Dantes is troubled by the brat's demise. Now I just called him a brat, so I'm not terribly sympathetic towards the kid. Dumas portrays him as a rather spoiled, vicious little brat, who may, when he beheads his toy soldiers, be exhibiting psychopathic, sadistic tendencies. So while Dantes was upset, I was not. Dantes reflects upon his actions and his justification for revenge when he returns to the Chateau d'If and hears the story of his escape, and reads the diary that Abbé Faria left behind.

I started by saying that I read The Count of Monte Cristo because it inspired a favorite television show, Revenge, so how do the two stack up? The television program has the unjust imprisonment, though the imprisoned characters are a father and a daughter, and a tutor. Amanda/Emily's tutor is a Japanese businessman/tutor, as opposed to Edmond's Abbé. Both characters have vast wealth, and a set of companions/helpers. Emily's helper is bisexual, while Edmond's Haidee is childlike and heterosexual, and the other males who are engaged with Edmond are heterosexual. Unlike the novel there have been no suicides, and no cases of insanity, or murder and infanticide on the television show. So the novel is there as background and inspiration, but a knowledge of the novel, though it may enhance your appreciation for what is, after all, another form of novelistic story telling through a form of serial publication.

A word about the translation. i read the version for the Kindle that I have up there on the right side. I'm not sure how complete the translation is, or how accurate. It cost 99 cents on Amazon, so it was pretty cheap. The Penguin translation may be better, and more complete. It's reasonably priced, and Penguin editions come with additional editorial apparatus such as introductions, bibliographies, and notes.

Next up, I'll have something to say about David Weber's new fantasy.

Dumas, Alexandre (2011-06-06). The Count of Monte Cristo (Illustrated) (pp. 86-87). Kindle Edition.
Dumas, Alexandre (2011-06-06). The Count of Monte Cristo (Illustrated) (p. 87). Kindle Edition.