The Count of Monte Cristo

From Academic Kids

The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas, père. It is often considered Dumas' best work, and is frequently included on lists of the best novels of all time. The writing of the work was completed in 1844, and released as an 18-part series over the next two years. Dumas collaborated with other authors in the writing.

The story takes place in France, Italy, and islands in the Mediterranean during the historical events of 18141838 (the end of the rule of Napoleon I of France through the reign of Louis-Philippe of France). It is primarily concerned with themes of justice, vengeance, mercy and forgiveness, and is told in the style of an adventure story.

Contents

Plot

The novel follows the adventures of the protagonist, Edmond Dantès. Dantès is a young, idealistic sailor with excellent prospects and a beautiful fiancee. Jealousy causes three individuals to cause his imprisonment. After his escape, he executes his revenge upon those responsible.

Sailor to Inmate

The novel begins with Edmond Dantès returning to Marseille, where he meets his family and friends. There, the reader learns that he is about to receive promotion to captaincy and also is on the verge of marrying a beautiful Catalane, Mercédès.

Jealousy prompts Danglars, who envies Edmond's promotion, and Fernand, who desires Mercédès, to frame Edmond as a Bonapartist agent; he is sent to the local magistrate, Villefort. To further his own career, Villefort imprisons Edmond; he languishes indefinitely in the Château d'If.

Escape to Riches

In prison, Dantès encounters a fellow-prisoner, the Abbé Faria with whom he forms a deep friendship. Faria becomes his instructor in a number of subjects, ranging from history and mathematics to language and philosophy. As a result of his conversations with Faria, Dantès slowly begins to piece together the plots that put him in his current predicament. He and Faria work long hours on an escape tunnel, but the elderly and infirm Faria does not survive to see its completion. Knowing himself dying, Faria confides to Dantès the location of a great treasure on the islet of Monte Cristo. Dantès subsequently escapes by the simple expedient of taking the place of Faria's body.

Following his escape, Dantès retrieves the treasure and re-invents himself as the enigmatic Count of Monte Cristo. His long experience has changed him physically, giving him the appearance of a vampire; mentally, giving him a much greater depth and breadth of knowledge; and socially, with his access to great wealth. Perhaps the greatest change is psychological, however; from an idealistic youth he has become a grimly intense man, near-obsessed with his plans to repay those who have done him both good and ill in kind.

Rewards

The story then follows Dantès' efforts, first and more briefly to reward those who tried to help him, then an extended campaign to gain vengeance on those who had him imprisoned. Taking on several personae, those of the Abbé Busoni and Lord Wilmore, Edmond Dantès is able to reward his neighbor Caderousse, and, more importantly, his old shipmaster Morrel.

At the start of the novel, M. Morrel is the affluent and amicable proprietor of a shipowning business. Yet, a series of disasters and mishaps have lost Morrel his entire fleet, and he is reduced to utter bankruptcy. On the verge of suicide, Edmond, alias Lord Wilmore, rescues his old master.

Revenge

Using his new persona he is able to ingratiate himself with his enemies, where he engineers a number of subtle schemes, all with the object of visiting poetic justice on the heads of those he hates. He sees himself a sort of avenging angel, doing God's work in his own revenge.

He sets out to avenge himself on Fernand, first. In the years of Edmond's imprisonment, Fernand Mondego has become a great man: He has married Mercédès, earned a Countship, become an officer of the Legion of Honor, gained the rank of General in the French Army, and obtained a fortune amounting to several hundreds of thousands of francs.

In a similar manner, Danglars has become a Baron, a Peer of France, a multimillionaire, and owner of one of the greatest Parisian banks. Villefort has gained the rank of Procureur du Roi, and is one of the most powerful men in France, regarded as virtually infallible and just.

For each betrayal, Dantès plans a similar revenge. For Fernand, who stole his wife, Dantès plans to kill his son. Danglars, who allowed Edmond's father Louis to starve to death, is destined to be starved himself. Villefort, Dantès' imprisoner, has been slated for incrimination. To these ends, several complex machinations are set into play.

Redemption

However, matters are more complicated than Dantès anticipates. The family of one of his enemies is connected to the family of one of his benefactors, so his dual campaigns of reward and punishment come into conflict. Seeing his vengeance begin to go farther than he had truly intended, he begins to doubt if he is really doing God's work. Dantès then forgoes the remainder of his plan and takes steps once more to balance matters. Though his revenge on his former foes is not quite complete, he releases his final enemy and makes restitution to those caught up in the resulting chaos, thereby applying his own standards of justice to himself as well. In the process, he comes to terms with his own history, and is able to find some forgiveness both for his enemies and for himself.

Influences

Dumas had a number of direct influences from other texts and traditions in the writing of the novel. Much of the complicated plots, schemes and allusions to a romantic notion of the East is taken from the Arabian Nights. In the most direct reference, a character exists in much of the book with the alias Sinbad the Sailor, alluding to someone who has travelled to many exotic places.

Another possible influence is the notion of pseudo-poison as a pivotal element in the tale of two lovers. This has been a common theme in literature, especially Romeo and Juliet. The two young lovers are explicitly compared at one point to Pyramus and Thisbe.

One influence came from a hunting trip Dumas planned with Napoleon's nephew for the island of Monte Cristo. After learning he would be quarantined for a time, Dumas changed his mind and returned home. Dumas decided to use Monte Cristo in the title of a novel, but he had no plot line for the novel. While thinking of a plot, he remembered a police file recording the arrest and false imprisonment of a shoemaker who had been framed by his friends. The shoemaker befriended a preacher in prison and by a fortunate turn of events became the heir of the preacher's vast wealth. Once free, he used his wealth to exact vengeance upon those who had conspired to imprison him.

Themes

The book has a rich and complex plot, with a multitude of characters. While it was written as popular fiction, this does not mean that it lacks meaning beyond the story. Most of the thematic concerns of the novel are centered around loyalty, revenge and subservience to God. Because of his trials, Dantès becomes completely obsessed with meting out justice. To those who have aided him, he becomes a guardian spirit. To those who have harmed him, he becomes God's avenging angel. Each person who has betrayed him is brought to justice in a way that mirrors the original betrayal. However, the first time an innocent bystander is harmed in the course of his revenge, he realizes that only God is capable of dispensing justice and he ceases his attempts at retribution. Some have argued that this makes Dantès a weaker character in that he exhibits a semi-divine perfection of purpose that diminishes his character development.

Screen adaptations

See The Count of Monte Cristo (movie) for a list of adaptions.

Other adaptions

Alfred Bester's science fiction novel The Stars My Destination (1956) was partially inspired by Dumas' novel.

The novel The Stars' Tennis Balls (2000) by Stephen Fry is a modern retelling of the story.

The anime TV series Gankutsuou (2004) is an animated adaptation of the novel, set in a science fiction setting. (Gankutsuou, which means "Ruler of the Cave", is the title that the original Japanese translation of the novel was published under.)

External links

fr:Le Comte de Monte-Cristo he:הרוזן ממונטה כריסטו ja:モンテ・クリスト伯 pl:Hrabia Monte Christo zh:基度山恩仇記

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