Classic review: The Count of Monte Cristo
A swashbuckling new edition of a story that never grows old.
[This review from the Monitor's archives originally ran on July 14, 2009.] The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas’s doorstop of derring-do, demonstrates its durability yet again, this time in a newly edited version led by a perceptive essay by Italian master of letters Umberto Eco. In the name of the throes, Eco outlines all of the novel’s excesses and weaknesses but still pronounces it irresistible.Skip to next paragraph
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He’s right in every sense. Dumas suffers from logorrhea, induced by the simple formula that the more he wrote, the more money he made. Beyond that pecuniary circumstance, the author serialized his works, forcing endless repetition of scenes and dialogue in an attempt to ensure continuity. This newly edited version of “Monte Cristo” offers some streamlining, but it hasn’t been noticeably trimmed.
After all, any novel running close to 1,200 pages cannot be deemed overedited. So it must be said of the latest Dumas. To this reader, who has read other editions of the book several times, the Everyman’s version retains the heft and majesty of “Monte Cristo” in all of its breathtaking glory.
Dumas published the book in 1846. It is no exaggeration to say “Monte Cristo” still ranks as one of the most exciting stories imaginable, one every bit as good as anything Steven Spielberg or J.K. Rowling could ever conjure up.
Edmond Dantes, a young sailor on the cusp of being named captain of a cargo ship and preparing to marry his sweetheart, becomes the victim of a plot by envious rivals. It leads to false imprisonment of the worst kind, with young Dantes banished to the 19th-century French version of Alcatraz.
Dantes is an innocent of spectacular proportions, clueless as to who has conspired against him – and just as ignorant about how horrible his prospects for ever seeing daylight again have become.
As Eco notes, Dumas pulls off three spectacular narratives in “Monte Cristo.” He tells the story of a wronged innocent man, relates a spectacular hidden-treasure scenario, and caps the fall and rise of his hero’s fortunes with a thrilling series of vendettas allowing readers the endless satisfaction of seeing retribution delivered with violent verve.
Those are technical descriptions of what Dumas accomplishes. Better put, Edmond Dantes makes James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Jason Bourne look in the mirror and wonder why nothing interesting ever happens.
Among other things, Dantes escapes certain death after being thrown off a cliff while wrapped in a shroud, dabbles with pirates and smugglers, disguises himself as an Italian priest and a British aristocrat and, just for grins, floats easily among high society and lowlife thieves across Europe and the Far East.