Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

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For I am firmly persuaded that, sooner or later, the good will be rewarded, and the wicked punished.

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

Many people dread reading classics. And I can see why. Many classics are filled with archaic language, uninteresting and unnecessarily detailed prose, and characters that a modern audience is simply unable to identify with. However, in my opinion, most titles that deserve the title of a true literary classic are those that have endured the test of time. And The Count of Monte Cristo is definitely, in my opinion, a classic.

Not to say that the book doesn’t have its faults. Since it was originally serialized, it tends to feel unnecessarily long. There is a huge cast of characters, who can be difficult to keep track of, although Dumas takes care to introduce them gradually. As for the archaic language, reading on my Kindle helped, since I could instantly look up any words I didn’t know (many of them having to do with sailing or being specific to French culture in the 1800s).

One notable complaint I had about the book was the count’s relationship with Haidee. Other than being beautiful and supposedly witty (although described as such, I couldn’t find very many examples of Haidee’s wittiness in the book), she seemed to have no real redeeming features. She seemed more like a plot device than anything else. And her strange relationship with the count, a blend of mistress/daughter/ward, simply felt wrong to me.

Actually, in general, the female characters fell flat for me. They were all universally beautiful, and, in most cases, virtuous—Haidee, Mercedes, and Valentine. The only female characters I actually found interesting were Eugenie Danglars and Madame Villefort. Eugenie is a surprisingly independent young woman who eschews marriage and decides to travel in the guise of a man, and Madame Villefort, whose wrongdoings are intended to provide an inheritance for her young son, is a realistically drawn character. The other female characters, beautiful and virtuous to a fault, didn’t really do it for me.

Other than that, though, The Count of Monte Cristo is well-deserving of its designation as a classic. It is long, and sometimes grueling to get through, but the plot is full of twists and turns. I enjoyed that the whole of the count’s machinations weren’t spelled out for the reader, but at the same time not too difficult to figure out if you were paying close attention.

What I liked the most about the book, though, is that it’s not your average straightforward adventure story. The way that the count’s plot of vengeance is carried out causes suffering for many more people than just those he’s targeted. And actually, for me, the actual revenge plots carried out in the book were too over the top. I actually ended up feeling sorry for his targets, who mostly go through both mental and physical torture, and whose families end up being hurt as well.

Although I sympathized with the count at first because of his initial hardships in the first half of the novel, I found him an unsympathetic character in the second half. He simply manipulates people to get what he wants, and he resembles a robot in his ways, with a lack of real depth or human emotion. I understand that he’s that way because of the time he endured in prison, but still. Not exactly the most appealing protagonist.

YES OR NO? YES. Although I definitely don’t think this book is for everyone, I would recommend it if you have the patience to endure long classics.

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