The Count of Monte Cristo is one of those really long classics that's been on my to-read list forever. I'd always been intimidated by the sheer length of it -- it's more than 1200 pages long! Originally, I had planned to read something by Zola for Paris in July, but then a couple of months ago I started listening to an audiobook called The Black Count by Tom Reiss, a biography of Alexandre Dumas' father, Alex Dumas. That story is pretty amazing. Alex Dumas was born the illegitimate son of a nobleman and a Caribbean slave yet became a General in the French Army. Dumas's father inspired his swashbuckling tales, and I couldn't help wishing I'd actually gotten around to read The Count of Monte Cristo and was worried about spoilers. So, I stopped listening to the audio and checked out Monte Cristo instead -- all 37 discs of the audiobook! It took me more than a month, but I finally finished it and I'm counting it as my Classic in Translation for the Back to the Classics Challenge.
I'm sure most people already know the set-up of the story, so here's the short version: young Edmond Dantes, a French sailor, spends fourteen years imprisoned in the infamous Chateau d'If after being unjustly accused of treason. His three anonymous accusers are jealous of him for various reasons, and unfortunately, the prosecutor covers up the truth to hide his dirty little secret. Poor Edmond is the victim and they essentially lock him up and throw away the key. Naturally, he is despondent, and after four years of solitary confinement, he's ready to end his own life when he receives an unexpected visitor -- another prisoner accidentally tunnels into Edmond's cell.
This mysterious prisoner is Abbe Faria, an Italian priest who becomes Edmond's friend, mentor, and father figure. Over the next ten years, he teaches Edmond languages and sciences and gives Edmond hope. He also gives Edmond the means to plot the perfect revenge on the four men who have ruined Edmond's life. It takes years, but Edmond eventually gets justice.
This book is one of those great epic tales -- it has daring escapes, murders, duels, romance, villains, buried treasure, vengeance, and more. There are a lot of characters (which I sometimes confused -- why are two of the main characters named Morrel and Morcerf? Why are the names so similar? Maybe I missed something in translation). I was really impressed by how Dumas kept my interest in such a long and complicated story. I had a few quibbles with some of the amazing coincidences, but that's really just a product of its time. I was also a little bothered at the end with some of the fallout from Edmond's vengeance. Yes, he deserved justice, but at what price?
The Count of Monte Cristo has been adapted and abridged many times, but it's really worth taking the time to read (or listen to) the original version. I listened to a lot of it on audio but also read parts of it in the excellent Penguin translation. The audiobook was good -- I will listen to pretty much anything narrated by John Lee.
Overall, I really enjoyed this and I definitely want to read more books by Dumas. The Man in the Iron Mask is still on my Classics Club list, and I think I might also have the courage now to tackle another whopping French epic, Les Miserables, though I think I'll put it off for next summer.