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The Count of Monte Cristo

April 19, 2012

Okay, confession time: I know better than to leave my readers hanging for two months! When I worked on the web team, we used to complain about bloggers who let weeks go by between posts, yet here I am ignoring you all. My apologies.

I have reasons for the delay, of course. Some are just excuses, I guess, but one good reason for the delay is that the book I read and want to share with you was twelve hundred pages! That’s the equivalent of three midsize novels, you know, so it took me some time to read the thing. Then I went on a two-week road trip (and saw lots of funny signs). And it’s gardening season, so there’s tons to do. And I took on an editing project. But enough excuses. Let’s talk about a real classic novel that’s loads of fun to read!

If you crave rainy days for the chance to snuggle in bed with a book, or if you’ve ever openeThe Count of Monte Cristod a book at the library and found yourself immersed in the story after one paragraph, or if you’re on a kick to read the classics (like me), The Count of Monte Cristo is the book you want to pick up next.

This classic French novel by Alexandre Dumas has it all: adventure, romance, betrayal, murder mystery, history, homosexuality, the meaning of life, Eastern exoticism, drug abuse—except no whales. Almost everyone knows the outlines of the story—a young man is wrongfully accused and imprisoned and escapes with the help of an older prisoner who gives him great wealth, which he uses to exact his revenge on his betrayers—but that’s so minimal an idea of the story that you’re doing yourself a disservice by not reading it. Don’t assume you know the story based on the Richard Chamberlain miniseries from the ’70s or the Guy Pearce movie from 2002 or any of the many other plays, movies, and operas based on the book.

Rather than provide a synopsis of the plot (you can find that in all kinds of places, including most of the links above), I’ll share a little of the elements promised above.


Daring prison escape, delicately timed rescues, a duel at dawn, runaway horse carriage, a chase after a suspected murderer, a hunt for hidden treasure—shall I go on?—escape from the gendarmes, the return of a banished emperor, a dash to save a ruined and suicidal merchant, an attack on the pasha’s harem. I’ll stop for now, but you get the picture.


At the start of the novel, our hero is set to marry the love of his life, Mercedes. But her cousin is jealous and broods about the impending nuptials. Much later, a young officer risks life and limb for his love, whom he secretly visits on a ladder overlooking her garden wall. An independent and strong-willed young woman cross-dresses and escapes the stifling society her family forces on her in order to live and love her friend in Italy. And an aristocratic young man looking for love in Rome chases a pretty young woman with violets during a carnival.


The novel’s first betrayal comes when our hero is falsely accused as a Bonapartist by his fiance’s cousin and the junior office on his ship; his father’s friend is privy to the betrayal but does not stop it. A wealthy banker is betrayed by his wife, who has an affair (and a child) with the chief prosecutor. Another aristocrat is betrayed by his second wife, who poisons several people in his family in order to assure her son’s inheritance. A dyed-in-the-wool Bonapartist is betrayed by his son, who becomes a Royalist.

Murder Mystery

An aristocratic family is besieged by many deaths in just a few short weeks, and the doctor suspects poison and a murderer. A cheeky young man from an orphanage weasels his way into high society but his black-mailing colleague from prison is found stabbed to death. There’s also a hanging in Rome and a gang of thieves who threaten murder of one or two key characters and demand ransoms.


The historical background is key to the novel, and I must say I was delighted to finally understand some of the Napoleonic period, as well as the period of his exile. Because the novel travels to Italy and the Levant as well, I found the historical context essential.


Eugénie and Louise’s relationship is surely one of the first lesbian relationships widely accepted by the general reading public since Sappho.

The Meaning of Life

As his vengeance takes hold and heads for completion, our hero begins to question himself. He sees the residual effect his complicated plans have on the innocent and shows his noble nature during a long conversation with Max, who is willing to die for the loss of Valentine.

Eastern Exoticism

A young French aristocrat goes hunting one day and happens upon a hidden den of Eastern treasures. The parallel to Aladdin is all too keen, and the imagery is rife with the 19th century’s (warped) ideas of the Orient. The orphaned daughter of Ali Pasha shares her culture with our hero and his friends, as two young society men are fascinated by her Eastern music and boudoir.

Drug Abuse

Our hero learns poisons and drugs while traveling in the East, and he shares a dollop of hashish with a young friend of his. The description of their hallucinations is a worthy precursor to Conan Doyle and Hunter Thompson (I just made that last one up: I’ve never read Hunter Thompson).


From → Loves

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