* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Revenge is a dish best served cold, indeed! I had mistakenly assumed The Count of Monte Cristo would be a simple open and shut case of revenge: (i) hero is wronged and then believed to be dead; (ii) hero plots his revenge; then (iii) hero rises from the ashes in funky costume and takes out his enemies. Obviously, I’ve watched too many movies with that basic plot formula. Once I started reading chapters about other characters, I started thinking to myself, “Um, where the heck is this book going?” Revenge is sometimes not that simple.
Since this was my first experience with Alexandre Dumas, I realized I had to be as patient as Edmond Dantés who plotted for ten years against the men who stole his life, to see how the author was going to unravel his iconic tale. And what a tale! To me, The Count of Monte Cristo was basically one big soap opera. It was fun following the lives and loves of the upper class of Paris with the Count of Monte Cristo pulling strings behind the scenes. Each chapter taking place at the opera or a lavish ball or inside someone’s opulent mansion made me think Dumas perfectly created the template for TV dramas like Gossip Girl (shows I just eat up with delight!).
Without a doubt, the Count is the most interesting character in the book because of his transformation from good guy to dubiously questionable guy. I enjoyed the plots and subplots concerning the book’s many other characters, but I didn’t care for anyone in particular. I admired Edmond Dantés in the beginning as an honourable character, but wondered if he was too good to be true. Sure enough, after ten years hiding in the shadows, Dantés is full of wrath and morphs into the sinister Count of Monte Cristo. Oh, he’s charming and intelligent with very deep pockets, but still a raging monomaniac. Oh, he has a soft spot for the sons of people he once loved, but he still wants his enemies and everyone connected to his enemies to suffer without mercy. The Count is truly a complex fella.
Initially, I wanted our hero/anti-hero to see his plan through. I thought it would be very satisfying to see his enemies get their just desserts after destroying Dantés life. However, I was only left conflicted. After the death of two enemies, madness for a third and bankruptcy for the last, I was pleased for the Count but sad about the lives that were ruined in the process; in particular, the woman Dantés formerly loved and her son, plus all of the innocent people who died. I believe it’s these feelings, as strong and painful as the desire for revenge, that Dumas wanted to stir up in his readers.
The Count is ruthless in his actions until the very end, but then questions whether he went too far and here we catch one last glimpse of the man who used to be Edmond Dantes. It didn’t surprise me that the Count would have a moment of second-guessing himself. What else are you going to do when you no longer have a purpose? What else when there’s nothing left but to survey the damage? In the end, the Count decides his conscience is clear and he can forgive himself and his enemies in order to move on with his life. With this last act, he buries away Edmond Dantes forever which I thought was a fitting end to the story.
In conclusion, The Count of Monte Cristo lives up to its legacy of a tantalizing tale of resurrection and revenge. A pleasant surprise for me was how the story was very much a soap opera, a thrilling saga from our hero’s origins as a poor sailor from Marseilles to his imprisonment and daring escape, to the rise of the powerful Count of Monte Cristo and his dalliances with the elite of Paris. I don’t want to downplay the many themes centred around Dantés’ quest for revenge, such as the consequences of playing God (if you’ve got the time and money, hey why not?), but the book has plenty of satisfying hi-jinks for readers who like a little drama with their revenge. Adieu!