Alexandre Dumas was a very interesting man. He was the illigitimate son of Alexandre Dumas and Marie-Catherine Labay, a dressmaker. He was acknowledged by his father, and as the law allowed, was removed from his mother’s custody. He appears to write about women being helpless which would reflect his personal experience with his mother. He strongly felt that fathers should acknowledge their children and marry the mother. Dumas did not generally define himself as a black man, and there is not much evidence that he encountered overt racism during his life, though his books were popular with African-Americans in the 19th century, especially The Count of Monte Cristo which was seen as a parable for emancipation.
On his paternal side his ancestors were a combination of French aristocracy and Haitian slaves. His father, who was half Afro-Caribbean, had been a General in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and was later dismissed due to his race. The issue of supporting or rejecting Napoleon was a very personal dilemna for Dumas and influenced his writing.
In the 1830’s the censorship of the press had been lifted in France allowing the novels written by Dumas to be published as a serial. He was a key figure in renewing interest in historical novels in France. Auguste Maquet worked out plot details for novels while Dumas filled out the details and dialogue.
The Count of Monte Cristo probably originated from Dumas’ acquaintance with Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoléon Bonaparte’s brother. He had visited the isle of Elba and had seen the small, desereted island of Monte-Cristo, which it is said he resolved to use in a novel.
The Count of Monte Cristo is at heart an adventure novel. Through the adventure themes of justice, mercy, vengence and forgiveness are explored.
Edmond Dantès is prepared to embark upon his life, he has enough money to marry his love, Mercédès and has a new position as a captain of a ship. Dantès does not suspect that jealousy, greed and the fear of his associates will take away everything that he loves. Through false accusations he is arrested as a sympathizer of Bonaparte and sent to Chateau d’If without a trial. After receiving an extensive education from another prisoner, the Abbé Faria, he is finally able to escape after 14 years. After he procures the treasure on the isle of Monte Cristo he sets out to destroy his enemies; Fernand, now Count De Morcerf and Mercédès’s husband; Danglars, now a wealthy banker; and Villefort the Royal prosecutor. As he pursues vengence he becomes entangled in many lives.
Adult Point of View
We have read an edited version of The Count of Monte Cristo. We have written a lengthy review, however, this should not bother you if you are actually going to read this rather lengthy novel. If you are not going to tackle the book there are good movies that explore the essence of the original, but be warned the endings are different.
The Count of Monte Cristo can be read on several different levels, the first being a pure and simple adventure. Another level of reading would include examining themes, such as betrayal and other human conditions found throughout society. Yet another level, would be to look at Dumas’ symbolic writing. Symbolism provides the vehicle for us to look beyond society and focus within ourselves with a literary microscope, to make the experience a personal learning forum.
As an example, a very prominent symbol is Christ. The Abbé Faria acts as a savior for Dantès within the prison by saving him from insanity, giving him spiritual council and ultimately through his own death allowing a means for Dantès to be reborn.
The island of Monte Cristo can be compared to the hill on Calvary where Christ was crucified. Monte Cristo would be translated as “Mountain of Christ”, it is on this mountain where Edmund Dantès dies and emerges from a cave as the Count of Monte Cristo. The Count’s coat of arms is described as “a mountain with a field of azure with a cross gules (red)”. In other words the coat of arms is a mountain with a red cross on top which could be a symbol of the extreme suffering that Dantès has borne.
Dumas wants us to make all of these associations of the suffering in the prison, Monte Cristo’s name taken from the island and the coat of arms to remind the reader of Jesus Christ. The Count has the power, through gold and jewels, to condemn or pardon those who have sinned; in particular, Fernand, now Count De Morcerf, Mercédès, Danglars, the wealthy banker; and Villefort the Royal prosecutor. The Count stands as a judge, yet at the end of the novel he seeks his own salvation, he finds the Abbé’s wisdom to do good with his riches to be the more satisfying course. Interestingly the newly christened Count could be considered an anti-Christ because he seeks to destroy men rather than save them, even after he has received “grace” (I am defining grace as a mercy received even though the individual is undeserving) from Abbé Faria.
To personalize the symbol within The Count of Monte Cristo, the question stands who will act as a savior in my own life? Do I take upon myself the role of judge and executor of justice? Do I seek for solace? Many more questions can be explored from this novel, and this is why it is a classic and why I love it!
5 out of 5 stars
– the Mother
Teen Point of View
It is a good book. It has too many words. Well, I’ve decided through the plot it has had some really good ideas. For as the plot continues, Dumas has supreme ways of illustrating the abysmal detail. This man has used words which have added prodigious significance to this eccentric story. I highly recommend this super-eminent read.
Did not offer a star rating.
-the Son, Boy of Wonders (16 years old)
Another Teen Point of View
I loved this book, it is a very different book from all the others I have read. This book makes the change in Edmond Dantès to the Count of Monte Cristo very distinctive. Dantès was a very dynamic character I didn’t want to read this book because it’s title didn’t sound interesting. Once I did give it a try, I couldn’t put it down. There is framing, poisoning, sword fights, all in all this is a very exciting book. I recommend it to all readers out there, boys and girls. I rate it 5 out of 5 stars, for sure!
– the Daughter (13 years old)
* As an update, this book review is one of the most highly viewed probably because it is required reading in high school. I look forward to comments from high school students telling me what you did and didn’t like about this adventure story.
If you loved this novel give either The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Les Miserables by Victor Hugo a try. I predict you will love them! Another classic adventure is Moby Dick by Herman Melville which is also full of symbols of Christ, redemption and revenge. If you would like to read something shorter try Billy Bud, also by Melville.
What is your favorite classic? Which classic did you loathe? One of my all time least favorite books is The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. Even hearing the title still makes me shudder.