Monday 2 September 2019

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas was read for yet another successful readalong hosted by Nick @One Catholic Life. I know that readalongs are not for everyone, but I love them for a few, very good reasons.
  1. They motivate me to read a book (usually a classic) that has been languishing on my TBR pile for far too long. Given that my day job encourages me to read contemporary books, reading my much loved classics is a bit of an indulgence at this point in my life. A well-timed readalong, makes me work out a way to fit it into my schedule though.
  2. I love the social nature of a readalong. Most start off in a flurry of twitter activity & posting before settling down into a slower but steadier pace, especially the longer readalongs, which have become my personal preference.
  3. Readalongs encourage me to delve into a book and its author, in far greater detail than I normally would.
  4. The shared knowledge and constant support of a readalong can keep me going when my enthusiasm flags or we hit a tricky patch.
  5. These long range classic readalongs tap very nicely into my slow reading philosophy. Most of the contemporary stories I jump into, are read quickly, before moving onto the next. I also tend to read several books at once. Having a much anticipated classic book that can travel with me leisurely for several months feels like a luxury of the highest degree. 

So, how did I go with this particular readalong?

After bailing halfway through the previous readalong of Don Quixote, I felt determined to not let another classic defeat me. The sense of relief I felt as I quickly realised that this story was much more accessible than Don Quixote was huge. Here was an incredible, melodramatic story full of adventure, twist and turns, that was going to grab my attention and drag me all the way through to the end in a froth of excitement, disbelief and suspense. Given the original serialisation of this story, reading a chapter at a time, allowed me to experience some of the anticipation that the reading public must have felt in 1844. The urge to read ahead onto the next dramatic scene was strong...and I confess, irresistible at times.

I loved this story of intrigue and derring-do. Memory and the act of remembering where strong features. I also appreciated that Dumas did not wrap everything up in a neat tidy bow at the end. Lessons were learnt, people changed and every decision had consequences. But he left us with hope, 'wait and hope'.

Edmond Dantès story is all about justice, punishment, revenge and mercy. It has everything. From wronged imprisonment, lost love, unexpected friendships, nail-biting escapes, sudden wealth, revenge, kidnapping, manipulation, slavery, regret, arranged marriages, murder, second chances, loyalty, deception, revelations, benevolence, forgiveness and lesbians. Dantès original plan to seek revenge on the four men who plotted to imprison him, naturally had unexpected consequences, not only on the four men, but their families and on Dantès himself. Revenge is not sweet, but bittersweet.

The trickiest thing for me to get right with this particular story was the names. People changed their names, remarried and intermarried at a rate of knots. Dantès was also a master of disguise with multiple aliases. I especially struggled to remember who were the four original 'bad guys' who were responsible for getting Edmond arrested in the first place.

Image source
The political elements within the novel intrigued me. Reading so many Zola's in recent times as well as reading Les Misérables last year has given me some appreciation of French revolutionary history. But trying to get my head around the Second Empire and the Second Republic still confuses me. It was obviously also a difficult subject for Dumas and his family.

His father Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was born on Haiti in 1762 to a French nobleman, the Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie and Marie-Cessette Dumas, a slave woman of African descent. Thomas-Alexandre was taken to Paris by his father in 1776 to be educated. According to wikipedia, his father sold Marie-Cessette and their three other children before arranging to take Thomas-Alexandre with him to France!

When his father remarried, Thomas-Alexandre decided to take his mother's surname as his own. His son, Alexandre also chose to use Dumas throughout his writing career. Despite their personal successes and aristocratic heritage, both men faced discrimination and racial slurs. Alexandre is famously quoted as saying to someone who insulted him about his African ancestry,

My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.

Thomas-Alexandre entered the army as a private, at age 24, eventually rising to a position during Napoleon's revolutionary army as,
one of the highest-ranking men of African descent ever in a European army. He was the first person of colour in the French military to become brigadier general, the first to become divisional general, and the first to become general-in-chief of a French army. (wikipedia)

Thomas-Alexandre was married in 1792 to Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret from Villers-Cotterêts. They had three children - two daughters Marie-Alexandrine (born 10th September 1794) and Louise-Alexandrine (born January or February 1796, died 1797) and a son, Alexandre Dumas (24th July 1802 – 5th December 1870).

Dumas and Napoleon had a falling out when he criticised Bonaparte for invading Egypt, questioning his leadership skills. He asked to sail home early. On the way his ship was sunk and Dumas was imprisoned in Naples. Bonaparte apparently did very little to help and Dumas was eventually released nearly two years later, malnourished, impoverished and physically broken. Bonaparte ignored all his requests for a military pension and he died five years later. Alexandre was only three years old.

Despite the later amity between Bonaparte and Dumas, it was fairly clear that he held republican beliefs throughout his career.

Alexandre Dumas circa 1832

Alexandre Dumas married in 1840 actress Ida Ferrier but he then followed the custom of many French gentlemen of that time by having numerous affairs (up to 40, so the story goes!) and multiple children with various women including;
  • Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824–1895), son of Marie-Laure-Catherine Labay (1794–1868). He became a successful novelist and playwright.
  • Marie-Alexandrine Dumas (5 March 1831 – 1878), the daughter of Belle Krelsamer (1803–1875).
  • Micaëlla-Clélie-Josepha-Élisabeth Cordier (born 1860), the daughter of Emélie Cordier.
  • Henry Bauer, the son of a woman whose surname was Bauer.

Young Alexandre started work with Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans where he began writing articles and plays. In 1830 he participated in the revolution that deposed Charles X to replace him with Louis-Phillipe, the Citizen King. When King Louis-Phillipe was then ousted by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, Dumas fled to Belgium in 1851. Around 1859 he moved to Russia for two years where the French speaking elite welcomed him and where his writing was hugely popular. In 1861 he moved to Italy for three years to participate in the movement for Italian unification. He eventually returned to Paris in 1864.
He died 5th December 1870.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo was originally published in the Journal des Débats in eighteen parts. Serialization ran from 28 August 1844 to 15 January 1846. The first edition in book form was published in Paris by Pétion in 18 volumes with the first two issued in 1844 and the remaining sixteen in 1845.
  • Dumas used a collaborating ghost writer, Auguste Maquet, who was responsible for suggesting plot outlines.
  • The story was probably based on the real life events of a shoemaker from Nimes, Pierre Picaud.
  • My 2012 Coralie Bickford-Smith designed Penguin Classics edition was originally translated into English by Robin Buss in 1996. According to wikipedia,
Buss' translation updated the language, making the text more accessible to modern readers, and restored content that was modified in the 1846 translation because of Victorian English social restrictions (for example, references to Eugénie's lesbian traits and behaviour) to reflect Dumas' original version.

A huge thank you to Nick for hosting another fabulous readalong and for all my fellow readalongers who have tweeted, commented and generally been friendly and supportive throughout our time together. Tackling these chunkster classics in such fine company is a huge part of why I continue to join in despite personal time pressures, work commitments and new release overload.
I can't wait to see what Nick has in store for us next year!

Book 22 of 20 Books of Summer Winter.


  1. Congratulations. It's another book I want to read one day. Nice review.

  2. A readalong several years ago is how I conquered my fear of this giant novel! French lit always scares me the most. Once I got going, I loved it; what a great story. I like readalongs too, especially for books like this!

    1. Readalongs and cc spins are the only way I make time for classics these days...and I know what you mean about French classics - so many of them are so BIG with such huge themes and complicated plots and a ginormous cast of characters. The Russians have the same tendencies :-)


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