Not the edition I read, but a good rendering of the Count,
who is larger than life but a tad unhinged.

20 years ago I saw the movie version of this starring Jim “Jesus” Cavaziel… in fact I believe I saw it twice, as I really liked it. In what seems to be a pattern, the movie caused the book to be added to a list somewhere, which some years later caused it to be bought, and some more years after that finally read.

I found The Count of Monte Cristo to be perfect summer reading: Suspenseful enough to keep the pages turning, but literary enough that an English major need feel no shame being seen with it. The Count is a compelling if weird protagonist — he seems to enjoy torturing his friends as much as his enemies, and more than once keeps someone he’s theoretically trying to help teetering on the edge of suicide for no very good reason.

It’s hard to tell in translation, of course, but it seemed to me that Dumas’s prose is pretty mediocre. He’s all about the plot, which in a way makes him very American. But then parts of the book are extremely French:

“Father, what is the matter? You don’t look well.”


“It is nothing, it will soon pass,” said the old man; but his strength failed him and he fell backward.


“This will never do!” exclaimed the youth. “A glass of wine will soon put you right. Tell me where you keep it,” he continued, opening one cupboard after another.


“It is useless to look for it,” said the old man. “There is no wine.”


“What? No wine?” said the young man, turning pale and looking first at the old man’s sunken and pallid cheeks and then at the bare cupboards. “No wine?”

But the most interesting thing I learned from this book was in the introduction:

Alexandre Dumas ranks among the most widely read novelists of Romantic literature and may be the most beloved writer France has ever produced. His works are stories of adventure depicting the heroic triumph of human strength and endurance, a legacy he was born to recount.


Dumas’s father, Thomas-Alexander, was born a slave on Santo Domingo (now Haiti) in 1762 to a black slave, Cessette Dumas, and her owner, the Marquis de la Pailleterie, a Frenchman who had come to the Caribbean to seek his fortune as a sugar planter. The marquis sold Thomas and three of his siblings, but bought him back and then took him to France when he was fourteen years old. The young man severed ties with his father, took his mother’s name, and joined the army. By thirty-one he was serving as a general under Napoleon Bonaparte.

And so, as these things happen, I am now the owner of a volume called The Black Count, a nonfiction account of General Dumas’s life. I will be writing about it in this space… someday.