“When you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.” — Confucius
Revenge was a TV series that ran on ABC from 2011 to 2015, and I watched the first few episodes, now streaming on Hulu. But this is about another plot. More recently I reviewed Sleepers, also a story about revenge.
In the movie three teenage boys get in trouble with the law and are sentenced to juvenile detention with horrific consequences. A few of the guards at the prison force themselves on the kids, using them for sex toys. One inmate is murdered. While in the institution, one of the three avails himself of the library and reads The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s a story about revenge. Ten years after their sentencing the three pals are out. One is a journalist, and the other two have become low-life criminals, with multiple homicides between them. The two low-lifes encounter one of the former guards in a bar and shoot him dead with no hesitation.
Recalling lessons learned from the book, the journalist connives to get his two pals sprung, exacting the ultimate revenge. And that got me to thinking about the book. The Kindle edition is $5.99, and a quick review is in order.
Alexandre Dumas was a French writer of the early 19th century, with a prodigious output, including this and also The Three Musketeers, for which there is a Kindle edition for less than a dollar. Here is a quick snapshot of the plot and also a few excerpts to illustrate Dumas’ writing style.
Edmond Dantes is a young sailor (19) returning to the port of Marseilles, now in charge of the ship, since the captain has died at sea. It is made clear that Dantes is a superior sailor and fit to be captain. The ship’s owner, meeting the ship’s arrival, decides to make the position permanent. He is M. Morrel.
But Dantes has rivals. M. Danglars, who served as the supercargo on the voyage, and there is Fernand Mondego, a rough and tough Catalan who is Edmond’s rival for the sweet Mercedes. In summary, Danglars conspires to frame Edmond for participating in a Napoleonic plot. This was the time when Napoleon Bonaparte was making his escape from prison with the aim to overthrow the monarchy and regain his position as emperor. Danglars hatches the scheme, he sucks Fernand and another, a M. Caderousse (none to bright), into the plot to the extent they are all complicit eventually, especially Fernand, who desperately wants Edmond out of the way.
The person who brings the plot to fruition is a corrupt government official, a M. Villefort, who realizes that Edmond must never see the light of day again, else his own father, Nortier Villefort will be exposed as a Napoleonite. Minutes before Edmond and Mercedes are to be married, Villefort has him arrested and packed into a dungeon in Château d’If, a rock in the Marseilles harbor. And none of his friends know what has happened to Edmond.
And there Edmond stays for 14 years, communicating with nobody but his jailer and ultimately with another prisoner. The other prisoner has the secret to a massive treasure, and he plans escape with Edmond, with the idea they will share the treasure. During their years of collaboration the other prisoner, a world scholar, teaches the former sailor all the ways of the world. Then he dies.
Edmond takes his friend’s place in the body bag and escapes when the jailers dump the body into the ocean. He works his way to the island of Montecristo, where the treasure is. There really is an island named Montecristo off the coast of Italy, and Edmond recovers the treasure, purchases the island, and gets himself declared the Count of Monte Cristo, as he is called in the book.
The remainder of the book is about how the count uses his world-class wealth to reward his benefactors and to destroy those who brought him down. While he was in prison his enemies have, by nefarious means, become wealthy and prominent, living in Paris. Mercedes pines for 18 months, then marries Fernand. The count works for years setting up his scheme and then travels to Paris, where he moves about those who have wronged him and are now living in high society.
One by one he brings them down without their knowing what is causing their downfall. The first to die is Caderousse, whose sole crime in Edmond’s downfall was one of guilty knowledge of the plot. His own foul nature proves his undoing, and he ends up being murdered by an accomplice while attempting to burglarize the counts house on the Champs Elysees. As his eyes close for the last time, Caderousse hears from the count’s lips the secret.
The others are brought down through their own avarice and evil natures. Mercedes recognizes the count but never lets on. By now she has a son, and the two never reconcile, even after Fernand, exposed as a criminal and a traitor, kills himself.
Given the skeleton of this plot, I could have made a fast-moving thriller out of this. To be sure, Dumas at times brings readers to the edge of a cliff, but much of the time he loads the timeline down with excruciating detail. Examples:
As for Albert and Franz, they essayed not to escape from their ciceronian tyrants; and, indeed, it would have been so much the more difficult to break their bondage, as the guides alone are permitted to visit these monuments with torches in their hands. Thus, then, the young men made no attempt at resistance, but blindly and confidingly surrendered themselves into the care and custody of their conductors. Albert had already made seven or eight similar excursions to the Colosseum, while his less favored companion trod for the first time in his life the classic ground forming the monument of Flavius Vespasian; and, to his credit be it spoken, his mind, even amid the glib loquacity of the guides, was duly and deeply touched with awe and enthusiastic admiration of all he saw; and certainly no adequate notion of these stupendous ruins can be formed save by such as have visited them, and more especially by moonlight, at which time the vast proportions of the building appear twice as large when viewed by the mysterious beams of a southern moonlit sky, whose rays are sufficiently clear and vivid to light the horizon with a glow equal to the soft twilight of an eastern clime. Scarcely, therefore, had the reflective Franz walked a hundred steps beneath the interior porticoes of the ruin, than, abandoning Albert to the guides (who would by no means yield their prescriptive right of carrying their victims through the routine regularly laid down, and as regularly followed by them, but dragged the unconscious visitor to the various objects with a pertinacity that admitted of no appeal, beginning, as a matter of course, with the Lions’ Den, and finishing with Caesar’s “Podium,”), to escape a jargon and mechanical survey of the wonders by which he was surrounded, Franz ascended a half-dilapidated staircase, and, leaving them to follow their monotonous round, seated himself at the foot of a column, and immediately opposite a large aperture, which permitted him to enjoy a full and undisturbed view of the gigantic dimensions of the majestic ruin.
Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo (Centaur Classics) [The 100 greatest novels of all time – #6] (p. 174). Kindle Edition.
Yeah, that’s one paragraph. At times the action moves swiftly, as when Edmond escapes a watery death:
At last, with a horrible splash, he darted like an arrow into the ice-cold water, and as he did so he uttered a shrill cry, stifled in a moment by his immersion beneath the waves. Dantes had been flung into the sea, and was dragged into its depths by a thirty-six pound shot tied to his feet. The sea is the cemetery of the Chateau d’If.
Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo (Centaur Classics) [The 100 greatest novels of all time – #6] (p. 100). Kindle Edition.
For reasons not apparent to any sensible reader, Dumas finds difficulty bringing the story to an end. Toward the close Villefort’s young wife is murdering all his relatives by poison so her own son, Edward, will inherit the family fortune. Villefort’s daughter by his first marriage is Valentine, a lovely young woman, desirous of marrying the son of M. Morrel. But Mme. Villefort attempts to poison her, and Edmond secretly intervenes, faking her death. Faking it so well that she is entombed, supposedly, for the remaining 15 chapters of the book. It’s only three pages from the end that Valentine is revealed to be alive to her lover, Maximillian. This is excessively dramatic by any measure.
Obviously the original is in French, and what I have is an English translation. I may be slow, but some misconnections failed to escape me.
Now this solitude was peopled with his thoughts, the night lighted up by his illusions, and the silence animated by his anticipations. When the patron awoke, the vessel was hurrying on with every sail set, and every sail full with the breeze. They were making nearly ten knots an hour. The Island of Monte Cristo loomed large in the horizon.
Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo (Centaur Classics) [The 100 greatest novels of all time – #6] (pp. 108-109). Kindle Edition.
Stop! “Ten knots per hour” does not translate in any language. This being the age of Kindle, I clicked a few keys and shortly had a French edition on my computer. Here is how Dumas had it originally:
Quand le patron se réveilla, le navire marchait sous toutes voiles: il n’y avait pas un lambeau de toile qui ne fût gonflé par le vent; on faisait plus de deux lieues et demie à l’heure. L’île de Monte-Cristo grandissait à l’horizon. Edmond rendit le bâtiment à son maître et alla s’étendre à son tour dans son hamac: mais, malgré sa nuit d’insomnie, il ne put fermer l’œil un seul instant. [emphasis added]
Dumas père, Alexandre. Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (French Edition) (Kindle Locations 4946-4950). Ktoczyta.pl. Kindle Edition.
Obviously the translator was winging it at this point.
So much for critiquing the book. It’s worth assessing how it fits into the modern literary fabric. As observed, it’s incidental to the plot of Sleepers. In the Revenge series it serves as a jumping off point, and there are no additional parallels. The protagonist in Revenge is Amanda Clarke (aka Emily Thorne). As a young child her life is ripped apart when police raid her home and carry off her father, charging him in the downing of an airliner. She is institutionalized, but when she gets out she is grown, and she has access to her father’s vast fortune, also to his carefully laid plan for revenge. The remainder of the plot involves deception, ruination of the guilty, also murder. It quickly turns soapy, an interplay among rich and privileged characters, scheming and back biting.
The Count of Monte Cristo is out in several motion picture releases, some now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. I’m going to next view one of them and do a critique. Here is a screen shot showing Richard Chamberlain as Edmond and Kate Nelligan as Mercedes during those happy times right before Edmond is snatched away.