Tuesday, February 16, 2010

320. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

History: The writing of the work was completed in 1844. Like many of his novels, it is expanded from the plot outlines suggested by his collaborating ghostwriter Auguste Maquet.
Plot: Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor recently granted his own command by his dying captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his fiancée Mercédès. Leclère, a supporter of the exiled Napoléon I, charges Dantès on his deathbed to deliver two objects: a package to Maréchal Bertrand (who had been exiled with Napoleon Bonaparte to the isle of Elba), and a letter from Elba to an unknown man in Paris. Subsequently, an anonymous letter accuses Dantès of being a Bonapartist traitor. The letter is later revealed to have been written by Mercédès' cousin Fernand Mondego and Danglars, Dantès' ship's supercargo. Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor in Marseille, assumes the duty of investigating the matter. Villefort is normally considered a just man, but on discovering that the recipient of the letter from Elba is his Bonapartist father, he ultimately chooses to save his political career and condemns Dantès without trial to life imprisonment and protects his father by destroying the incriminating letter.
During his fourteen years imprisonment in the Château d'If, Edmond is visited in his cell by the Abbé Faria, a priest and fellow prisoner trying to tunnel his way to freedom. Faria provides Dantès with education in subjects including languages, history, economics, philosophy, mathematics, chemistry and the manners of political society. The priest, ill from a form of catalepsy and knowing that he will soon die, confides in Dantès the location of a treasure hoard on the Italian islet of Monte Cristo. After Faria's death the following year, Dantès escapes and is rescued by a smuggling ship. After several months of working with the smugglers, he gets the opportunity to go to Monte Cristo for a goods exchange. Dantès fakes an injury and convinces the smugglers to temporarily leave him on Monte Cristo. He then makes his way to the hiding place of the treasure. Using the directions he memorized, he finds the treasure, which is a trunk of gold and jewels.
He returns to Marseilles, where he learns that his father has died in poverty. He buys himself a yacht and hides the rest of the treasure on board. With his new found wealth and education, Dantès buys the island of Monte Cristo and the title of Count from the Tuscan Government.
Returning to Marseille, Dantès puts into action his plans for revenge. Traveling in disguise as the Abbé Busoni, Edmond first meets Caderousse, whose intervention might have saved Dantès from imprisonment. Now living in poverty, Caderousse believes his current state is punishment by God for his jealousy and cowardice. Dantès learns from Caderousse how his other enemies have all become wealthy and prosperous since Dantès' betrayal. Edmund gives Caderousse a diamond that can be either a chance to redeem himself, or a trap that will lead to his ruin. Caderousse murders the jeweler to whom he sold the diamond and is sentenced to life in the prison galleys. Dantès (using another disguise, this time as the English Lord Wilmore) frees Caderousse and gives him another chance at redemption. Caderousse does not take it, and becomes a career criminal.
Learning that his old employer Morrel is on the verge of bankruptcy and disgrace after his ships have been lost at sea, Dantès (in the guise of a senior clerk of the banking firm of Thomson and French of Rome) buys all of Morrel's outstanding debts and gives Morrel an extension of three months to fulfill his obligations. At the end of the three months and with no way to repay his debts, Morrel is about to commit suicide when he learns that all of his debts have been mysteriously paid and that one of his ships has returned with a full cargo (the ship had been secretly rebuilt and laden by Dantès).
The story then moves forward nine years. Dantès debuts in public as the Count of Monte Cristo, a mysterious and fabulously rich aristocrat. He surfaces first in Rome, where he becomes acquainted with the Baron Franz d'Epinay, a young aristocrat, and Viscount Albert de Morcerf, Mercédès's and Fernand's son. He later rescues Albert from Italian bandits. Dantès subsequently moves to Paris, and with Albert de Morcerf's introduction, becomes the sensation of the city. Due to his knowledge and rhetorical power, even his enemies - who do not recognize him as Edmond Dantès - find him charming, and because of his status they all desire his friendship.
Monte Cristo meets Danglars, who has become a wealthy banker. Monte Cristo dazzles the crass Danglars with his seemingly endless wealth, eventually persuading him to extend him a 6,000,000 francs credit, and withdraws nine hundred thousand. Under the terms of the arrangement, Monte Cristo can demand access to the remainder at any time. The Count manipulates the bond market, through a false telegraph signal, and quickly destroys a large portion of Danglars' fortune, and the rest of it begins to rapidly disappear through mysterious bankruptcies, suspensions of payment, and more bad luck on the Stock Exchange.
Monte Cristo threatens Villefort with knowledge of his past affair with Mme Danglars, which produced a son. Believing the child to be stillborn, Villefort had buried the child. The boy was rescued and raised in Corsica by his enemy, Bertuccio (now Monte Cristo's servant), who gave the child the name "Benedetto". As an adult, Benedetto becomes a career criminal who is sentenced to the galleys with Caderousse, but after being freed by "Lord Wilmore", takes the identity of "Viscount Andrea Cavalcanti" (sponsored by the Count) and cons Danglars into betrothing his daughter Eugénie to him. Caderousse blackmails Andrea, threatening to reveal his past.
Cornered by "Abbé Busoni" while attempting to rob Monte Cristo's house, Caderousse begs to be given another chance, but Dantès grimly notes that the last two times he did so, Caderousse did not change. He forces Caderousse to write a letter to Danglars exposing Viscount Cavalcanti as an impostor and allows Caderousse to leave the house, but the moment Caderousse leaves the estate, he is stabbed in the back by Andrea. Caderousse manages to dictate and sign a deathbed statement identifying his killer, and Monte Cristo reveals his true identity to Caderousse moments before Caderousse dies.
Ali Pasha, the ruler of Yannina (in French, Janina), was betrayed to the Greeks by Fernand. After his death, his daughter Haydée and his wife Vasiliki were sold into slavery by Fernand; subsequently, Haydée was located and rescued by Dantès and becomes the Count's guest in his residence. The Count manipulates Danglars into researching the event, which is published in a newspaper. As a result, Fernand is brought to trial for his crimes. Haydée testifies against him, and Fernand is disgraced.
Mercédès, still as attractive as before, alone recognizes Monte Cristo as Dantès. When Albert blames Monte Cristo for his father's downfall and publicly challenges him to a duel, Mercédès goes secretly to Monte Cristo and begs him to spare her son. During this interview, she learns the entire truth of his arrest and imprisonment. She later reveals the truth to Albert, which causes Albert to make a public apology to Monte Cristo. Albert and Mercédès disown Fernand, who is also confronted with Dantès' true identity and subsequently commits suicide. The mother and son depart to build a new life free of disgrace. Albert enlists and goes to Africa as a soldier in order to rebuild his life and honor under a new name, and Mercédès begins a solitary life in Marseille.
Villefort's daughter by his first wife, Valentine, stands to inherit the entire fortune of her grandfather (Noirtier) and of her mother's parents (the Saint-Mérans), while his second wife, Héloïse, seeks the fortune for her small son Édouard. Monte Cristo is aware of Héloïse's intentions, and "innocently" introduces her to the technique of poison. Héloïse fatally poisons the Saint-Mérans, so that Valentine gets their inheritance. However, Valentine is disinherited by Noirtier in an attempt to prevent Valentine's impending marriage with Franz d'Epinay. The marriage is cancelled when d'Epinay learns that his father was killed by Noirtier in a duel. Afterwards, Valentine is reinstated in Noirtier's will. Héloïse then targets Valentine, so that Édouard will finally get the fortune.
After Monte Cristo learns that Morrel's son Maximilien is in love with Valentine de Villefort, he saves her by making it appear as though Héloïse's plan to poison Valentine has succeeded and that Valentine is dead. Villefort learns that Héloïse is a murderer and confronts her, giving her the choice of a public execution or committing suicide by her own poison.
Fleeing after Caderousse's letter exposes him, Andrea gets as far as Compiègne before he is arrested and brought back to Paris, where he is prosecuted by Villefort. Andrea reveals that he is Villefort's son and was rescued after Villefort buried him alive. Villefort admits his guilt and flees the court. He rushes home to stop his wife's suicide but he is too late; she has poisoned her son as well. Dantès confronts Villefort, revealing his true identity, which drives Villefort insane. Dantès tries to resuscitate Édouard but fails, and despairs that his revenge has gone too far. It is only after he revisits his cell in the Château d'If that Dantès is reassured that his cause is just and his conscience is clear, that he can fulfill his plan while being able to forgive both his enemies and himself.
After the Count's manipulation of the bond market, all that Danglars is left with is a tarnished reputation and five million francs he has been holding in deposit for the hospitals. The Count demands this sum to fulfill their credit agreement, and Danglars embezzles the hospital fund. Abandoning his wife, Danglars flees to Italy with the Count's receipt, hoping to live in Vienna in anonymous prosperity. However, he is kidnapped by the Count's agent. Danglars is imprisoned the same way that Dantès was. Forced to pay exorbitant prices for food, Danglars eventually signs away all but 50,000 francs of the stolen five million (which Dantès anonymously returns to the hospitals). Nearly driven mad by his ordeal, Danglars finally repents his crimes. Dantès forgives Danglars and allows him to leave with his freedom and the money he has left.
Maximilien Morrel, believing Valentine to be dead, contemplates suicide after her funeral. Dantès reveals his true identity and explains that he rescued Morrel's father from bankruptcy, disgrace and suicide years earlier. He persuades Maximilien to delay his suicide for a month. On the island of Monte Cristo a month later, Dantès presents Valentine to Maximilien and reveals the true sequence of events.
Having found peace, Dantès leaves for an unknown destination to find comfort and possibly love with Haydée, who has declared her love for him.
Review: Alexandre Dumas's _The Count of Monte Cristo_ is one of the greatest novels of all time and in fact stands at the fountainhead of the entire stream of popular adventure-fiction. Dumas himself was one of the founders of the genre; every other such writer -- H. Rider Haggard, C.S. Forrester, Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, John Grisham -- is deeply in his debt.
The cold, brooding, vampiric Count (born Edmond Dantes; known also, among other aliases, as "Sinbad the Sailor," Lord Wilmore, and a representative of the firm of Thomson and French) is the literary forebear of every dark hero from Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Pimpernel to Zorro, Batman, the Green Hornet, and Darkman. And the intricate plot provides everything any reader could want: adventure, intrigue, romance, and (of course) the elegant machinations of the Count himself as he exacts his terrible revenge on those who have wronged him -- thereby serving, or so he believes, as an agent of divine justice and retribution.
Opening Line: "On the 24th o Feruary, 1815, the look-out at Notre-Dame de la Garde signalled the three-master, the Pharaon from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples."
Closing Line: "Darling," replied Valentine, "has not the count just told us that all human wisdom is summed up in two words? -- `Wait and hope.'"
Quotes: There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good life is to live.
Rating: Good.

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