Oh finally! I’m done. I suppose I’ll just say right off that while this book is certainly well written, I didn’t enjoy it very much. It wasn’t the length or anything, though I wish I’d have chosen the abridged version. I’ll get to what bothered me momentarily. First I should give a short synopsis.
Spoilers follow for the rest of the review.
Edmond Dantes, an innocent young fisherman on the brink of marriage, is falsely accused of treason and thrown in prison. He’s stuck there for 14 years, when he escapes, discovers treasure, and spends a decade pulling together a massively intricate plan of vigilante justice against the people who put him in jail, caused him to lose his betrothed, and allowed his father to die in Edmond’s absence.
For the first 30 or so chapters, about 350 of my 1500 pages, I really enjoyed the book. There were a couple political/historical discussions that made no sense to me whatsoever, not being a history person myself, and I had to skim those, but for the most part, I sympathized with Edmond, I was touched by the goodness he did initially after he escaped from prison, and I had hope for the book in general. Unfortunately, Dumas then goes off on a 40-something-chapter (or 700-page) tangent. At least 500 of those pages had nothing to do with the story! I picked up a couple important names which reoccurred throughout the rest of the book, and beyond that, it was just boring and unnecessary. The last chapters picked up again, but by that point, I hated Edmond so much that I didn’t really care about all his plans, or how the plot turned out.
The first quarter of the book struck me differently than the rest. My biggest point to make about it has to do with the amount of guilt belonging to each person who led Edmond to prison. There were four people responsible to different degrees: Fernand, the jealous lover; Danglars, the spiteful coworker; Caderousse, the coveting neighbor; and Villefort, the ambitious lawyer. There is no doubt that of these four, Caderousse holds the least amount of responsibility. He doesn’t take part in writing the false accusation, and is kept too drunk to protest by Danglars and Fernand. He is, however, too cowardly to protest after Edmond is arrested, and later turns out to be a bad guy all around. But the other three all have a great responsibility. I have to admit, I understood both Fernand’s and Danglars’ motives. They may not be nice people, but they acted out of hatred, a strong emotion to them both. Villefort, however, completely bewilders me. In interviewing Edmond, he realizes he’s innocent, and decides to let him go. After Edmond leaves the room, however, he suddenly thinks, “Hey, I can better my station in life if I use this to my advantage!” Not in those exact words, of course, but it boils down to the same thing. He uses an innocent person, to whom he’s completely indifferent, on a whim, just to better himself. To me, that’s far worse than acting out of hatred or jealousy. I can’t understand that type of evil at all.
But after the first quarter of the book, this became a non-issue, because the biggest criminal of all emerged: Edmond Dantes himself. Seriously. He spends 25 years contemplating or planning revenge, exacted not only on the people responsible for his downfall but all of those around them. Not just they suffer – their families and friends and just about anyone that’s ever been in contact with them must suffer. And Edmond claims he’s only exacting the will of God, claiming he’s a messenger or an avenging angel. Okay, so maybe the statement won’t make me too popular, but it really bothers me when people claim they know and are executing the will of God against other human beings. I don’t mind if someone thinks they are following the dictates of God through a religion, such as going to church every Sunday or not eating pork or whatever, as long as they aren’t imposing on other people. But I don’t believe anyone has the right to hurt or avenge themselves on others and claim that it’s what God wants them to do. Indeed, even Dumas seems to recognize this, as after 1100 pages of vigilante justice, on the very last page of the book, Edmond admits that he was probably wrong to think God was guiding his actions. Of course, since he’s already destroyed all his enemies and their families, the revelation comes a little late. That’s convenient.
Other things bothered me, too (like Edmond ending up in a relationship with the teenage girl he’s raised as his daughter, ew!), but mostly I just didn’t have any sympathy with Edmond or his cause. In fact, there were few characters I liked all throughout the book. And while everyone pretty much received their due punishment except Edmond, I couldn’t feel good about it. I think it would have been sufficient for Edmond to have gone and proved that he was wrongly accused and put in jail. He could have brought about legal justice. Maybe it wouldn’t be as satisfying to him, but frankly, I don’t care. I would have enjoyed the book more had he been a good person.
I know other books by Dumas are also filled with this spiteful vigilante stuff. I think now of watching The Man in the Iron Mask, and I’m pretty sure the book would have been all about revenge and eye-for-an-eye justice, too. That pretty much causes me to want to avoid Dumas altogether. Having said that, though, I’m sure other people would actually get a kick out of this book, because there’s lots of adventure and a very intricate plot, except for the 700 pages in the middle where almost nothing happens. For being so old, it actually reads fairly modern, and I think the abridged version would cut out a lot of the babble and move along quickly.
And I am glad that I’ve read it now. I think it was good for me, even if I didn’t enjoy it.