Dear The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas:
For the past handful of summers, I’ve chosen a larger, more intimidating book to read over the summer months. Previous participants in this little challenge have been Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. For summer of 2020, I chose to tackle you, The Count of Monte Cristo. All 1243 pages of you.
To be honest, you hadn’t been on my radar at all before this year. I had never really given you much thought, and then all of a sudden you started popping up everywhere–in recommendations from people, in reviews, in photos on bookstagram, etc. After reading a quick synopsis of what you were about, I immediately knew that I wanted to read you this summer.
Luckily, you completely exceeded all of my expectations.
Most of the time it seems as though long books tend to be slow burners, ones with languid plots that sprawl across hundreds of pages. However, you were exciting and suspenseful right from the beginning, and captivated my attention the entire way through. While you did slow down a bit at times, there was always an underlying sense of uncertainty and anticipation that kept me turning the pages.
For me, the bulk of this suspense stemmed from a desire to know how things ended up for the Count. He’s an enigmatic, ambiguous character who does some really excellent and awful things, but you can’t help but root for him after what he’s been put through. I loved seeing what disguises he would wear next, what bits of wisdom he would impart on his friends and acquaintances. I reveled in the moments where his true identity was ultimately revealed, and yet often found myself wondering: Is he right?
Your complex, nuanced discussions of what is right and wrong are one of my favorite things about you. Not only do you raise such questions from a criminal justice standpoint with the false imprisonment of the Count, but you also ask these questions in the context of basic morality. The Count seeks revenge to punish those who have wronged him, justifying it staunchly in his mind. Yet that so-called justification never quite sits right with me. Surely there must be another way to feel whole again? But what would that be for the Count? What should the role of punishment be in our society, and who should enforce it? As someone currently in law school, I found these questions to be really thought-provoking from a legal standpoint.
“How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.”The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
And of course, I can’t write this review without mentioning your engaging, witty writing style. Apparently Alexandre Dumas was paid by the line when this novel was first published in installments, which helps explain your surprisingly large amount of dialogue. While some people may see this length and rather long-winded writing as detrimental, I think it gave the characters depth and nuance. Few people, places, or things in this novel could be categorized as wholly “good” or “bad,” and I think that ambiguity owes a lot to the meticulously detailed, comprehensive way in which you are written.
There are so many fascinating aspects of you that I just can’t mention them all here. But I will say that even with your rather intimidating length, I actually think you’re one of the most engaging classics I have ever read. I would absolutely recommend you to people who are trying to get into reading more classics.
Thanks for a great summer, The Count of Monte Cristo.