The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What I progressively interpreted solely as a literary masterpiece with rich analytical prospects, I complete as if from an expeditious voyage into the human soul, bearing priceless specimens of discovery. The plot raced and circled, the characters breathed and resuscitated virtues and vices, the themes flared – all by language so fluid and elegant that the riches of Sinbad the Sailor would pale by photograph. I loved this book. In what is to follow, I carefully excluded any direct references to circumstances or events in the story which, as you well know, only the book can properly signify. Pick up the unabridged version (any publisher who would abridge this has lost my business for any work) and take your time. After all, is anything more intriguing than the human soul traipsing through the human condition?
‘Wait and hope!’
The story begins with an injustice so gross it warrants fame even to those who haven’t read the book. Perhaps the most enraging aspect of this injustice is its base in political criminality. Dantes commits the “crime” during a historical period of political uncertainty rendering the inherent evil of the crime non-existent or valid only in the eye of the powerful. What one regime condemns as treason, another trumpets as heroism! It could be argued, by one more astute than myself, that Dumas may bestow his sympathies with Napoleon, that Dantes symbolizes the rage of the people abused by the sways of state, or that, being struck low and later glorified, he embodies the state’s inconstant stewardship.
From my limited exposure to French romantics, I have derived a common theme, namely that man-made laws organizing civilization stifle the potential fullness of human existence. Dumas’ characters experience great disillusionment at this realization but resurface within the fullness of an existence bound to nature’s rule and providence. Undoubtedly, Dumas bloats this particular case of judicial triviality in order to, perhaps, question whether all crimes against Man’s Law, designed for societal preservation, aren’t equally baseless and insignificant, therefore deserving of a far less severe punishment than is realized in many states. By representing the three focal pillars of social order – military, banking and courts – in Dantes enemies, he asserts the corruptibility and injustice of society, qualities germinated, cultivated and rooted in human ambition. It frightens one to think that social orders may be instituted to house such ambition rather than foster righteousness.
Abstain from nasty rumors purported in films that this is a story about revenge; if revenge exalts the offended as judge to an end only satisfying to himself. It is a tale about a justice which serves to balance circumstances according to a higher, moral judgement to which Dantes has devoted himself.
As a matter of fact, I pledge to having read the name “Edmond Dantes” perhaps ten times after the first quarter of the book. Dumas shrouded him in such effective anonymity, with language of “an avenging angel” and a title indicating ownership of the “Mountain of Christ” (a wasteland so desolate one would cry in anguish at the thought of living there), one finds himself acquainted not with a man out for blood and retribution, but for justice. Evolved morality, nature, Providence, God’s law – is impenetrable because, similarly to the Count, it boasts no social relation, no country of origin and no affiliation by which to attack or weaken it. The ultimate consequences for Dantes’ enemies stem publicly from other sins. They suffer not because of the afflictions cast on Dantes, but for other cunning routes of ambition. Dantes wields no sword, but places it gracefully in the hands of his aggressors that they may die by their own evil deeds. Dantes, like Providence, directs the circumstances pertaining to his enemies like a sovereign power. In this way, he simply holds the lantern which shines on all which needs rewarded.
Though these felons fall from aristocratic grace, an order supported by, as previously described, transient laws of man, it is not that aristocracy that would save them. The pillars into which they sacrificed love and integrity for riches and title rewarded them only with the power of false gods. Their riches and title could not save them from their sins against God’s law. If the crime is described in terms of a state in sway, the justice is executed according to a constant Providence, or natural law. It is that constance which immunizes Providence from the failures of social law infected with triviality. Where social law, by human writ, fails to build its house, Providence does – on the indestructible foundation of integrity, honesty and love.
Suffering and Happiness
Dantes, despite his seemingly flawless direction of “chance”, cannot shelter himself from the storm he sets in motion, or raise himself above the Providence he serves. Yet his existence, once stooped so low and raised so high, reaches an understanding of balance through the symbiotic relationship of the two extremes. Much like the horrible purging experienced by biblical prophets, Dantes suffers. The resolution of Dantes’ life affords him the ethereal pleasure, the deep affection for living, in understanding that because of extreme suffering, one can fully appreciate boundless happiness. After seeing this dichotomy, it is left to the will of the human soul to hope that such extremes can be met in a single lifetime.
View all my reviews