Review: The Count of Monte Cristo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I couldn’t enjoy this book once it became a sprawling set of vendettas—and that was about half the huge tome. I just kept thinking…
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17–18 ESV)
My own opinion, after (admittedly) just one read and (admittedly) no exposure to literary criticism of this classic novel: Dumas makes half-hearted, too-little-too-late attempts at the end to mitigate the sin of Dantès in dedicating himself to years of revenge. And the story fails to show what revenge really does to a man’s heart.
In the very last pages of the book, Monte Cristo suddenly proclaims that he is remorseful, because he, “like Satan, thought himself for an instant equal to God,” and that he “now acknowledges with Christian humility that God alone possesses supreme power and infinite wisdom.”
These words rang hollow for me, because these feelings came to Monte Cristo so very late in the story. A great deal of the book presumed on the reader’s relishing the feeling of revenge. The professions of love from Haydée also rang hollow for me, because people given to revenge become unlovely. Revenge twists a man’s heart.
But the story does show, almost despite itself, why revenge must be left in God’s hands (“Vengeance is mine; I will repay”): it’s because no man is an island. Take revenge on a man twenty years after his sin, and who knows what good you will destroy along with the evil? Maybe the life of a little boy; maybe the livelihood of five clerks, one of whom has an invalid wife; maybe a bill ending the slave trade. I don’t know! Only God does. And only God can sort out the intricacies of guilt and merit and make sure that what people plan for evil, he plans for good (Gen 50:20).
The story makes Monte Cristo into a god; it places too many powers in the hands of one man, powers that even extreme wealth could not provide. He seems to have not a preternatural but a supernatural ability to foresee how people will respond to his actions in complex situations. There is basically only one moment in the story after Dantès’ escape in which something bad happens that he didn’t foresee (read: cause). He’s everywhere he needs to be; he’s everyone he needs to be; he’s a French superhero.
Monte Cristo’s love for the Morrells was a redeeming quality—and his solicitude for Valentine de Villefort. But these did not make up for his years of self-important conniving.
Maybe I will mark myself as unliterary for complaining about this beloved novel, but once you have extreme wealth and your own island country, can’t you appeal to the powers that be, who are ordained by God to execute justice on the wrongdoers who sinned against you? Pray to God and pay lawyers to have your vendetta for you; because they are hirelings, ironically, they won’t get twisted by that desire for revenge.
I do love the florid nineteenth century style; I do wish I could speak as they do, with their vivid metaphors and complicated and elegant syntax. But though I rooted for Dantès when he was the David, I couldn’t find myself liking him or believing him when he was the all-powerful Goliath, the Count of Monte Cristo.