Friday, May 29, 2009

The Count of Monte Cristo

Have you ever thought, after reading a wonderful book, about how to find all the best books ever written? "Oh, I wish to be able to find another one as good as this." I have read hundreds of books, classic and popular, and often I feel, after finishing a book, how I have wasted money on that one. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, without doubt, is one of the best books ever written.

I bought a book called 'Monte Cristo' in 1996. This version was in bahasa Indonesia and published by Pustaka Jaya. With 790 pages, I thought it was the complete version. Only recently I found out that Robin Buss translated the whole novel. Although I have read more than half the book, I enjoyed very much this new version.

The story is about a sailor called Edmond Dantès, who spends 14 years in jail after being falsely accused as an Napoleon agent in 1815, with an anonymous letter by those who are jealous of him. He escapes, finds a treasure in the island of Monte Cristo, and pays revenge to those who are responsible for his incarceration. "I owe it to God to take my revenge. He has sent me for that purpose." "I have considered myself as the emissary of your vengeance, God." The complex plot makes this book of 1200+ pages seem short. When I told my sister the synopsis of this story in several sentences, she seemed not interested. Only when we were watching a movie version of this, she realized how clever Dumas had tangled the web. The Count of Monte Cristo is not a sort of Rambo. He doesn't just visit his enemies and kill them one by one with a sword or pistol, but builds his plan to the tiny details to destroy them with their own vices and make them suffer as long as possible.

Several months ago I watched the 1998 movie version, made for TV, with Gérard Depardieu as Edmond Dantès. In it, there was a character named Camille de la Richardais, the lover of the count in Paris. I didn't like her, but I was not sure if she was in the novel or not, as I only had read half of it. Now I have read the complete version and she is not in the novel, and I am glad. I like how the Count of Monte Cristo's bitter heart makes him cannot love another woman besides Mercédès - although in the end he finds a new hope in Haydée.

Interesting to note that the character of Edmond Dantès was based on the life of François Picaud who was denounced by a group of friends as a spy of England in 1807, shortly after become engaged to Marguerite. He spent 7 years in jail and in 1814 after his release, collected a treasure informed by a rich Italian cleric whom he served in prison. Free and rich, Picaud went to Paris and found Marguerite had married one of those who had denounced him. He eliminated his enemies by killing one of them with a dagger and another one with a poison, and lured one of their children to prostitution and another into crime. In the end, he himself was killed by his informer-turn-to-blackmailer.

In the novel, Edmond Dantès is not as bad as Picaud. He tries not to touch the children of his enemies and when he sees Edouard's dead body, "he realized that he had exceeded the limits of vengeance". This event troubles him so much that he needs to visit the Château d'If again so that he can remember how he has suffered. His revenge is constructed so well that he doesn't broke any human law (except sending the false telegrams). My favourite part is when he saves Morrel, his ex-employer. "From there, he looked once again towards Morrel who, weeping with joy, was shaking the hands of everyone in the crowd and vaguely thanking his unknown benefactor whom he seemed to be searching for in the sky." Very touching.

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