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The Count of Monte Cristo (Modern Library) Hardcover – July 9, 1996
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Why Robin Buss' translation for Penguin Classics? That's a reasonable question since Alexandre Dumas has been dead long enough for his works to enter the public domain. Several translations of his major novels are not only available in cheaper editions (such as Barnes & Noble Classics), but for free on Project Gutenberg.
These are inferior and, in the case of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, censored translations. Most of them date back to the Victorian period, and render Dumas' evergreen French into English prose that feels old-fashioned and stilted today. Furthermore, because these are translations from the Victorian period, the translators filtered Dumas through their own moral sensibilities to give us Bowdlerized versions of a novel that ran on sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll a century before rock 'n roll was something you could do without a machine gun.
Robin Buss' unabridged translation comes directly from the original French and renders Dumas into fresh, readable modern English. Material previously omitted by Victorian-era translators such as Franz' hashish-fueled sexual fantasies and the strongly implied lesbian relationship between Eugenie and Louise remain intact and uncensored. As another reviewer pointed out, Buss will provide footnotes to explain subtleties that aren't easily translated from French to English, such as insults delivered by using the formal you (vous) rather than the informal/friendly/intimate you (tu).
A detailed appendix provides valuable historical and cultural context that aids the reader in understanding Dumas' masterpiece, and includes a primer on the rise, fall, return, and final downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte that is crucial to making sense of the politics driving the novel's plot.
If you cannot read Dumas in his native French, and you want a definitive English version, Robin Buss's unabridged and uncensored modern English translation is essential reading. No other translation will suffice.
Edmond Dantes is wrongfully accused of a crime and thrown in prison without trial to be forgotten, after overcoming both mental and physical anguish and befriending a fellow prisoner, and finally he is able to escape. Thanks to his friendship Dantes knows where a potential hidden treasure is located and finds it to be real, and using it begins finding out why he was thrown into prison and chart is path to revenge through fortune and hidden identities. Yet what this quick synopsis omits is the numerous and fascinating major and secondary characters that Dantes interacts throughout the narrative.
Originally published in serial form, Dumas was paid for how much he wrote and one would think that The Count of Monte Cristo might be riddled with meandering subplots that never go anywhere and/or have nothing to do with the central plot. But Dumas instead wove a tapestry of beauty with every word he wrote; instead of making meandering plots he described scenes and events in rich detail that it brings the story even more alive in the reader’s imagination.
If pressed to find anything negative to say about this book, the easiest answer would be cultural references that are almost 170 years old. The only other negative was the completely different societal norms that were in Parisian society in the 1840s compared today’s. However both of these ‘negatives’ can easily be put down to a piece of fiction that was contemporary when it was written but now can be seen as historical fiction with the passage to time.
The Count of Monte Cristo needs to be read in all its unabridged glory to fully appreciate why it is a masterpiece and classic. Dumas’ literary tapestry is a delight to behold once finished with the last page and makes the reader think about when they’ll have time to reread it in the future.