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The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 27, 2003
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About the Author
Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) was the son of Napoleon’s famous general Dumas. A prolific author, his body of work includes a number of popular classics, including The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask.
Robin Buss (1939–2006) was a writer and translator who worked for the Independent on Sunday and as television critic for the Times Educational Supplement. He was also the translator of a number of volumes for Penguin Classics.
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The Count of Monte Cristo is a delicious book, full of intrigue, great fight scenes, love, passion, and witty social satire. Dumas has a wonderful grasp of human nature and a talent for rendering all the follies of man in delightful, snappy prose. I immediately recognized people that I know (yes, even myself) in his vivid characters, which made the book all the more engaging to me.
Some people might be put off by the size of the book -- it's a pretty hefty volume -- an tempted to buy the abridged version. Don't! I've heard from people who've read both versions that the abridged version is a pathetic, washed out shadow of the full novel. At any rate, as thick and impossibly long as The Count of Monte Cristo may seem when you open it for the first time, you'll feel as though it's far too short by the time you get to the last page.
The first thirty chapters deal with Dantes being unjustly imprisoned and spending a miserable 14 years in the Chateau d'If. The story of his imprisonment, escape, and coming to riches and power culminates in his saving his old boss from financial ruin and suicide. It's a fantastic story but after that it's on to a long, drawn out, extremely wordy, and ultimately not-very-satisfying revenge on those who put him in prison. The main characters during these 87 chapters, aside from Dantes, his woman, and the four men who put him in prison are Haydee (the beautiful, but disturbingly reclusive Greek woman), Albert (the hotheaded son of Monte Cristo's old rival Fernand), Madame Danglars (the shrewish wife of Danglars), Héloïse de Villefort (the one-dimensional murderer whose love for her child is her only emotion), Franz d'Epinay, (a nice guy, but forgettable), and a host of other forgettable characters. Finally, there are Valentine de Villefort and Maximilien Morrel: two annoying and sappy lovers who remind me exactly of Cosette and Marius from Les Miserables. If you liked those two you'll love the latter half of the book. I detested them and the latter half of the book gave them an unfortunately large amount of sappy-time.
So that's the principle problem with the last 87 chapters: I don't like any of the characters. I wasn't even all that fond of Dantès during this part. The only characters I even remotely liked were Ali, Monte Cristo's slave, and Noitier de Villefort, who talks by blinking. Everyone else is either annoying or forgettable. This means that the almost the entire last 87 chapters are dedicated to conversations among all these annoying or forgettable people, very little of which was interesting.
Still, my memories are mostly fond. It's only when I put on my critic's hat that I began to realize how bored I was during the last two-thirds of the book. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants a good long read. The abridged version would probably be better for the non-OCD type, as it'll cut out a lot of the superfluous stuff.
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.