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The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 27, 2003
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About the Author
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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So it was the most pleasant surprise that, during the lockdown of COVID-19, I accidentally got into this. Owing to the early developments around the pandemic, I could not easily concentrate on the usual material, so looking for a historical novel, I opened the book and could not stop. In spite of its length is built like a short (theater) play: there is not a single detail at any point that does'nt later on come to count in the resolution --and you know it instinctively so you do not miss anything. It moves very fast, but is... 1600 pages long (I read the French version).
I cannot vouch for this translation (as I said I read it in the original), but I have not read more absorbing novel written in the past 180 years.
Read old books.
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.
At first, I found it extremely hard to put this book down. The start off is great! A man is in love and due to be married, wrongfully accused of a wrongdoing and thrown into prison for it so that he can never marry his bride to be. That part was fascinating. The prison time was absolutely interesting, as was the Abbé’s part and Dantés’ escape. Even the part of Dantés going to Monte Cristo for the treasure was great.
Then the story took a complete plummet into the abyss of boringness. This was a complete 180 turn from fascination to boring and confusing all in a matter of a few pages, introducing (throwing, more like) several characters into the mix and at times you don’t have a clue who in the heck is talking or doing what.
I went from being incapable of putting this book down, to reading a few pages here and there when I felt like it, to removing my bookmark and completely just slamming the book shut with frustration.
Good thing it was cheap.
Top international reviews
I think much has been said of this book during the 170 years of its existence, and not much is left to say. Surely someone before me would have hated a little the Count for how he treated the ones he is willing to save. I think it quite cruel to deliberately bring them to the very verge of desperation before saving them at the last moment.
The only new thing we can do with the Count of Montecristo is stating that it compares very much with nowadays thrillers, and surpasses them in most cases, as it often keeps the reader literally glued to the book's pages.
Credo che nei suoi ormai 170 anni di vita sia già stato detto molto sul Conte di Montecristo, e non sia rimasto molto altro da dire. Sicuramente qualcun altro prima di me avrà odiato un po' il conte per come ha trattato i personaggi che intendeva salvare. Mi pare un po' crudele portarli deliberatamente alla disperazione prima di salvarli all'ultimo minuto.
L'unica cosa nuova che si può fare con il Conte di Montecristo è paragonarlo ai thriller di oggi, alcuni dei quali non reggono il confronto con questo libro che tiene molto spesso il lettore letteralmente incollato alle pagine.
'The Count of Monte Cristo' is a picaresque novel with a dramatic plot. But the novel, for me, appears to sacrifice character and depth for the exigencies of plot, and subplots, such as Maximilien & Valentine's thwarted romance & the serial poisoner, affect the overall pace of the novel and are both clunky and melodramatic.
There are glimpses of real style, such as the wonderful description towards the end of the evening sun reflected in the bosom of the waves. Despite the novel's length, there is a great deal of dialogue, revealing Dumas' theatrical background and his obvious talent at writing speech & conveying characters. There are some great secondary characters such as the wheel-chair ridden Noirtier; the passionate Mme Danglars, a proto-type for Madame Bovary; her daughter, Eugenie, unloved by her parents & treated as a commodity by her father, artistic and independent & clearly lesbian; and Abbe Faria, who gives Edmond Dantes the secret to a hidden treasure but also gives him another kind of treasure, knowledge.
A missed opportunity
But I did feel the novel missed a great opportunity by not having the Count confront one of his enemies, de Villefort in particular, the figure of absolute justice, who condemns Dantes through a combination of accident & design. I felt short-changed, in a novel that depicts fashionable society's obsession with wealth, that the most selfish & boorish villain, Danglars, is shown mercy. From what I remember of `Les Miserables', there is a more spiritual dimension to the novel with Valjean & Javert having a final confrontation during the Paris revolt that changes the dynamic of their relationship. De Villefort is the Count's intellectual equal, (the chapter Ideology) and it would have been interesting to see the Chief Prosecutor show genuine remorse or learn of a law that tempers justice with mercy (de Villefort's guilt & conscience are hinted in the beginning of the novel before he allows ambition and selfish motives to condemn an innocent man). It could have been interesting to see de Villefort challenge the Count about the morality of revenge. In the hands of a novelist, like Dostoevsky, this could have been fertile territory.
Warning: Spoiler alert
The novel is about Dantes' loss of liberty & revenge, but as the novel reached its climax, I felt that Mercedes, his lost love, was just as great a victim. In her own way, Mercedes `betrays' Edmond. She momentarily falters, failing to `wait' & `hope' so that she marries Fernand. But Mercedes remained loyal to Dantes' memory, like Penelope, yet ultimately she is the one who loses everything: her son, her husband & her fashionable Parisian life. I also felt she lost the one thing that she had cherished from her past life, the memory of her lost love, which becomes tarnished when she realises that the man she had mourned for is also the man determined to kill her son. For me, the scene where Mercedes intercedes with the Count on behalf of her son was one of the most moving in the book, Shakespearean in tone, like Volumnia with Coriolanus. I thought the final parting between the Count & Mercedes left much unsaid and unresolved as in life, a greater distance now existing between them, than it ever did when Edmond sailed the seas and Mercedes stood waiting for him in Marseille. I found it poignant as Mercedes stood watching her son's ship leave for Algeria, the past & the present blurred as she utters Edmond's name. I feel Mercedes is the one left bereft in the end, whereas the Count is offered a second possibility of happiness with Haydee and some form redemption by saving Valentine.
I imagined Mercedes, the Countess de Morcerf, as Goya's portrait of Dona Zarate.
I found it interesting how the Count begins to question his own actions, the moral dilemma about revenge and how it harmed the innocent as the guilty. Did so many have to die in the serial murder plot? That seemed more grand guignol than a calculated revenge. I would have liked to have seen more of the Count's dark, brooding personality as revealed in the chapters in Rome, the execution and the discussion about the nature of revenge & punishment. I did enjoy how the Count sets himself up as Providence with the power of life & death over others, but how this sense of power corrupts him. It was interesting to read a review on here that describes the Count as the actual villain of the novel, an alternative take on his character.
There was much that I enjoyed about the book: the first 300 pages; Franz travelling to meet the Count on his `magical' island and his hallucinogenic fantasy; the scenes where the Count discovers the treasure; how the Count sets up Caderousse, another of his `enemies', the man who stood by and did nothing whilst Dantes was implicated in a Napoleonic plot; the judicial investigation and Haydee's dramatic entrance; the comic scene about the telegraph receiver sending the wrong information (echoing `Trading Places', with the Dukes the son & heirs of Danglars & the misinformation they are given).
Read the novel before seeing a dramatised version
I am glad that I read the novel before seeing any film adaptation. I've been quite taken aback at how the 2002 film version played fast & loose with the text, probably attempting to capture Dumas's spirit, but ending with a duel, which does not happen in the novel. Similarly, I caught the ending of the Depardieu version (1998). It seemed to capture the authenticity of the period, but the ending left me thinking that I was glad that I read the book for myself.
Now, this is going to be a tricky one to review. What to say about a book so well loved, so widely read, so generally revered? Well, let's start with the basics, the bits most people already know. The novel opens with young Edmond Dantes, on the verge of becoming captain of his merchant ship and husband of the beautiful Mercedes, being betrayed by his jealous friends and thrown into jail for his alleged support of Napoleon. During his fourteen years in the terrifying Chateau d'If, he meets a 'mad' old abbe, who introduces him to the world of learning and tells him about a secret treasure that he wishes Edmond to have should he ever escape. Well, escape he does, and is reborn as the Count of Monte Cristo, using his incredible wealth, power and intelligence to bring justice down on the heads of the three men who condemned him to the dungeons.
This book is so many things: it is epic, complex and exciting; it is heartbreaking, sorrowful and romantic. It touches on the heights of emotion, society and the human condition, as well as the depths of despair, corruption and depravity. I found myself speeding along in breathless excitement as Edmond's true identity was revealed to each of his tormentors, and felt the full horror of the tangled webs he wove to destroy them one by one. It made me ponder the relationship between wealth and power, between knowledge and power, and the way that faith can save someone's life but also, if they don't take care, lead them down a path swathed in darkness. The Count's lesson for jealous Danglars, for example, was deeply satisfying - whereas his quiet destruction of Villefort's entire family was devastating to read. Of course, all this is terribly unlikely and deeply dramatic, but that is part of its charm - this is escapism at its finest!
Quite simply, this is a masterful novel that drew me in gently then refused to let me go. The characters are wonderfully drawn - I even got a bit of a crush on Dantes, fallen angel that he is - and the story seeps forward deliciously, bringing everything slowly into focus as the scattered elements of the Count's plans draw together. This is definitely going to be one of my top reads of the year and one of my favourite books ever! Read it!
Here's some of my favourite quotes:
"God can change the future, He cannot alter even an instant of the past. What is the sense in recriminations about things over which the will of God is powerless?" (p54)
"If you wish to find the guilty party first discover whose interests the crime serves" (p161)
"There are two medicines for all ills: time and silence" (p523)
The only slight negative for me was the character of the Count himself - his desire for revenge is sometimes a bit overwhelming.
A lot has been written regarding the plot and characters of this book. All I can say is that the film and tv adaptations do not do this book justice. The book is so much better. I did pay extra for the Robin Buss edition and it was definitely worth while. At 1243 pages - NOTHING is left out-and it has full working link to the annotations, so no problem at all going back and forth to them and the page you are reading. Every new chapter starts on a new page. I haven't read other editions but after reading the various reviews I suspect it may be worthwhile to pay something extra for a good edition of this book to make it worthwhile reading.
Despite being over one thousand pages long the story is divided into short chapters which means you can pick up and read one or two chapters in twenty to thirty minutes (I read a couple of chapters on my lunch break every day, and now and then in the evening too. It was that good).
The writing is of such quality and the story so enthralling I often wanted to continue reading the next chapter right away and couldn't wait to open the book again and submerse myself in the story once more.
Despite this novels age, contrary to what some people might think being an old classic with over a thousand pages, it is not a laborious read at all. In fact, it's extremely easy to read.
The cover of the book is of a good quality although the decorations (in this case the red masks) can appear a bit worn after a while but, in my opinion this only adds to the character. The print of the book is of a fine quality and I'd highly recommend any of the Penguin Classics new clothbound books as a great gift for any avid reader.
This epic novel is one of my favourites of all time and this review is not about the novel but the Penguin Classics Hardcover edition which I've bought recently.
Firstly, this is a decent cloth-bound hardcover book with a not-so-impressive cover design. But the quality of binding seems good, if not excellent.
Secondly, a very strange thing is that, in Amazon's Indian website, or American website or UK website, or Penguin's every official website, everywhere, the sample text from the novel which has been provided in those websites are incorrect. The sample text is not matched with Robin Buss' translation which Penguin's both clothbound or paperback edition contain. And everywhere the same faulty sample is provided in a copy-paste fashion. I have no idea how such misleading error's occurred with a reputed publisher like Penguin and a universally popular classic like Monte Cristo. Rectify this, folks.
Thirdly, the page quality is better than the usual Penguin paperback quality.
Fourthly, the content (that is, the chronology, Introduction, further reading, and explanatory Notes etc. beside the main text) is exactly the same as the Penguin paperback edition. This is just a hardcover version of the previous one. Buy the hardcover edition if you need a long-lasting and good-to-handle copy of this timeless classic.
And lastly, always, I repeat, always get a Robin Buss translated edition if you want to enjoy this classic with its full offerings. No other available edition is as smooth and as complete as the one I'm holding in my hand right now. You try to save your money on any other edition, you sulk.
Well, happy reading. :-)
I digress - a magnificent story, far superior to Lord of the Rings as a long epic, just go and read it !!
However the printed design is very poorly done and rubs off on your hands leaving a red residue behind while reading. This also ruins the book cover. I recommend getting the book from a different manufacturer.