The Count of Monte Cristo, Illustrated – Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo, Illustrated – The Count of Monte Cristo (French: Le Comte de Monte-Cristo) is an adventure novel by French author Alexandre Dumas (père) completed in 1844. It is one of the author’s most popular works, along with The Three Musketeers. Like many of his novels, it was expanded from plot outlines suggested by his collaborating ghostwriter Auguste Maquet. Another important work by Dumas, written prior to his work with Maquet, was the short novel “Georges”; this novel is of particular interest to scholars because Dumas reused many of the ideas and plot devices later in The Count of Monte Cristo.
The story takes place in France, Italy, and islands in the Mediterranean during the historical events of 1815–1839: the era of the Bourbon Restoration through the reign of Louis-Philippe of France. It begins just before the Hundred Days period (when Napoleon returned to power after his exile). The historical setting is a fundamental element of the book, an adventure story primarily concerned with themes of hope, justice, vengeance, mercy, and forgiveness. It centres on a man who is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes from jail, acquires a fortune, and sets about exacting revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment. His plans have devastating consequences for both the innocent and the guilty. The book is a story of romance, loyalty, betrayal, vengeance, selfishness, and justice.
The book is considered a literary classic today. According to Luc Sante, “The Count of Monte Cristo has become a fixture of Western civilization’s literature, as inescapable and immediately identifiable as Mickey Mouse, Noah’s flood, and the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
I have the Robin Buss translation of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO in paperback, but that copy was old and worn. I wanted a more durable hardcover edition to read and to display on my bookshelf in my new house. The hardcover I bought from Total Books arrived in near-perfect condition, exactly as advertised, and looks gorgeous on the shelf.
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.
Alexandre Dumas (/duːˈmɑː, djuː-/; French: [alɛksɑ̃dʁ dyma]; born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie [dyma davi də la pajətʁi]; 24 July 1802 – 5 December 1870), also known as Alexandre Dumas, père (“father”), was a French writer. His works have been translated into nearly 100 languages, and he is one of the most widely read French authors. Many of his historical novels of high adventure were originally published as serials, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. His novels have been adapted since the early twentieth century for nearly 200 films. Dumas’ last novel, The Knight of Sainte-Hermine, unfinished at his death, was completed by scholar Claude Schopp and published in 2005. It was published in English in 2008 as The Last Cavalier.
Prolific in several genres, Dumas began his career by writing plays, which were successfully produced from the first. He also wrote numerous magazine articles and travel books; his published works totalled 100,000 pages. In the 1840s, Dumas founded the Théâtre Historique in Paris.
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