100 Essential Books – The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (1844)




For my final challenge in the Sandown Library Russian Roulette Reading Challenge I chose what felt like the momentous task of getting through 1243 pages of small, quite dense print in the Penguin Classics Paperback edition of this book which I had never read before.

One of the challenges drawn from the hat in this year long initiative was to ask a member of staff what their favourite novel was and then to read it. My co-worker Louise would offer this book as her most cherished but once potential readers saw its size they balked at the task (“What’s your second favourite read?”).  So disheartened was she by this reaction that I said if I made it to the last challenge then I would read it.  It has taken a month and the closing date for the challenge went by before I was mid-way through it but I am so glad that I took a month out of my reading commitments to experience this.

Written as a serial in the “Journal Des Debats”, beginning in 1844 Dumas was being paid by instalment and needed the money so kept things going.  To maintain the plot movement over this length is a considerable achievement and to keep the readers’ interest over the twists and turns of the tale is even more of an achievement and Dumas manages both.

Part of this success is down to the robust, lively translation from Robin Buss which dates from 1996 and feels different from the somewhat turgid older versions which derive largely from the Victorian period where the text is mistranslated, bowdlerised and aimed to meet the needs of those who desired to read it purely as adventure fiction.  On trips out, put off by the weight of my copy, I downloaded a cheap Kindle version which was an earlier translation and found myself largely stumbling through it.  It was a relief to get back to Buss’ version of the text.

The bare bones of the story is likely to be well known through the myriad of adaptations in various media over the years.  Edmond Dantes is accused of treason on the eve of his wedding by men who seek to benefit from his downfall.  Imprisoned in the foreboding Chateau D’If he plots revenge on those who set him up and prevented him from proving his innocence.  The rest of the novel takes in the 25 years of seeking to attain that revenge.  It all goes much deeper than that, obviously, and there is actually less swash-buckling than I had anticipated.  Central to it all is Dantes who adopts the role of the Count of Monte Cristo, a character who will provoke mixed emotions from the reader as he is a profound, enigmatic creation and who provides the lifeblood of the book even when less well-drawn characters are brought more into focus.  It is his desire for vengeance which drives the reader onwards though some extraordinarily surprising moments in a plot that moves so fast it can at times leave the reader behind trying to piece together the significance of what has occurred.  Its length made it a challenge but it was so entertaining that I wasn’t going to give up and I feel on completion that a major gap in my reading history has been filled and that it was all a pretty amazing experience.


The publication of The Count Of Monte Cristo first began in 1844.  If you are going to spend as much time to read it as it requires I suggest you do not choose an early translation.  I went for the 1996 translation by Robin Buss in the 2006 Penguin Classics anniversary edition.




16 thoughts on “100 Essential Books – The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (1844)

  1. Kay Carter

    So, I read your blog and hopped straight over to Amazon to see if they have a Kindle edition of this translation, they don’t. Nut all is not lost as I have a copy on the shelf.
    I also have it on the kindle, in the complete works of Alexander Dumas which was a bargain at 99p on book bub. (Have I told you about them? You can get cheap and sometimes free e books.)
    I have seen the film versions and liked the story, what I will have to do is set myself a time to read daily as I’m not sure it’s bedtime reading.
    I had 6 more books for Christmas, I don’t know when I will have time to read them. But my friend came up with a good idea this morning.
    To stop the boredom of being on an exercise bike, read while you are pedalling. (yes I do need to get on it) so I will try that and let you know how I get on. Loved the review.xx


    1. Hmmm I like the idea of your friend adding reading time to your day. I suggest you only do this on an exercise bike and not on the real thing! I loved “The Count Of Monte Cristo” and I was only familiar with the sketchiest of outlines of the story before reading it but I do accept it is quite a challenge to read a book of that length!


  2. Monika McKay

    Well done Phil…Another well done to Mr. Buss for translation. It was well published in 1844, but if a reader was in desperation reading earlier versions of this classic, it just goes to show how impossible to read it was. Hope xmas went well, and you are ready for a new year…2019!

    Keep reading!


    1. Thanks, Monika and Seasons Greetings to you as well. It is amazing how sometimes a new translation can breathe new life into a book. I felt that this year about both this and the version of the “Tin Drum” I read.


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