Penn State

Claire E. Katz - Associate Professor of Philosophy, Jewish Studies, and Women's studies, Penn State University Park

Book Title: The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged)

Author: Alexander Dumas (father)

Book Description:

This riveting adventure story is the quintessential story of love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, friendship, and justice. I read it first as a high school student and then re-read it in my mid twenties. The themes that Alexander Dumas weaves together resonated with me deeply. Both times, I was struck by Dumas' romanticism and by his message (albeit a subtle one) about revenge and the power of true friendship. Additionally, I was struck by the complexity and the integrity of his main character, Edmund Dantes. In the story, it appears as though Dantes exacts revenge on his enemies, those people who betrayed him when they framed him for a crime he did not commit and then took from him all that he held dear.

However, it was his enemies who did themselves in by their own greed. With the help of his new (true) friends, Dantes enables his enemies to express the excess of their own character flaws and it is by their own hand and their own actions that they betray, and ultimately, destroy themselves. Dumas' portrayal of Dantes and his enemies reveals the aesthetic quality of justice. There is a beauty in Dantes' enemies taking their greed and other vices so far that they become the authors of their own demise. They can blame no one but themselves. In addition to being an adventure story and a love story, it is a story that illustrates perfect justice and true friendship, the rare experiences of which I treasure. Yet, it is also a story that exposes the limits of vengeance and the toll that hate can take on oneself. I was moved by its ending message, albeit one that took 1300 pages to express (!), that confirmed the old cliché: the best revenge on those who harm us is in fact living well.


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