The Count of Monte Christo – Shelf of Abandoned Books
So, let’s do this sucker. I like the story, always have. I mean, a guy gets innocently incarcerated, changes almost completely during his imprisonment, but never forgets his great love, and then takes revenge on everybody who was involved with such an elaborate scheme that it’s working all too well. Who wouldn’t like that? Exactly! All this smells of a ‘but’, doesn’t it? And here it goes:
I’ve seen and read so many modern versions of the whole story that – despite my love for the classics – the original version of Dumas seemed a bit pale to me. It was all too obvious, the characters weren’t well developed, it was too clear who was ‘good’ and who was ‘evil’. There were no grey areas. I mean, even the ‘Count’ himself – he was purely good and his motives were completely understandable. I never questioned once, if what he was doing is maybe wrong, until he is questioning it himself. And I studied philosophy for crying out loud. Dumas, you genius of manipulation!
I like the modern versions better. The ones that also really deeply question the motives of the protagonist, with more twists and turns. Like The Star’s Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry (basically an exact replica of the novel in a modern setting) or the TV show Revenge (with a ‘Countess’ instead of a ‘Count’ – okay, the last plot twist was a bit ridiculous, and if they cannot explain it properly in the next season, I’m not going to watch it anymore…) But: Chapeau to Dumas, for making up such an original story at the time.
Let me go on a bit about The Count of Monte Christo as a philosopher: The thing is, Dumas was born in 1802, two years before Kant – one of the big names connected to moral philosophy – died. That means, Dumas was born and grew up in a time, when the thoughts of the era of enlightenment were already published and had settled down in society, but revolutions were still going on. It was an era where church and society were still fighting over morals and money, and people were still trying to figure out right and wrong. And when we think about the storyline of The Count of Monte Christo now, it is actually quite brilliantly done. Dumas gave us an example of a ‘purely good’ person who starts off knowing the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. (Probably because he was brought up this way, by his family, the church, whatever.) Then, something bad happens to this good person, initiated by ‘purely bad’ people. The good person gets angry, and starts doing things which are at first considered right, because even The Bible says ‘An eye for an eye’. But then, all of a sudden, the new found moral system kicks in, and the main character as well as the reader asks himself, if initially bad actions become good and right because they are done by good people; or if a good person becomes bad because of her bad actions. What comes first – the bad character or the bad action? Or does it all happen at once, good and bad? And how do we live with ourselves when we discover evil in us? New questions to be publicly asked at the time, because for hundreds of years The Bible and The Church taught people, that they were bad by birth, because the first humans sinned against God by gaining the ability to distinguish between right and wrong in the first place; and they had to become good to go to heaven (or at least pay a considerable amount of money to secure their place in paradise). Old questions for us, that will never stop being asked, as long as there are humans wandering and wondering.