The Count of Monte Cristo was written at a time when the genre lines that govern fiction were not so strictly defined. We do Dumas as much as a disservice by pigeon-holing him as a historical Romance writer as we do by perpetuating the myth that he wrote children's books. The 'Rome' section (the bit I've just read) is as pure and concentrated Gothic as Udolpho. It's all Italian banditti, Edmond-the-Vampire and slightly strained reference to Lord Byron. In fact, the novel itself follows the pattern of a Gothic beautifully,we follow our hero from pastoral (or perhaps maritime) idyllic poverty, through terror and bondage (and that word is ruined forever) into the more violent, 'primitive' places where different rules govern behaviours and men - remote islands, Italian forests, the Eternal City - only to bring that terror back with us to the stylish salons of the so-called civilised world. In fact, the evidence is that Dumas really wanted to write a Gothic in the truest sense of the word, in that he wanted to start the book in Rome, have us meet Edmond-the-vampire before we met Edmond-the-poor-but-honest sailor. Like the ambiguous, Byronic villains whose apparent supernatural origins are eventually explained away, we were supposed to be mystified by the terrifying, 'savage' honour of 'Sinbad the Sailor' before we understood the betrayal that had shaped him.
Thanks to the intervention of Auguste Maquet, however, that is not the story we have. So we, with our more rigid interpretations of genre conventions, we find ourselves expecting Napoleon, vengeance, true love and high adventure and instead get dropped in the catacombs of San Sebastiano with a bunch of Byronic bandits.
Well I, for one, am not complaining. *Whistles innocuously*
|Mmm. Edmond Dantès|
They aren't fair, these novels. There is no Providence, no ever loving God looking out for the virtuous. And actually, come to think of it, our heroes aren't that virtuous. Goldman captures - perfectly - the frustrations of a child who has grown up with the sanitised, naive, 'happy ending' versions of these stories, only to discover in adulthood that they weren't simple or as reassuring, that the undercurrent of discomfort they created was their real legacy, their enduring power.
After all, Who said that life was fair? Where is that written?