The Abdication Of Bonaparte And The Count of Monte Cristo

Today, 198 years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated as emperor of France and was shipped off to the island of Elba off the coast of France.  In fact, he managed to escape less than a year later, and went on to reclaim power and lead one of the most infamous battles in history:  The Battle of Waterloo.

But his incarceration on Elba sparked off at least two writers’ imaginations.  One of them was Alexandre Dumas, who in 1844 published The Count of Monte Cristo, and the inciting incident for the entire novel was based on the hapless hero, Edmond, accepting a letter from Napoleon when they were forced to land on Elba to find medical aid for their captain, and promising to deliver it to a stranger.  Edmond’s life utterly changes from there.

The book is a terrifying 800 pages long, but in the 19th century it was an instant hit and is considered a classic these days.

It was made into a movie in 2002 starring Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce and Richard Harris…and the movie rocks.  They’ve managed to compress 800 pages of florid 19th century prose down into taut romantic suspense — and it is romantic.  Caviezel makes your knees weak in the later half of the movie as his fifteen year plan for vengeance gets closer to fruition and is nearly derailed by…well, I won’t spoil it except to say that the movie pays careful attention to plot, emotions, character and romance.  It’s fabulous.  If you can scare up a copy, watch it.  It’s worth it.  If you’ve seen it already, do you agree?

The other writer who was inspired by Bonaparte’s incarcaration was Frank Darabont, the writer/director of The Shawshank Redemption– although his inspiration was indirect, via Dumas.  There is a moment in the movie when the prisoners are unpacking donated library books:

HEYWOOD
Treasure Island. Robert Louis…

ANDY
(jotting)
…Stevenson. Next?

RED
I got here an auto repair manual,
and a book on soap carving.

ANDY
Trade skills and hobbies, those go
under educational. Stack right
behind you.

HEYWOOD

The Count of Monte Crisco…

FLOYD
Cristo, you dumbshit.

HEYWOOD
…by Alexandree Dumb-ass.

ANDY
Dumas. You boys’ll like that one.
It’s about a prison break.

Floyd tries to take the book. Heywood yanks it back. I saw it first. Red shoots Andy a look.

RED
Maybe that should go under
educational too.

___________________________________

4 Comments

  1. Susan S. April 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Hi Tracy,

    Sorry. I keep forgetting that the emails I receive are not a newsletter, but the newsfeed.
    The late Alexandre Dumas will “always” be my favorite male author. I’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo a gazzillion times. I have his collection of books on my Kindle and have the unabridged hardcover of The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s 1,462 pages. Love it!
    Sadly, Edmond and Mercedes do not have a happily forever after in the novel. It is in many ways-as life tends to be, real. We are molded by life/circumstance and things don’t always go how we’d originally hoped. Although I love the HEA from the movie, I’m forced to admit that the author’s ending was more realistic. Edmond’s book character had lost any hope for true happiness, but Dumas gave him a glimmer of hope that happiness could still be his. In a way it makes me think of first loves-they happen, but we don’t always marry our first love do we? Some do, but many don’ t. We grow up, move away, or one breaks the others heart. And yet-we hopefully move past that and enter into another relationship. That’s what Dumas, I think, tried to convey.

    At any rate-that is how I choose to interpret the novel.

    The movie with Caviezel is spectacular! And gives us that HEA with the main characters that the book didn’t give us.

    • Tracy April 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      I’ve already replied to you privately, Susan, but this is such a great topic, I’m picking it up again here.

      I love Dumas myself, but not in the original. I like his stories boiled down to the bare bones in movies. The Nutcracker (which Dumas wrote, and Tchaikovsky used for his famous ballet), the Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Black Tulip…

      I don’t have a lot of patience for 19th century prose. It’s too passive by half. It’s the writer in me. I want the story to get on, already. Then I’m a complete hypocrite because I love, adore and worship Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle…yet those short stories aren’t nearly as plodding as the “classic” novels — but Conan Doyle was considered a cheap commercial hack — as I am. 🙂

      But the plotting…ah! Dumas was a master. That’s why I love the movie adaptations. High stakes, romance, *great* characters, tension, it’s all there, the perfect ingredients for the perfect romantic suspense.

      I had no idea Caviezel’s version was twisted to produce a happy ending. Given what you’ve said here, I agree with you. The search for vengeance for fifteen years *should* warp a person so much they’re incapable of redeeming themselves and winning back the one they loved so many years ago. They should have been changed too much by what they had gone through.

      Having said that, the movie is too much fun to pass up. A happy ending when it’s Jim Caviezal looking so good with a sword in his hand is a romantic’s dream.

      It would be nice to screw with the formula and come up with a compromise: The search for vengeance changes his character AND hers to the point where they end up with a relationship that works for them both…but it’s utterly different from what they had to start with because they’re so different from what they were. Now, THAT would make sense, and still have a happy ending.

      One of these days when I have infinite spare time, I’ll settle down and tackle that unabridged version. 1,462 pages? [gulp] I thought *I* wrote long….

      • Jennifer Crowley April 12, 2012 at 6:42 am

        I have to agree, I think a novel that took that concept, that the people were changed by the revenge would make them move together again, that would be really interesting. I would imagine they would be a little bit hard, a little bit broken, and a little bit brittle, but together, they somehow manage to patch the parts of each other that aren’t right.

        After all, she has been in a marriage where things are not quite right, and had to raise and defend and love a child who doesn’t realize his father is not his father. That can change you also.

        • Tracy April 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

          Good point, Jennifer — and in fact, in the movie, she didn’t seem to change all that much. She matured, but all she did was stay devoted to Edmond and meekly put up with a mountain of abuse from her husband, which is what we despise about cardboard romance heroines. She did it because of her son, yes, but she didn’t change at all — the point of this discussion.

          Over the fifteen or sixteen years or however long it was (the son was considered an adult, so it was quite a while), with all the philandering and abuse of her husband, the loveless marriage, protecting her son and supposedly missing Edmond, you’d think she would have changed. For most people, simply growing older changes them.

          So yep, definitely would like to tweak that romance and see how it turns out!

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