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This introduction appears in The Count of Monte Cristo, Published by Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, Copyright, 1894 and 1901 by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. Copyright, 1922 by Huntington Smith

INTRODUCTION.

1815-1838.



    The Count of Monte Cristo is totally unlike any of Dumas' other stories and in many respects is the strongest of all. Even the D'Artagnan romances, though containing points of superiority, must yield to this novel in interest and popularity. Despite its obvious faults, which critics have analyzed repeatedly, it has been placed by general consent in the list of the world's ten greatest novels. This high position has been accorded it because it has been found broad in sweep while narrow of theme, and convincing in interest while melodramatic in its ideals.
    The first departure from other Dumas stories made by Monte Cristo lies in its freedom from historic relation. Dumas' lifelong purpose was to "elevate history to the rank of fiction," and his long list of interest compelling novels and plays constructed closely upon fact attests the realization of his purpose. But in Monte Cristo he suddenly turns aside from established record to write a narrative of unbridled fancy. Liberated from the trammels of history, he gives free rein to his exuberant imagination, writing carelessly and swiftly, but producing a story that will enthrall the attention as certainly as the reader has an answering imagination.
    Nor is Dumas to be tempted into the field of history even momentarily, notwithstanding the period is an alluring one to a man of his temperament. The closing Hundred Days of the dynasty of Napoleon I., culminating with the Battle of Waterloo, is the first incident he passes over with a bare mention, whereas his contemporary Hugo turns aside in Les Miserables and devotes several chapters to Waterloo alone, although having to skip a period and break the thread of his story so to do. Other episodes about which the mysterious Monte Cristo or his enemies might have been personally interested are the reigns of Louis XVIII., Charles X., and Louis Philippe, and the Revolution of July. But none of these things are allowed, to intrude upon the story proper, save in the most episodical way. The problem is now not the safety of thrones, but the oppression of a soul that lives to oppress other souls in its turn.
    The motif indeed is not a lofty one. Revenge cannot be ennobled by the most elaborate system of counterweights. In the D'Artagnan romances it will be noticed that friendship is the compelling force— a friendship of man for man that dwarfs the love of sexes. In Monte Cristo it is not friendship but hatred of man for man—so strong that once again the love of man for woman becomes almost insignificant. Edmond Dantès, a simple sailor lad, frank, open-hearted, sunny, to whom the whole sky is blue, and the whole earth is glorified by his sweetheart's smile, falls the victim of cruel plots and devilish circumstances. Four men are instrumental in his complete undoing—Danglars being actuated by jealousy in rank; Mondego by rivalry in love; Caderousse by cowardly self-interest; and Villefort by political fear. On the eve of his wedding day Dantès is torn from his betrothed and sent to languish in a dungeon, while his four enemies are apparently triumphant. Years afterwards, when they have ceased to think of their victim, he escapes from prison armed with a store of worldly knowledge, possessed with the secret of an enormous wealth, and imbued with the spirit of an undying vengeance. Henceforth his life, his knowledge, his wealth, and every faculty of his nature are devoted to the culmination of his plans for revenge.
    The plot takes on a fourfold aspect at this point, since the revenge contemplates four separate persons. Danglars has become a baron and a banker; he must be attacked through financial channels. The problem is one involving only time for a man of unlimited means. Mondego has become a count and has attained considerable wealth; but his war and private record conceals some doubtful actions of which his enemy has but to possess himself by patient investigation in order to work his ruin. Caderousse's cowardice and selfishness have brought their own reward—criminality—and his secret foe has little to do save abandon him to his evil nature, and wait patiently for the inevitable and terrible day when his name can be erased from the list. Villefort's case seems more perplexing at first. His official position as king's attorney does not readily present any culpable deeds that may be proven. A spot upon his private life is finally discovered and used with overwhelming effect against him.
    But the four problems are by no means so simple as would appear from the above outline. They present subtleties and intricacies of wonderful scope. Villefort is not alone attacked officially. An insidious enemy to his domestic happiness is set at work within his home. The two catastrophes descend simultaneously, leaving the man crushed and demented. Danglars is attacked from two other sides beside the financial, so that his wife's social prestige and his daughter's happiness are overthrown at the same time with his flight. And in the same manner with the two others, every available influence is brought to bear upon them. The fourfold problem is accurately demonstrated and comprehensively outlined. It would also have been completely worked out but for the presence of an unexpected factor—the factor of a woman's recurring love. Dantès' sweetheart, Mercédès, has been won by Mondego after her lover's sudden and inexplicable disappearance. The subsequent revenge, therefore, against Mondego in order to be complete must include his wife and their son. The pitiless Dantès, or Count of Monte Cristo, as he is now called, is on the point of slaying the son after having practically accomplished the father's disgrace, when the wife, Mercédès, pierces the count's disguise, till then impenetrable, and implores him to pity in the name of their own former love. The man of bronze hesitates. The woman pleads and avows her love of the earlier days. The man and his beautifully wrought system of revenge is disturbed and thwarted because he has not succeeded in crushing out his heart. The incident comes as a blessed relief after many pages freighted with fatality. It relieves the figure of Monte Cristo which till then had seemed almost devoid of humanity and limned only by the darkness of an inflexible hatred.
    Monte Cristo cannot appeal as an actual, living person. He is rather one of the forces of nature, hardly human in conception, and robed with an air of mystery that prevents a personal acquaintance. One cannot be attracted by his individuality, but is repelled instead by the qualities which he assiduously cultivates. He has transformed himself into an instrument of vengeance, and thus may neither expect nor desire sympathy. So insistently has this been brought out that, on the few rare occasions when his generosity or gratitude are revealed—as in the case of the Morrels, or in the interview with Mercédès—the reader feels almost as little personal sympathy for his actions as though they were of the opposite type. He is neither to be praised nor condemned for his treatment of his four enemies. In each case he merely directs their crimes against their own heads. He aids society by rooting out of its midst four evil weeds. But the conception of a man thus taking upon himself to save or punish is not consistent with our twentieth century ideals; and for this reason, if for no other, the figure of Monte Cristo will never seem real, but will keep company with such legendary characters as "Sinbad the Sailor." Viewed thus as a mythical hero imbued with supernatural qualities of foresight and omniscience and endowed with untold wealth, his figure is irresistibly attractive to younger minds. While with all, young or old, who have had vague longings for riches and power, and who have believed themselves capable of using wisely such fortune, Monte Cristo's actions will arouse the keenest interest.
    The problem of the expenditure of resources is at all times alluring. Dumas himself became so attracted by the type he had created, that his own after life was influenced by Monte Cristo's career, living prodigally and spending lavishly.
    Mercédès comes as a grateful change from the dark, conflicting passions of the book. She never loses her girlish charm. Her pathetic smile is a hint of a divine forgiveness, a promise of future benison. She is the real sufferer, but her suffering is not tinged by bitterness. Her devotion continues unchanged through all the varying fortunes of those it rests upon. Contrasted with the inflexible hatred of Dantès, her love becomes a symbol of the God-like attribute of mercy outweighing the demands of justice.
    Another glint of sunshine is the courtship of Valentine and Maximilian. It stands out all the brighter from being outlined against a threatening sky. That Valentine the innocent was almost destroyed with her guilty parents simply shows the blindness of a humanly-instituted justice. The story of the two lovers, and the means by which they were united—through the agency of a sleeping potion—bears close resemblance to the tale of Romeo and Juliet.
    The absence of humor will be noted. The plot is too sternly tragic to admit of it. The melodramatic dénouements are relieved by a naturalness of narration. The tremendous onward sweep of circumstance appeals principally to the intellect and to the logical sense. Dumas' spirit of generosity and chivalry, met with so abundantly elsewhere, is here replaced by a brutality, a harshness of tone, that hints of the barbaric blood still lingering in his veins. His magnificent Count of Monte Cristo may lay exulting claim to the world, but it is for him a world wherein he is to pursue his egoistic interests, and not an arena for the exploiting of a larger humanity.

            J. WALKER MCSPADDEN.

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