The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss - review by Jonathan Keates

Jonathan Keates

Mon Père, ce héros

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

By

Harvill Secker 412pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

‘The Will’, ‘The Telegraph’, ‘The Suicide’, ‘Expiation’, ‘Toxicology’ – even the most cursory glance at its chapter titles suggests The Count of Monte Cristo is a novel that has everything. The tale of a hero doomed not to share in the happiness he creates for others, it deals in monumental themes – liberty, injustice, ambition, greed and revenge – while never slackening its grip on the reader as pure entertainment. Its storyline fuses a world of exhausted Romanticism, peopled by Byronic dandies and Greek slave girls, with a newer nineteenth-century one of grasping bankers, resurgent Italian nationalism, railway speculation and the march of science. Alexandre Dumas, meanwhile, lives within his own artefact, for Monte Cristo, besides being his most successful novel, was also his most heartfelt. ‘Everybody knows the book well enough, but few people know its author,’ he mournfully remarked, ‘which is a pity, since the two are so closely linked that the one can only be judged by the other.’

Just how profound this connection was is probed for us by Tom Reiss in The Black Count. For Edmond Dantès, both winner and loser at the novel’s centre, is to a significant extent modelled on no less a figure than General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas – father of the novelist, French Revolutionary

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter