Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Which Jules Verne Takes on The Count of Monte Cristo

If you've ever enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo but considered it a bit of a guilty pleasure, this book is for you.

If you've ever checked out The Count of Monte Cristo but returned it again overwhelmed by its massive size, this book is for you.

If you like all things Jules Verne, all things scientific and adventurous, all things romantic suspense (as in the adventure sense, not the lovemaking sense) then this book is for you.

Mathias Sandorf, by Jules Verne.

The Book 
When street villain Sarceny stumbles across a plot to free Hungary from Austrian rule, he takes his
by Leon Bennett (1839-1917), public domain
knowledge straight to banker Silas Toronthal, and betrays three brave men to execution: Count Mathias Sandorf, Stephen Bathory, and Ladislas Zathmar. Undaunted, the three make an abortive attempt at rescue by climbing down the lightening rod of their prison--but Bathory is wounded and executed along with Zathmar, and Sandorf plunges to his death in the waves of the Bay of Rovigno.

Fifteen years later, white-haired Doctor Antekirtt appears in the provinces of Dalmatia where young Pierre Bathory live with his widowed mother. Pierre is in love with Sava Toronthal, who resides with her rich parents in the same region, and Sava returns his affections in spite of her father's disapproval. Doctor Antekirtt just has time to make an acquaintance with the dead patriot's son when Pierre Bathory is stabbed to death, adding yet another senseless victim to the list of Toronthal and Sarceny's enemies.

Doctor Antekirtt, enraged at the injustice, sets off with two jolly acrobats in tow to make right the wrong that has been done.

But attaining his object will be far from easy. The female spy, Namir, as well as crafty Sarceny, stand in his way. And fights on a mountaintop where they are trapped by Sarceny's henchman, a kidnapped maiden in the grip of a man who is not her father, and the wealth of Silas Toronthal staked on the gambling table will all combine in a resolute attempt to wrest justice from his grip.

by Leon Bennett (1839-1917), public domain
My Thoughts 
This book deserves praise on all levels: plotting, characterization, and morality. A corking great read  (with 111 stunning illustrations in the ROH press edition), and if you're looking for an adventure with travel by land and sea, then this is a good choice. It's a break from traditional English/French/American tales as well. Instead of these familiar locations, prepare yourself for Tripoli and a thousand other spots dotting the Mediterranean Sea.

While a lot of Verne's elements copy The Count of Monte Cristo--even to digging a live body out of a graveyard vault--he makes it his own. You get beautiful geographic portraits of each town they pass through (Verne's trademark); night-time chases, scientific developments, and everything from gambling dens to the minarets of Sidi Hazam. Dumas makes Monte Cristo's story absolutely French, complete with affairs for every married couple. Verne leaves off the affairs but incorporates just as much family intrigue, and villains staking their lives on the hidden rot of deceit.

by Leon Bennett (1839-1917), public domain
My favorite characters by far were the two acrobats, Point Pescade and Cape Matifou: one large and
muscular, the other small and agile. Cape Matifou's honest strength comes in handy for catching delicate young ladies, and Pescade's sharp wit plans deeds of daring about as fast as they find themselves in a tight corner. The best of friends--and I love best of friends.

As far as the theme of revenge goes, Verne gives it a twist by making Sandorf wish to revenge not simply his personal grievances, but also the failed plot to free Hungary from Austrian rule and the cruel recapture and death of his friend, Bathory. While Verne's moral dilemma is about as abruptly resolved as Dumas', it is neither so hopeless nor so heart wrenching--even if it ends on a contemplative note.

by Leon Bennett (1839-1917), public domain
There's only one instance where Point Pescade lets off a phrase that's a little less refined, and even then I wouldn't call it swearing. You'll find violence in plenty, but no more so than in other books of Verne's ilk, and it's suitable to the story. There's little if no reference to sexual misbehavior, another plus for a great story. Clean adventure, yet full-blooded, and absolutely nonstop.

If you're looking for a grand vintage novel with all the elements that make a classic, then try Mathias Sandorf. It's rich storytelling, and gives epic satisfaction.



Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

9 comments:

  1. I've alway been intrigued by this book, but I have never had the opportunity to read it. I may have to now. :)
    Great post!
    -E.H. ;)

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    1. You would just love it! And I think it's in public domain now, so it should be available in Kindle format on Project Gutenburg. :)

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  2. Ah ha ha ha ha! It sounds like great fun!

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    1. I think it's just the sort of book you would love. You should give it a try! :)

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  3. I loved this when you read it out-loud several years ago. :) Though, I had to keep asking you today about what happened to the characters. :D
    This reminded me that when you read it, it inspired me to dry out an orange peel. In the book, someone hid a message in a dried orange peel, after the edible part has been taken out. I had that dried peel around in the bedroom for a long time until it finally got thrown away. :P
    Lovely post! I really need to read this again sometime...
    Love,
    Carrie-Grace

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    1. I remember that orange peel!! :D That is so fun; I had forgotten about it until you mentioned it, but it gave me a good chuckle.
      I'm hoping to buy the book sometime. :)
      Love,
      Schuyler

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  4. Jolly ho! This book sounds like a fun adventure. I have been interested in the Count of Monto Christo by Dumas but my dad read it when he was a young man and now mentions it in his memory as a book full of revenge and affairs to boot, so I sort of shied away from giving it a try - besides, its huge! And I have been meaning to read Verne for a while now, so this definitely looks like a splendid introduction.

    Oh, I love best-friends in stories too! :))
    I love reading your reviews, Schuyler. They are always done in a way that keeps me interested ;).

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    1. I think you would enjoy this very much; it still has the revenge theme, but I think it's cleaner than Monte Cristo--as far as I remember. It's been a little while since I've read it, but though there were passing mentions to hypnotism in Mathias Sandorf, Monte Cristo had a lot of sensual opium dreams that I skimmed over. I think Verne is a lot cleaner, much as I have enjoyed both of them.

      Thank-you very much, Joy! It's so encouraging to know you enjoy them. ;D

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  5. And I just realized I spelt 'The Count of Monte Cristo' all wrong in this comment. I really ought to spell-check my comments in the future :).

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