The writing of the novel: Dumas was known to collaborate with other authors, and was often accused of having not actually written the majority of the novels that he laid claim to. He "borrowed" from outside sources, including historical events and entire plot lines from other authors, all of which he out his own spin on. It is widely believed that for this novel, Dumas received entire plot outlines from a collaborator, and merely wrote them out in his own words. There are certain chapters in the book that, as one is reading, seem to be written by two different people, with two different styles. This collaboration may explain why.
Another obvious point about Monte Cristo is its painstaking length. It drags on for over 1300 pages, (give or take, depending on which translation you are reading) and there are many, many chapters (and characters) that the novel really could have done without. However, this is understandable since Dumas was actually getting paid by the word! So can you really blame the guy?
The Count of Monte Cristo is admittedly the story of a real man named Francoise Picaud. The novel is his life retold in Dumas' melodramatic fashion. As far as the main plot line is concerned, nearly everything that happens to Dantes, happened to Picaud.
Historical background: The majority of the novel is set in France. The current power of France, Napoleon, a short little dude* with an attitude, was forced to abdicate his power because his
*In reality, Napoleon was 5ft. 7in., an average height for a man of that period, and is falsely represented as having an inferiority complex.
**I am not a history teacher, nor do I pretend to be one, so I cannot guarantee the accuracy of these statements.
Characters: If you have seen the movie version of The Count of Monte Cristo (starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce), then you will notice a huge difference in several of the characters' relationships and many additional characters, most of which could have been omitted from the book. For example, in the novel, Fernand Mondego is not best friends with Edward Dantes, but rather Mercedes' cousin, and only encounters Dantes for the first time upon his reunion with Mercedes.
There are also many younger characters who play major roles in the novel. Those include several of Albert's friends and the children of Villefort, Danglars, and Morrel. Other notable characters omitted from the movie version are Villefort's second wife Heloise, Monte Cristo's "slave" Haydee, Benedetto, the illegitimate child of Villefort and Madame Danglars, and Noitier, Villefort's father. Luigi Vampa and Jacopo, as they appear in the movie, are a consolidation of several different characters from the novel.
Plot: This novel is hard to follow at times, especially if the reader is not familiar with the political situations in France at the time. It helps to find a version of the novel that is complete with chapter notes for further explanation. Upon first read, it is also difficult to keep all of the characters straight, especially with the number of similar names (such as Bertuccio and Benedetto) and with the many personas that Dantes takes on throughout the novel. It helps to have a character list handy. I suggest the one from SparkNotes, but this one does not contain the various friends of Albert's, all of which I was continuously confusing with each other. There will be constant referring back to previous chapters to keep them all straight!
As mentioned before, there are also many scenes and chapters that seem thoroughly unnecessary. Many could have been omitted without taking anything away from the main plot. These chapters make the novel seemingly drag on forever; I would recommend skipping them altogether if you can!
Overall, I still have to say that this is one of my favorite novels. However, it does make me appreciate the movie less after each time I read it. I would suggest that if you have seen the movie, and it's a favorite, then don't read the book, lest it ruin that for you. If you have read the book, but not seen the movie, don't watch it, unless you want to be disappointed!
So there it is, in a nutshell, (a really big coconut shell, that is) my final review on The Count of Monte Cristo. I am now moving on to The Three Musketeers because I just the other day, I discovered that I actually own it! (It's been hiding in a box in my basement).