One of the greatest books in the world is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. Now, when I read a novel, I skip the learned introductions until I have finished the book, as I want to discover for myself the riches of the text without being given a map to do so.
What has struck me is that this is one of those novels which takes one completely away from the world in which we live to another world. Not many works of literature can do this. This transportation of the imagination lies in a masterpiece, such as Dante's Divine Comedy, Dickens' Little Dorrit, or E. M. Foster's Howard's End. Few book or poems can carry us into the mind of the maker, who creates for us a world of characters, events, and the majesty of language, even caught in translation. We are transported out of our grey world into a world of intensity and insight, colours and mystery, love, life, death.
The fact that the Count plays God and learns that he is a man who needs love and forgiveness, like all men and women, is one of the themes. That the Count is open to love after realizing the depths of his own sin and the horror of the evil in the world, is a theme of transcendent hope. In fact, the two last words in the novel are "wait" and "hope"-- the mark of the Christian in this world of darkness and uncertainty.
Another theme, and I have refused to read the scholarly introduction, is that suffering is redemptive. Of course, in 2012, most people no longer believe in this truth.
God allows suffering, although He does not necessary will it is His Love and Mercy. That some of us suffer more than others is a great mystery. The Book of Job holds that mystery. The Count of Monte Cristo does as well.
Suffering can be caused by many things, such as illness, poverty, or failure. But, the greatest suffering is not to have experienced love in this world. To live without experiencing human love is the greatest suffering.
Can there be a greater suffering than the lack of experiencing true love?
Christ allowed Himself to die at the hands of His Own People. He was betrayed to the enemy and endured the pain only a God, only the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity could suffer-that of all the terrible suffering which man inflicts on other men in this vale of tears.
For me, love is always a gift, even if unrequited. I would rather have experienced love, and not have it returned, than not to have loved at all. This takes courage. This is the Love of God on the Cross.
The Count learns what it is to sacrifice freely, willingly, for the sake of others. He is rewarded by a second chance to love and be loved. Would that we were all given a second chance in love and life.
I remember a great line from The Importance of Being Earnest. Miss Prism is speaking to Cecily about the three volume novel the governess-companion wrote. She states about the story that, "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means."
But, in Christianity, the good end happily and the bad unhappily, as the story of Redemption has created for once and for all, the happy ending. One can read Tolkien on this for more insight. But, we can see this ourselves in the Gospel and in the Teachings of the Church. We know that the only real Truth is the happy ending. Wait and hope.
The Count finds new love and he is able to return such love, after realizing he has gone too far in his revenge. He is generous and forgiving, finally, and finds generosity and forgiveness. This is a novel written in the Christian spirit of hope and love, waiting and finding.
I still have not read the scholarly introduction. I already know the philosophy of Dumas, being familiar with The Three Musketeers, which readers of my age grew up with on the shelves at home. Our fathers came from the age of heroes, and Dumas' generation was similar. Real heroism is found in sacrificial love. We have the best example in the world. He is our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.
As a post-script, it always astounds me how much writing these great men, like Dickens and Dumas, did in their short lives. Dumas was 68 when he died, after a career in journalism, drama, novels, and even children's books. One is in awe of such genius. For my part, this novel is one of my favorites. If, dear readers, you have not read it, do so.