Who Wrote The Count of Monte Cristo?

Welcome, readers-along! As we start reading on this fine (Canadian) long weekend, let’s ponder what should be a very simple question: who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo?

Here’s the evolution of my answer:

Had you asked me a year ago, I would have said: Alexandre Dumas, dead white dude.

Had you asked me six months ago, I would have said: Alexandre Dumas, dead, but not white, dude. I found Alex on this list of classics by authors of colour, which lead me to choose it for my read along this year.*

Had you asked me a month ago, I would have said: Alexandre Dumas, père, and probably have tried to make a “Big Poppa” joke. I learned that Alexandre Dumas has a son of the same name, also a writer. He’s known as fils. The père designation stuck, though I think there should be some sort of statute of limitations on that, because who’s reading fils theses days?

big poppa

Given what I’ve learned about Dumas, you could probably find him in the back of the club sippin’ Moët too, tbh

Ask me now? I have no idea!

Turns out, it’s pretty much universally acknowledged that Alexandre Dumas, père, wrote The Count of Monte Cristo in collaboration with August Maquet. Maquet was his long-time collaborator, and it’s on the record that he took care of small matters, like researching historical details, as well as large ones, like plot outlines and characters. But it’s also been speculated that Dumas was running a sort of “genius factory”, working with several or even dozens of ghostwriters and just slapping his name on the end result. You know, like a celebrity fashion line. Or a James Patterson book.

I do find it interesting that Google only lists Dumas as author (with Maquet relegated to the seventh “people also search for”) but Wikipedia lists “Alexandre Dumas in collaboration with Auguste Maquet”

Does it matter?

I’ve always been a separate-the-art-from-the-artist kind of girl. So, if August Maquet wrote some of the 1,200 pages here, or created the skeleton for Dumas to dress with flowery prose, does it really matter? I actually kind of love how it subverts the “lone genius writing in a darkened room” stereoype. And let’s remember, Dumas didn’t have the internet to look up historical details, nor a word processor to store plot outlines. Can you blame him for getting some help? As we’ve seen in previous read-alongs, it’s not that unusual for authors to get significant support while writing – it’s just usually from a wife. At least Auguste got paid.

For a much more detailed account of Dumas and Maquet’s work together, check out new-to-me book blog The Pageaholic (or, take your pick of several scholarly books, articles, and even a 2010 movie on the subject, if you have the time!) And tell me, did you know that Dumas worked with collaborators? Does it change your perception of his work?

*Eagled-eyed and/or obsessed readers of this blog might notice that my reading in 2018 is devoid of white authors writing in English. What can I say, I love a weirdly-specific reading goal!

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13 comments

  1. Rick @ AnotherBook.blog

    This is interesting! I had no idea.

    The concensus seems to be that Maquet did the research, some outlining, and “grunt work.” Who cares, I say. Those are just time savers, in my opinion. It’s not like Dumas wasn’t capable, and these things weren’t shaping the work like, say, the plot does. (Which Dumas was solely responsible for, from what I’ve read.)

    Interesting detail, not all that salacious. Doesn’t impact my view of Dumas one bit.

    Aaron Sorkin has staffers do research for him. Would anyone say the didn’t write the West Wing?

    (Great post!)

  2. BookerTalk

    `i thought this was a trick question when I saw the title of the post! i suspect my answers right up until I read your piece would have been the same as yours a month ago….

  3. Amy Yuki Vickers

    Prior to joining this readalong, I was aware of this book’s existence, but that’s about it. I knew nothing about Dumas or how it was written, so I appreciate this post.

    It doesn’t matter to me whether a piece of art is a collaboration or made by one person. I watch movies, after all. If Dumas was running a “genius factory” and his ghostwriters were satisfied with the arrangement, then I think it is fine. However, as a reader, I like to be informed about the material that I’m reading (so thank you for informing me!). Research, outlining, and characters are not insignificant contributions to a book. It is also my preference that collaborators get credit, especially unrecognized women who have supported male artists over the centuries.

    • lauratfrey

      Totally, re. unrecognized women. This is something I thought about a lot while reading War and Peace last year. Sophia Tolstoy copied out seven drafts of W&P, and I refuse to believe she didn’t make some contributions along the way (not that just copying out – BY HAND – War and Peace seven times, usually while pregnant and caring for small children, wasn’t contribution enough!)

      • Amy Yuki Vickers

        Seven drafts! That’s unbelievable. I had no idea. I have often wondered how writers made such great works before there were things like word processors. I guess in the case of Tolstoy, Sophia was his word processor. It’s hard to imagine that she didn’t add or change anything at all during that entire process. There’s a lot of examples of scribes having changed documents both intentionally and unintentionally.

  4. writereads

    I knew some of the stats in your post, but weirdly, though I have a degree in English and French lit, I was never asked to read Dumas for any of my courses. I also did French Immersion all through school. I’m just now contemplating this and finding it extremely odd.
    And before you start in with the whole “why aren’t you reading it in French?” business, my French is sadly quite rusty now and if you want me to finish this sucker in a mere 6-8 weeks, English is your best bet. I still read in French, but it’s mostly kids books.

    BTW, I’m so happy that the word “spanker” was on the first page. Great way to start a long read. Granted, it’s referring to a type of sail, but still…it made me happy. I made quite sure to add the word “boat” when googling it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanker_(sail)
    -Tania

    • lauratfrey

      I missed the spanker thing, I think my eyes glaze over at nautical jargon 🙂

      That is odd about Dumas! What did you read? I’m trying to teach myself enough French to try reading a bit (NOT this), based on my foundation of shitty highschool FSL. I’m using Duo Lingo. So far I am learning names of animals… other things too, it’s fun, and I might try to read some Tin Tin or something soon!

  5. annelogan17

    Hmmm I had no idea about that either! And because I’m not reading the book itself i’ll comment on something else; am I the only one who finds the way James Patterson writes annoying? And by writes, I mean, not write at all and just stick his name on stuff? Just retire already!

  6. Naomi

    Regarding the note at the bottom of your post… I was wondering about that. I always think those kinds of challenges sound fun, but I KNOW I wouldn’t be able to stick to them!

  7. Hans

    Hi!ya from the Pageaholic. Here’s what I meant, and it’s now out on Amazon! Maybe your readers will enjoy this companion to their Count of Monte Cristo journey 😉 And for what it’s worth, in the lawsuit between Maquet and Dumas, Maquet wasn’t suing Dumas for stealing ideas, but because his usual payments were delayed. Here’s one I’ve always wondered about: what percentage of Stephen King’s books were written by Tabitha King?

  8. Pingback: Classics Club Spin #19 | Reading in Bed

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