A friend of mine recently read The Count of Monte Cristo and passed it on to me. As an author, I should probably discourage this practice, but I plead a War Zone Exemption. I am halfway through the novel, so please don’t spoil it. Despite its antiquated prose style, my knowledge of the basic plot from movies, and halfhearted attempts to read it in school, I thoroughly enjoy the story.
With themes such as revenge for wrongs, personal justice, and perseverance when all seems lost, The Count of Monte Cristo appeals to the teenager in me who still feels compelled to read Call of the Wild every few years. And that got me to thinking about the Young Adult Fiction category again. I’ve written before about the violence in L’homme Theroux and acceptable limits in Young Adult Fiction, but let me summarize what I have read in the first half of this book.
The Count of Monte Cristo has:
- Shooting deaths and multiple stabbing deaths
- Suicide and contemplation of suicide
- Drug use, opium and hashish mixed together as sleeping aid (so perhaps it was prescription abuse)
- Attempted infanticide
- Mob violence
- Guillotine deaths
- Transvestism of a teenage boy (Of course, that was just to lure Albert into his kidnapping)
- Civil war, usurpation of power, and violent overthrow of government
- Neglect and abuse by prison officials that would be prosecuted today
- Sexual innuendo, including flirting at the Roman festival where women taking off their masks is the 19th century equivalent of women flashing their boobs at Mardi Gras in New Orleans
I understand in the context of the novel’s time period and the time it was written, both being pretty much the same, some of these things have a different hue to them than they do to us today. However, knowing what I do about Victorians, many of the topics listed above were more taboo to them than us, even if the topics were familiar. Dumas went to pains illustrating why things like suicide, slavery, and infanticide were, while well-known during the time period, just as horrific and outside the bounds of society as they are to us today.
Have we changed that much?
Just for grins, I visited Amazon and found the exact same Bantam Classic edition I am reading. The age range is listed as twelve and up. The grade level is seven and up. There is no arguing The Count of Monte Cristo is not a classic. We would not still be reading it and torturing students with it 170 years after it was written, if it was not. And depending on your definition, it was not written by a dead white man, so that should thrill the Liberals.
So, comparing all I’ve listed above with my misgivings about acceptable topics and levels of sex and violence in Young Adult literature, I still come back to my original two guidelines to qualify for the Young Adult category:
- The protagonist is the same demographic as the reading audience.
- The reader has to be able to see himself in the character.
These two are really the only constants I have be able to figure out. I’ve wracked my brain and spilled a lot of ink over this subject, and these are the best I can come up with? There has to be more. This cannot be all there is to it. Will someone please set me straight? I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something really important in what is very likely my oversimplified view of this subject.