A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – two of the best novels I have ever read. Dumas’ story is so brilliant and gripping, it’s certainly a must-read masterpiece. I needed some time to master up courage and start reading it, but soon afterwards I realised it was a page-turner. As for Jeffrey Archer, I like his oeuvre so much that I even devoted my MA thesis to three of his books. A Prisoner of Birth is one of them. Here, I’ll reveal an excerpt of my study “Stylistic Devices for Presenting Class Conflicts: Jeffrey Archer’s Novels Kane and Abel, A Prisoner of Birth and Only Time Will Tell”.
It’s not a juxtaposition of the two works in general. I’ve done that in my thesis, but it’s quite long. It is about Beth and Mercedes and the theme of love. I am not showing off with my analysis; perhaps, it’s less academic than it should be. But I just can’t miss the opportunity to share a few lines about The Count of Monte Cristo and one of its most successful retellings, both really good reads.
Revenge is probably the central theme in both novels, but it should be emphasised that the lust for retribution has been caused by another emotional condition, not less powerful – love. I would say that in A Prisoner of Birth the theme of love is as important as the other one because of the steady relationship between the protagonist and his fiancée. Archer makes the theme of love much more prominent; it does not stay in the background to emerge only occasionally, but on the contrary, it supports the plot’s development from the first lines of the book and continues until the last chapter. In both stories, there is a woman who becomes a reason for the main character to seek vengeance, his primary stimulus to keep moving ahead in a dangerous game with an uncertain result. What distinguishes Archer’s book, however, is the fact that his protagonist is spared the deep damage that love can do to a person. While Dantés faces the shocking betrayal of his beloved Mercedes, Danny Cartwright experiences true and appealing love in its purest form. Not only does Beth wait for him with the ceaseless hope that he will be acquitted and released, but she also never stops searching for a way to help him.
In this sense, Archer prefers to avoid the traditional notion of the obedient woman who would choose humbleness rather than a rebellion in her life. In contrast with Dumas’ female character, he portrays the contemporary woman as strong and unyielding – her image is imbued with perseverance, courage, and desire for justice and equality; she is hardly interested in the obsolete rules of social hierarchy or gender division, and not at all touched by class prejudice. Beth epitomises all the positive features of the emancipated woman who is ready to oppose the world if this can help her to save her love. It could be said that Archer’s heroine, with her tenacity and emotional resilience, is met with more approval by the reader; although I think her implicit love towards the main character prevents the plot from any unexpectedness as far as their relationship is concerned. In this respect, A Prisoner of Birth manifests once again Jeffrey Archer’s intention of writing books that come up to the audience’s expectations. In my opinion, however, depicting love as something unquestionable and steady is a merit rather than being a drawback, because thus, the author can focus on the central theme of the novel – class differentiation and all the devastating consequences it may bring to an individual, as well as the human impotence in eradicating this phenomenon for centuries.