The Count of Monte Cristo

A Study Guide

Alexandré Dumas’ literary classic, The Count of Monte Cristo, is an adventure novel that has been popular with readers since its publication in 1844. The story begins just before Napoleon’s return to power following his exile, and continues through the reign of France’s King Louis-Philippe I. A tale of betrayal, revenge, and forgiveness, The Count of Monte Cristo is, along with The Three Musketeers, one of Dumas’ most enduring works.

Plot Summary

Illustration of Edmond Dantes Left in the Sea by a Ship Crew
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The year is 1815, and Edmond Dantés is a merchant sailor on his way to marry the lovely Mercédès Herrera. On the way, his captain, LeClère, is dying at sea. LeClère, a supporter of the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte, secretly asks Dantés to deliver two items for him upon the ship’s return to France. The first is a package, to be given to General Henri Betrand, who was imprisoned with Napoleon on Elba. The second is a letter, written on Elba, and to be handed off to an unknown man in Paris.

The night before his wedding, Dantés is arrested when Mercédès’ cousin Fernand Mondego sends a note to the authorities accusing Dantés of being a traitor. Marseille prosecutor Gérard de Villefort takes possession of both the package and the letter carried by Dantés. He later burns the letter, after discovering it was to be delivered to his own father, who is secretly a Bonapartist. To be certain of Dantés silence, and protect his father, Villefort sends him off to the Château d'If to serve a life sentence without the formality of a trial.

Years pass, and while Dantés is lost to the world in the confines of Château d'If, he is known only by his number, Prisoner 34. Dantés has given up hope and is considering suicide when he meets another prisoner, the Abbé Faria.

Faria spends years educating Dantés in languages, philosophy, science, and culture — all of the things Dantés will need to know if he ever gets the opportunity to reinvent himself. Upon his deathbed, Faria reveals to Dantés the location of a secret cache of treasure, hidden upon the island of Monte Cristo.

Following the Abbé’s death, Dantés contrives to hide in the burial sack, and is thrown from the top of the island into the ocean, thus making his escape after a decade and a half of imprisonment. He swims to a nearby island, where he is picked up by a shipload of smugglers, who take him to Monte Cristo. Dantés finds the treasure, just where Faria said it would be. After recovering the loot, he makes his way back to Marseilles, where he buys not only the island of Monte Cristo, but also the title of Count.

Styling himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, Dantés begins working on a complex plan for revenge against the men who conspired against him. In addition to Villefort, he plots the downfall of his traitorous former shipmate Danglars, an old neighbor named Caderousse, who was in on the plan to frame him, and Fernand Mondego, who is now a count himself, and married to Mercédès.

With the money he recovered from the cache, along with his newly-purchased title, Dantés begins to work his way into the cream of Parisian society. Soon, anyone who is anyone must be seen in the company of the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo. Naturally, no one recognizes him — the poor sailor called Edmond Dantés vanished fourteen years ago.

Dantés begins with Danglars, and forces him into financial ruin. For his vengeance against Caderousse, he takes advantage of the man's lust for money, laying a trap in which Caderousse is murdered by his own cohorts. When he goes after Villefort, he plays upon secret knowledge of an illegitimate child born to Villefort during an affair with Danglars' wife; Villefort's wife then poisons herself and their son.

Mondego, now the Count de Morcerf, is ruined socially when Dantés shares information with the press that Mondego is a traitor. When he goes to trial for his crimes, his son Albert challenges Dantés to a duel. Mercédès, however, has recognized the Count of Monte Cristo as her former fiancé, and begs him to spare Albert's life. She later tells her son what Mondego did to Dantés, and Albert makes a public apology. Mercédès and Albert denounce Mondego, and once he realizes the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo, Mondego takes his own life.

While all of this is going on, Dantés is also busily rewarding those who tried to help him and his aging father. He reunites two young lovers, Villefort's daughter Valentine and Maximilian Morrell, the son of Dantés' former employer. At the end of the novel, Dantés sails away with his slave, Haydée, the daughter of an Ottoman pasha who was betrayed by Mondego. Haydée and Dantés have become lovers, and they go off to begin a new life together.

Major Characters

Illustration of Edmond Dantes Discovering the Treasure of the Island of Monte Cristo
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Edmond Dantés: A poor merchant sailor who is betrayed and imprisoned. Dantés escapes from the Château d'If after fourteen years, and returns to Paris with a treasure. Styling himself the Count of Monte Cristo, Dantés exacts his revenge upon the men who plotted against him.

Abbé Faria: The “Mad Priest” of Château d'If, Faria educates Dantés in matters of culture, literature, science, and philosophy. He also tells him the location of a secret cache of treasure, buried upon the island of Monte Cristo. As they are about to escape together, Faria dies, and Dantés hides himself in the Abbé’s body bag. When his jailers throw the bag into the sea, Dantés makes his escape back to Marseille to reinvent himself as the Count of Monte Cristo.

Fernand Mondego: Dantés’ rival for Mercédès’ affections, Mondego sets the plot into motion to frame Dantés for treason. He later becomes a powerful general in the army, and during his tenure in the Ottoman Empire, he meets and betrays Ali Pasha of Janina, selling his wife and daughter into slavery. Once he loses his social standing, his freedom, and his family at the hands of the Count of Monte Cristo, Mondego shoots himself.

Mercédès Herrera: She is Dantés’ fiancée and lover when the story opens. However, once he is accused of treason and sent off to the Château d'If, Mercédès marries Fernand Mondego and has a son, Albert, with him. Despite her marriage to Mondego, Mercédès still has feelings for Dantés, and it is she who recognizes him as the Count of Monte Cristo.

Gérard de Villefort: The chief deputy prosecutor of Marseilles, Villefort imprisons Dantés, in order to protect his own father, a secret Bonapartist. When the Count of Monte Cristo appears in Paris, Villefort becomes acquainted with him, not recognizing him as Dantés: The chief deputy prosecutor of Marseilles, Villefort imprisons Dantés, in order to protect his own father, a secret Bonapartist. When the Count of Monte Cristo appears in Paris, Villefort becomes acquainted with him, not recognizing him as Dantés

Background & Historical Context

Alexandre Dumas The Elder French Novelist And Playwright C1850-1870
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The Count of Monte Cristo begins in 1815, during the Bourbon Restoration, when Napoleon Bonaparte is exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. In March of that year, Napoleon escaped Elba, fleeing back to France with the help of a complex network of supporters known as the Bonapartists, and eventually marching upon Paris in what would come to be called the Hundred Days War. These events are mentioned in the letter that Dantés unwittingly carries to deliver to Villefort’s father.

Author Alexandré Dumas, born in 1802, was the son of one of Napoleon’s generals, Thomas-Alexandré Dumas. Just four years old when his father died, Alexandré grew up in poverty, but as a young man became known as one of France’s foremost Romantic novelists. The Romantic movement placed a lot of emphasis on stories with adventure, passion, and emotion, in direct contrast to the somewhat staid works that came immediately after the French Revolution. Dumas himself took part in the Revolution of 1830, even helping to capture a powder magazine.

He wrote a number of successful novels, many of which were rooted in historical events, and in 1844, began the serial publication of The Count of Monte Cristo. The novel was inspired by an anecdote he read in an anthology of criminal cases. In 1807, a Frenchman named François Pierre Piçaud was denounced by his friend Loupian as being a British spy. Although not a traitor, Piçaud was found guilty and sent off to prison in the Fenestrelle Fortress. While incarcerated, he met a priest who left him a fortune upon his death.

After eight years in prison, Piçaud returned to his hometown, disguised as a rich man, and exacted vengeance upon Loupian and the others who had conspired to see him imprisoned for treason. He stabbed one, poisoned a second, and lured Loupian's daughter into a life of prostitution before finally stabbing him. While he was in prison, Piçaud's fiancée had left him to marry Loupian.

Quotes

Illustration for Count of Monte Cristo, novel by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) and Auguste Maquet (1813-1888), engraving after drawing by Ange Louis Janet (1815-1872)
De Agostini Picture Library / Getty Images
  • “I am not proud, but I am happy; and happiness blinds, I think, more than pride.” 
  • “It's necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.” 
  • “Often we pass beside happiness without seeing it, without looking at it, or even if we have seen and looked at it, without recognizing it.”
  • “Hatred is blind; rage carries you away; and he who pours out vengeance runs the risk of tasting a bitter draught.” 
  • “I, who have also been betrayed, assassinated and cast into a tomb, I have emerged from that tomb by the grace of God and I owe it to God to take my revenge. He has sent me for that purpose. Here I am.”
  • “All human wisdom is contained in these two words —"Wait and Hope.” 
  • “The difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.” 

Film Adaptations

Count Of Monte Cristo
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The Count of Monte Cristo has been adapted for the screen no less than fifty times, in numerous languages around the world. The first time the Count appeared in film was a silent movie made in 1908 starring actor Hobart Bosworth. Over the years, several notable names have played the titular role, including:

In addition, there have been countless variations on the story, such as a Venezuelan telenovela called La dueña, featuring a female character in the lead, and the film Forever Mine, loosely based on Dumas’ novel.