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The Count of Monte Cristo

Term Definition
The Count of Monte Cristo

In The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas describes the adventures of a man who is put in prison on false grounds, escapes from prison, and then seeks to wreak vengeance on the people who were responsible for putting him there. It generally considered a classic of Western literature. From a modern perspective, though, its authorship may be a matter of some controversy: an uncredited ghostwriter, Auguste Maquet, contributed substantially to the work.   

Summary Of The Count Of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo is an adventure novel by world class 19th century French author Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870). Serialized circa 1844-1845, the novel is set in France between 1815 and 1839: a period that spans the 16-year Bourbon Restoration—briefly interrupted by Napoleon's return for the Hundred Days period—and the first half of Louis Philippe's reign.

The story centers on the character of Edmund Dantès, a young Marseille merchant sailor who later becomes a rich Count after a series of events, both good and bad, across a quarter-century timespan. At the outset of the story, Dantès shows promise in his trade, but certain individuals in his midst are harboring jealousy. As the young merchant rises to the level of captain, a conspiracy is hatched to falsely portray him as a bonapartist. Imprisoned without trial, he wastes away for years before befriending an aging cellmate, who tells him of a treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. Escaping prison through the cellmate's burial sack, he makes his way to the island, acquires the treasure, and returns to Marseille with his newfound wealth. After tending to some long-lost friends, he sets out for revenge on those who framed him, and while he has his way, his vengeful actions spawn numerous repercussions. 

Themes Of The Count Of Monte Cristo

Running throughout The Count of Monte Cristo is the notion that alienation can lead to a loss in one's humanity. During his years of imprisonment, Dantès loses his father and his fiance. After the death of his cellmate, all of Dantès living relations are gone. Once he gains freedom and wealth, he sets about on an elaborate, decade-long revenge scheme against his enemies, the magnitude of which takes a toll on his psyche. As his vengeance unfolds with various consequences, he feels nothing; no remorse or regret. It's only after finding love again, with Haydée, that he regains his capacity for the broader spectrum of human emotion.

Another common theme in Dumas' novel is suicide, which is either contemplated or carried out by many of the characters. Often linked to the loss of love, suicide is portrayed as an act of romantic devotion and a guaranteed escape from bottomless misery. The author further explores the limits of human justice through the actions of the main character. Dantès is determined to inflict long and convoluted acts of vengeance on the men responsible for his unjust imprisonment—a mission that he doesn't believe could ever be sufficiently executed under the prevailing justice system—but the consequences of these acts suggest that man is simply incapable of being the ultimate punisher.

Inspiration For The Count Of Monte Cristo

The revenge plot behind The Count of Monte Cristo was inspired by a story by French police writer Jacques Peuchet, in which a successful shoemaker is engaged to marry a well-off woman before being framed as a spy by three jealous associates.

First published in serial form in the Journal des Débats, Dumas' novel has since gained canonical status and inspired various other works, including Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) by Union general and author Lew Wallace (1827-1905). Monte Cristo has also seen many adaptations on the big screen and small, including a 1975 Emmy-winning version starring Richard Chamberlain as Dantès.

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