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The Count of Monte Cristo | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Alexandre Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

The Count of Monte Cristo | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


In 1815 the future looks bright for Edmond Dantès, a dashing young first mate, when he sails the cargo ship Pharaon into the harbor of Marseille. He's done such a good job as acting captain after the unexpected death of Captain Leclère that the ship's owner, Monsieur Morrel, plans to appoint Dantès captain before his next voyage. Dantès has three months ashore before then to spend time with his aged father and marry his fiancée, Mercédès. Dantès is in danger unknown to him, however. Three men who hate him for different reasons meet and conspire against him. The three are Danglars, Morrel's business agent during the Pharaon's voyage, who is envious of Dantès's youth and success; Fernand Mondego, a fisherman in love with Mercédès; and Gaspard Caderousse, Dantès's neighbor who also envies the young man's success. Dantès and Mercédès hold their betrothal celebration the very next day, with the marriage ceremony to take place less than two hours later. But as the betrothal dinner ends, Dantès is arrested and taken away to prison.

The commissioner of police has received an anonymous letter accusing Dantès of being involved in a Bonapartist plot to overthrow the government. Dantès admits he'd innocently agreed to take a letter to Paris for the dying Captain Leclère. Unknown to him, that letter contained plans for a conspiracy. Monsieur de Villefort, the crown prosecutor's deputy, interrogates Dantès and believes in his innocence. But the letter poses a problem for Villefort because it is addressed to his own father. Villefort's ambition to rise in the government will be jeopardized if it becomes known that he has a traitor in his family. Villefort decides to burn the incriminating conspiracy letter, and arranges for Dantès to be sent to the Château d'If, a prison on an island off Marseille where political prisoners are sent to disappear.

Dantès spends 14 years in the dungeon of Château d'If. His aged father, his fiancée, and his friends are unable to find out what has happened to him. In the prison, he is befriended by Abbé Faría, a political prisoner. The prison guards think the abbé is insane because he's obsessed with a treasure that he says has been left to him. He claims it's hidden in a place that only he knows. Faría and Dantès use a secret tunnel they've dug through the wall to visit each other's cells. The abbé doesn't seem at all insane to Dantès; in fact, he's an incredibly learned man. He passes along his vast store of knowledge to Dantès, providing the younger man with a first-rate education in all subject areas. The abbé also helps Dantès figure out who was behind the anonymous letter that led to his arrest. Shocked to have been betrayed, Dantès vows to seek vengeance if he and the abbé succeed in carrying out their planned escape. But the abbé has a stroke and dies after telling Dantès where to find the treasure. Dantès suddenly thinks of a daring way out of the prison. He puts the abbé's body in his own cell, then he goes into Faría's cell and hides in the abbé's shroud. The guards throw the body that they think is the abbé's into the sea, and Dantès thus escapes. He is rescued from the sea by Italian smugglers and works with them for a time before searching for and finding the abbé's treasure on the island of Monte Cristo.

Once he has the treasure, Dantès begins to lay the groundwork for his plan of vengeance. He goes in disguise to Marseille, where he learns that his father died of grief and starvation not long after Dantès's arrest. Mercédès, after waiting a year and a half in hopes that Dantès would return, gives in to Fernand's persistent attention and agrees to marry him. Dantès also learns that Caderousse is now an innkeeper on the outskirts of Marseille, and that Fernand, Danglars, and Villefort have achieved wealth and power and are all living in Paris. Before departing, Dantès helps the faithful and kind Morrel family who have fallen on hard times. He also gives a diamond to Caderousse, who relates much of this information and expresses his regret in taking part in the plot against Dantès.

Ten years later, Dantès emerges in Rome, having reinvented himself as the fabulously wealthy and eccentric Count of Monte Cristo. He's been traveling in Asia and developed a vast network of contacts in the world of smugglers and bandits. He now owns the island of Monte Cristo, where he's created an exotic, hidden, underground home, and he has a staff of loyal, trusted attendants, most of whom have checkered pasts. The count saves Albert de Morcerf, son of Mercédès and Fernand Mondego, from bandits. In return, Albert befriends the count and introduces him to the upper crust of Parisian society. No one suspects that the count is Dantès, and he uses this hidden information to become a part of the lives of all who betrayed him.

Driven by the conviction that he is acting as the agent of Providence, Monte Cristo, as he is now known, sets out to punish his enemies. Fernand, after rising to the rank of general in the army, has become Comte de Morcerf; Villefort is now a deputy minister in the government; and Danglars is now Baron Danglars, a millionaire banker. Morcerf has not made his fortune by noble means. He betrayed his former patron, Ali Pasha, a Greek vizier whose daughter, Haydée, Dantès saved from the slavery Morcerf sold her and her mother into after her father died. The count extracts his revenge very slowly. A journalist publishes a story revealing Morcerf's treachery, and Haydée testifies against Morcerf to a government tribunal. Disgraced, he commits suicide while Albert and Mercédès flee in shame. To avenge himself on Villefort, the count first plays on the social ambitions, greed, and murderous mind of Madame de Villefort. He teachers her how to use poison and watches as she kills each member of the household. These events—plus the revelation that Villefort tried to bury alive his illegitimate child years before—drive Villefort insane. The count uses Danglar's family and various fake business accounts to leave him alive but broke and alone.

Monte Cristo gets some respite from the dealings with his betrayers by spending time with Maximilien Morrel, his sister Julie, and her husband Emmanuel. He becomes particularly close to Maximilien and helps save the life of Maximilien's fiancée, Valentine (Villefort's daughter) when her stepmother tries to poison her. When his vengeance is complete, he helps Maximilien and Valentine start a new life, leaving them a fortune. He starts a new life of his own, sailing off with Haydée.

The Count of Monte Cristo Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Edmond Dantès arrives home.

Rising Action

2 Edmond Dantès is sent to prison.

3 Edmond Dantès meets Abbé Faría.

4 Edmond Dantès escapes from Château d'If.

5 Edmond Dantès finds the treasure.

6 Caderousse is murdered.

7 Edmond Dantès decides not to kill Albert.

8 Fernand Mondego commits suicide.

9 Valentine is poisoned.

10 Villefort goes insane.


11 Villefort shows Edouard's body to Edmond Dantès.

Falling Action

12 Edmond Dantès talks with Mercédès.

13 Edmond Dantès visits Château d'If.

14 Edmond Dantès reunites Maximilien with Valentine.


15 Edmond Dantès sails away with Haydée.

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