The Count of Monte Cristo | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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The Count of Monte Cristo | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, published in two parts from 1844 to 1845, is considered one of the greatest tales of vengeance in Western literature. Rated in 2003 by respondents to a BBC survey as one of the 50 best reads, the novel traces the life of Edmond Dantès, a merchant sailor falsely imprisoned by jealous conspirators. After finding treasure on the island of Monte Cristo upon his escape, Dantès dedicates his fortune to seeking revenge.

The Count of Monte Cristo met with great acclaim at its release, with one literary scholar noting that upon its publication, "Day after day, at breakfast or at work or on the street, people talked of little else." Today the novel is renowned as a stark reminder of the flaws inherent to any justice system that can be exploited for a personal vendetta.

1. Dumas's setting was inspired by a sailing trip he took with Napoleon's nephew.

Dumas and Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the one-time emperor's nephew, took a boat trip to Elba in 1841, where the emperor had first been exiled. During their travels, the two heard about and saw the island of Monte Cristo. Though they did not disembark there, the view of the island was enough to motivate Dumas to incorporate it as a setting in his writing.

2. The plot of The Count of Monte Cristo was inspired by a true story.

Pierre (or François) Picaud is credited as the real-life basis for Dumas's protagonist, Edmond Dantès. The shoemaker Picaud was falsely imprisoned after a prank organized by his friends led to his arrest. During his seven years in prison, he was befriended and educated by a priest from Milan who told him of a secret treasure before dying. Picaud was released from prison, found the treasure, and succeeded in killing three of those who betrayed him before he was captured and murdered by a fourth.

3. The Count of Monte Cristo inspired another classic epic novel and film.

Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur, subsequently made into a film in 1959 that won 11 Academy Awards, was influenced by The Count of Monte Cristo. Though Ben-Hur moves the setting to the birth of Christianity in ancient Rome, Wallace's protagonist also loses everything and rebuilds his life with the desire to exact vengeance. Wallace, who loved historical adventures like those of Dumas, compared his isolation while writing the book to the loneliness of the count.

4. Monte Cristo is a real island.

With the popularity of Dumas's novel and the legends of the pirate Redbeard's treasure being stashed on the island, Monte Cristo is a popular destination for tourists. Unfortunately the island off the coast of Tuscany, Italy, only allows about 1,000 visitors per year and requires a three-year waiting period to obtain a visa. Now run as a nature preserve, the island is strictly off-limits to excavating any treasure.

5. Filmmakers have paid homage to The Count of Monte Cristo since 1908.

Dumas's tale of vengeance has spawned numerous film adaptations, the first of which premiered in 1908. Another early adaptation, directed by Emmett Flynn, premiered on September 3, 1922. This 10-reel silent film features John Gilbert as Dantès and follows his revenge plot. Master of the miniseries Richard Chamberlain starred in a 1975 TV version.

6. A young-adult novel updates the story to tackle the issue of bullying.

Eileen Cook's 2010 novel Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood mimics the story of The Count of Monte Cristo, changing the setting to a modern high school, with the theme of revenge playing out in a sinister fashion equal to Dumas's.

7. Dumas's book has been adapted as an anime.

Set in the year 5053 on a moon colony, the Japanese anime series Gankutsuou (originally aired 2004–05) retells the story of The Count of Monte Cristo with a sci-fi, anime twist. Gankutsuou is about the relationship between a nobleman named Albert Morcerf and the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, who has revenge on his mind. Gankutsuou is a demon that possesses the count.

8. Orson Welles created a radio production of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Premiering in August 1938, Welles's adaptation was part of his Mercury Theater company radio program. The famous actor and director's series was famed for its broadcast of War of the Worlds that same year, which convinced thousands of listeners that alien invaders had actually landed on American soil.

9. The book's earliest editions feature a misspelled title.

The first editions of The Count of Monte Cristo, including an expensive 1860 illustrated edition, all misspelled the title using "Christo" instead of "Cristo." An 1846 French revised edition corrected the mistake, but many editions continued to feature the misspelled title for years.

10. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas loved spending money—a little too much.

Although Dumas earned a decent living from his writing, he was constantly in debt due to his extravagant, lavish lifestyle. The author had to flee France in 1851—first to Belgium and later to Russia—to escape creditors. He wouldn't return to France until 1864.

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