The Count of Monte Cristo (Paris, 1844–45), by French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas, is one of the most popular novels ever written. Set in Marseilles, Rome and Paris in the nineteenth century, it tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a young sailor who is falsely accused of treason and imprisoned in a dungeon for fourteen years. A fellow prisoner tells him where to find treasure buried on a Mediterranean island called Monte Cristo. On Dantès’s escape, he acquires the treasure, gives himself the name Count of Monte Cristo, and ruthlessly goes about the slow destruction of his enemies.
Dumas got the idea for The Count of Monte Cristo from a true story, which he found in a memoir written by a man named Jacques Peuchet. Peuchet related the story of a shoemaker named Francois Picaud, who was living in Paris in 1807. Picaud was engaged to marry a rich woman, but four jealous friends falsely accused him of being a spy for England. He was imprisoned for seven years. During his imprisonment a dying fellow prisoner bequeathed him a treasure hidden in Milan. When Picaud was released in 1814, he took possession of the treasure, returned under another name to Paris and spent ten years plotting his successful revenge against his former friends.
Generations of readers have responded to Dumas’s riveting, romantic tale of revenge by a man who believes he acts as the agent of Providence. The story has adventure, intrigue and romance in full measure, and also presents a vivid portrait of France from the end of the Napoleonic years to the early 1840s.
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