My favorite of all time is Le Comte de Monte Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo) by Alexandre Dumas. I have read it four times. Twice in French, once in Italian, and once in English. Written in 1844, the book is one of the greatest French books. It is a lengthy read, but it is worth it. It is an adventure story primarily concerned with themes of hope, justice, vengeance, mercy, forgiveness, and love. It focuses on a man who is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes from jail, acquires a fortune and sets about getting revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment. However, his plans have devastating consequences for the innocent as well as the guilty. I will give a summary of the book. The book is 1600 pages long, so the summary will be lengthy as well. The book is filled with small details that are essential to the story line. Dantes plans his revenge carefully and slowly.
The protaganist is Edmond Dantes. In 1815, Dantes recently granted his own command by his dying captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his fiancée Mercédès. Leclère, a supporter of the exiled Napoléon I, has charged Dantès to deliver two objects: a package to Maréchal Bertrand (exiled with Napoleon Bonaparte on Elba), and a letter from Elba to an unknown man in Paris. On the eve of his wedding to Mercédès, Fernand (Mercédès’ cousin and a rival for her affections) and Danglars (who is jealous of Dantes’ rapid rise to captain) send an anonymous note accusing Dantès of being a Bonapartist traitor. Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor in Marseille, while initially sympathetic to Dantès, destroys the letter from Elba when he discovers that it is addressed to his father who is a Bonapartist. In order to silence Dantès, he condemns him without trial to life imprisonment.
During his fourteen years imprisonment in the Château d’If, Dantes befriends the Abbé Faria (“The Mad Priest”), a fellow prisoner who is trying to tunnel his way to freedom, and who claims knowledge of a massive treasure and continually offers to reward the guards well if they release him. Faria gives Dantès an extensive education. He also explains to Dantès how Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort would each have had their own reasons for wanting Dantès in prison. After years of friendship, and knowing himself to be close to death, Faria tells Dantès the location of the treasure, on Monte Cristo. When Faria dies, Dantès uses his burial sack to stage an escape to a nearby island, and is rescued by a smuggling ship. After several months of working with the smugglers, he goes to Monte Cristo. Dantès fakes an injury and convinces the smugglers to temporarily leave him on Monte Cristo, then makes his way to the hiding place of the treasure. After recovering the treasure, he returns to Marseille, where he learns that his father has died in poverty. He buys a yacht, hides the rest of the treasure on board and buys both the island of Monte Cristo and the title of Count from the Tuscan government.
Returning to Marseille, Dantès plans his revenge but first helps several people who were kind to him before his imprisonment. Traveling as the Abbé Busoni, he meets Caderousse, now living in poverty, whose intervention might have saved Dantès from prison. Dantès learns that his other enemies have all become wealthy since Dantès was betrayed. He gives Caderousse a diamond that can be either a chance to redeem himself, or a trap that will lead to his ruin. Learning that his old employer Morrel is on the verge of bankruptcy, Dantès, in the guise of a senior clerk, buys all of Morrel’s outstanding debts and gives Morrel an extension of three months to fulfill his obligations. At the end of the three months and with no way to repay his debts, Morrel is about to commit suicide when he learns that all of his debts have been mysteriously paid and that one of his lost ships has returned with a full cargo, secretly rebuilt and laden by Dantès.
Disguised as the rich Count of Monte Cristo, Dantès takes revenge on the three men responsible for his unjust imprisonment: Fernand, now Count de Morcerf and Mercédès’ husband; Danglars, now a baron and a wealthy banker; and Villefort, now procureur du roi — all are now living in Paris. The Count appears first in Rome, where he becomes acquainted with the Baron Franz d’Épinay, and Viscount Albert de Morcerf, the son of Mercédès and Fernand. Dantès arranges for the young Morcerf to be captured by the bandit Luigi Vampa before rescuing him from the same. Dantès then moves to Paris, and with Albert de Morcerf’s introduction, becomes the sensation of the city. Due to his knowledge and rhetorical power, even his enemies, who do not recognize him, find him charming and all desire his friendship. The Count dazzles the crass Danglars with his seemingly endless wealth, eventually persuading him to extend him a credit of six million francs, and withdraws 900,000. Under the terms of the arrangement, the Count can demand access to the remainder at any time. The Count manipulates the bond market, through a false telegraph signal, and quickly destroys a large portion of Danglars’ fortune. The rest of it begins to rapidly disappear through mysterious bankruptcies, suspensions of payment, and more bad luck on the Stock Exchange.
Villefort had once conducted an affair with Madame Danglars. She became pregnant and delivered the child in the house in which he was living at that time. After suffocating the infant, Villefort had tried to secretly bury it in a box on the grounds of the house but while doing so, he was stabbed by Bertuccio, his sworn enemy, who rescued the infant and brought him back to life. Bertuccio’s sister-in-law brought the child up, giving him the name “Benedetto”. The Count learns of this story from Bertuccio, who later becomes his servant. He purchases the house and hosts a dinner party there, to which he invites, among others, Villefort and Madame Danglars. During the dinner, the Count announces that, while doing landscaping, he had unearthed a box containing the remains of an infant and had referred the matter to the authorities to investigate. This puzzles Villefort, who knew that the infant’s box had been removed and so the Count’s story could not be true, and also alarms him that perhaps he knows the secret of his past affair with Madame Danglars and may be taunting him.
Meanwhile, Benedetto has grown up to become a criminal and is sentenced to the galleys with Caderousse. After the two are freed by “Lord Wilmore”, Benedetto is sponsored by the Count to take the identity of “Viscount Andrea Cavalcanti” and is introduced by him into Parisian society at the same dinner party, with neither Villefort nor Madame Danglars suspecting that Andrea is their presumed dead son. Andrea then ingratiates himself to Danglars who betroths his daughter Eugénie to Andrea after cancelling her engagement to Albert, son of Fernand. Meanwhile, Caderousse blackmails Andrea, threatening to reveal his past. Cornered by “Abbé Busoni” while attempting to rob the Count’s house, Caderousse begs to be given another chance, but Dantès grimly notes that the last two times he did so, Caderousse did not change. He forces Caderousse to write a letter to Danglars exposing Cavalcanti as an impostor and allows Caderousse to leave the house. The moment Caderousse leaves the estate, he is stabbed in the back by Andrea. Caderousse manages to dictate and sign a deathbed statement identifying his killer, and the Count reveals his true identity to Caderousse moments before Caderousse dies.
Years before, Ali Pasha, the ruler of Janina, had been betrayed to the Turks by Fernand. After Ali’s death, Fernand sold his wife Vasiliki and his daughter Haydée into slavery. Haydée was found and bought by Dantès and becomes the Count’s ward. The Count manipulates Danglars into researching the event, which is published in a newspaper. As a result, Fernand is brought to trial for his crimes. Haydée testifies against him, and Fernand is disgraced. Mercédès, still beautiful, is the only person to recognize the Count as Dantès. When Albert blames the Count for his father’s downfall and publicly challenges him to a duel, Mercédès goes secretly to the Count and begs him to spare her son. During this interview, she learns the entire truth of his arrest and imprisonment. She later reveals the truth to Albert, which causes Albert to make a public apology to the Count. Albert and Mercédès disown Fernand, who is confronted with Dantès’ true identity and commits suicide. The mother and son depart to build a new life free of disgrace. Albert enlists as a soldier and goes to Africa in order to rebuild his life and honour under a new name, and Mercédès begins a solitary life in Marseille.
Villefort’s daughter by his first wife, Valentine, stands to inherit the fortune of her grandfather (Noirtier) and of her mother’s parents (the Saint-Mérans), while his second wife, Héloïse, seeks the fortune for her son Édouard. The Count is aware of Héloïse’s intentions, and “innocently” introduces her to the technique of poison. Héloïse fatally poisons the Saint-Mérans, so that Valentine inherits their fortune. Valentine is disinherited by Noirtier in an attempt to prevent Valentine’s impending marriage with Franz d’Épinay. The marriage is cancelled when d’Épinay learns that his father (believed assassinated by Bonapartists) was killed by Noirtier in a duel. Afterwards, Valentine is reinstated in Noirtier’s will. After a failed attempt on Noirtier’s life, which instead claims the life of Noirtier’s servant Barrois, Héloïse then targets Valentine so that Édouard will finally get the fortune. However, Valentine is the prime suspect in her father’s eyes in the deaths of the Saint-Mérans and Barrois. On learning that Morrel’s son Maximilien is in love with Valentine, the Count saves her by making it appear as though Héloïse’s plan to poison Valentine has succeeded and that Valentine is dead. Villefort learns from Noirtier that Héloïse is the real murderer and confronts her, giving her the choice of a public execution or committing suicide by her own poison.
Fleeing after Caderousse’s letter exposes him, Andrea gets as far as Compiègne before he is arrested and returned to Paris, where Villefort prosecutes him. While in prison awaiting trial, Andrea is visited by Bertuccio who tells him the truth about his father. At his trial, Andrea reveals that he is Villefort’s son and was rescued after Villefort buried him alive. A stunned Villefort admits his guilt and flees the court. He rushes home to stop his wife’s suicide but is too late; she has poisoned her son as well. Dantès confronts Villefort, revealing his true identity, but this, combined with the shock of the trial’s revelations and the death of his wife and son, drives Villefort insane. Dantès tries to resuscitate Édouard but fails, and despairs that his revenge has gone too far. It is only after he revisits his cell in the Château d’If that Dantès is reassured that his cause is just and his conscience is clear, that he can fulfill his plan while being able to forgive both his enemies and himself.
After the Count’s manipulation of the bond market, Danglars is left with only a destroyed reputation and 5,000,000 francs he has been holding in deposit for hospitals. The Count demands this sum to fulfill their credit agreement, and Danglars embezzles the hospital fund. Abandoning his wife, Danglars flees to Italy with the Count’s receipt, hoping to live in Vienna in anonymous prosperity. While leaving Rome, he is kidnapped by the Count’s agent Luigi Vampa and is imprisoned the same way that Albert was. Forced to pay exorbitant prices for food, Danglars eventually signs away all but 50,000 francs of the stolen five million (which Dantès anonymously returns to the hospitals). Nearly driven mad by his ordeal, Danglars finally repents his crimes. Dantès forgives Danglars and allows him to leave with his freedom and the money he has left.
Maximilien Morrel, believing Valentine to be dead, contemplates suicide after her funeral. Dantès reveals his true identity and explains that he rescued Morrel’s father from bankruptcy, disgrace and suicide years earlier. He persuades Maximilien to delay his suicide. On the island of Monte Cristo one month later, Dantès presents Valentine to Maximilien and reveals the true sequence of events. Having found peace, Dantès leaves for an unknown destination to find comfort and a new life with Haydée, who has declared her love for him.
I highly recommend this book. It will captivate you throughout the entire 1600 pages and make it seem as though you are witnessing the story through your own eyes. The unabridged version is the best version. It is truest to the original French version. If you can read it in French, do so. I hope you enjoyed this. If you can watch the French version of the film do so as well. It stays true to the book.