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Marseille, 1815. On the same day that Napoleon escapes Elba, Edmond Dantes returns to Marseille with M. Morrel's cargo, having taken over after the demise of the captain Leclere. Before returning home to Marseilles, Dantes, under orders from Leclere, delivered a package to a General Bertrand who was also exiled on Elba with Napoleon. Leclere also gave Dantes a letter to deliver to another man in Paris. Dantes returns to a grateful M. Morrel, his ageing father and his fiance Mercedes, who he plans to marry almost immediately.
Nineteen year old Edmond Dantes is a devoted son, an ambitious and capable sailor, and is about to marry the girl of his dreams. However his wedding day turns into a nightmare as he is falsely and secretly accused of being a Bonapartist by Mercedes' jealous cousin Fernand Mondego, his own envious colleague Danglars and a cowardly Caderousse. Adding to the intrigue of being labelled a Bonapartist is the recepient of Leclere's letter who turns out a be a Bonapartist and also the father of the prosecutor investigating Dantes' alleged crimes.
Dantes is betrayed several times over and finally imprisoned for life at the island prison of Chateau d'If. Mercedes' and his father's pleas of mercy to Villefort (the prosecutor) the fall on deaf ears in this situation, and the old man dies in penury while Mercedes ends up marrying her cousin Fernand.
Edmond Dantes is prisoner no. 34 at Chateau d'If and spends six years trying to understand how this happened to him and is at his wits end about to end his life when he encounters prisoner no. 27. Abbe Faria - the mad priest - has spent years digging a tunnel and recruits Dantes into his escape plan. The priest educates Dantes in the ways of the world and helps him understand how he (Dantes) was betrayed and by whom. Dantes gets a new lease on life but Abbe Faria loses his before they complete the tunnel. Dantes takes the corpse's place and is ceremoniously thrown off the prison walls and plunges into the sea.
Dantes swims his way to a nearby island and encounters smugglers, besting their chosen one in combat, but then charms them. He befriends his vanquished adversary and recovers the crucial tool of his vengeance - a magnificent treasure hidden in the bowels of the islet of Monte Cristo, with a map given to him Abbe Faria. Having commandeered the treasure Edmond Dantes fashions himself as a Count, but also as an agent of fate bent on avenging those responsible for his misery. The man that emerges from Chateau d'If is very different from the nineteen year old Edmond Dantes; the count is a shadowy, sinister and driven agent of fate.
The Count of Monte Cristo has become a popular symbol of revenge and Old Testament justice (an eye for an eye). He has overcome terrible odds having not only survived incarceration at Chateau d'If, but also having retrieved a forgotten fortune. Dantes' shows a cruel, God-complex when he toys with his targets, sometimes allowing them a chance at redemption. The darker side of Dantes is previously recognized by Abbe Faria, who regrets arming him with the rationale of how he was betrayed and the means (worldly and intellectual) to avenge himself.
The Count is aware of his dark side. There are moments in the course of his revenge that he wavers. Tragedies and emotions affect him, but he chooses to remain on his chosen course. His path is rationalized, not one of brute force and mindless havoc.
Edmond Dantes and the Count of Monte Cristo have become popular symbols of vengeance and justice. The book is regularly reprinted, movies are made and remade, and references and homages in popular culture keep appearing.
Huckleberry Finn refers to Chateau d'If as Castle Deef. Jeffrey Archer's A Prisoner of Birth was an homage to The Count of Monte Cristo. V for Vendetta makes a reference to it in the movie. Lew Wallace's Ben Hur was inspired by the book. Stephen Fry's The Stars' Tennis Balls and Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination are both retellings, in contemporary and scifi settings respectively. Even The Simpson tipped their hat to the count in E11 S18 titled 'Revenge is a Dish Best Served Three Times'.
Dumas came to write The Count of Monte Cristo not by design but chance. He was originally commissioned by a French publisher to write a series of articles on the history of Paris. But seeing the success of novels serialized in newspapers the publisher impressed on Dumas to change the commission into a novel which became The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas being a voracious reader already had the germ of an idea which he got from police archivist Jacques Peuchet's Memoires Historiques.
The Diamond & The Vengeance (from Peuchet's memoirs) tells the story of one Francois Picaud who, in 1807 was denounced as an English spy by his friends before his impending marriage to a young woman named Marguerite. Behind Picaud's predicament was Mathieu Loupian who was jealous of his relationship with Marguerite, not unlike Fernand who was jealous of Dantes' relationship with Mercedes.
Picaud winds up under house arrest at the castle of Fenestrelle in the service of a wealthy Italian. Picaud became like a son to the man, who was abandoned by his family. So Picaud inherited his wealth, and the location to a treasure. Picaud secures the fortune, and using the identity of Joseph Lucher returns to Paris.
In Paris he finds out that Marguerite and Loupian are married; he also bribes his way to finding out information about those responsible for his sentence. Picaud stabs, burns, poisons, impersonates and prostitutes his way to vengeance, till he is killed by a co-conspirator who confessed everything on his deathbed.
Thomas Rethore was the son of a French nobleman and his Saint-Domingue slave and concubine, who was taken by his father from Saint-Domingue (modern day Haiti) to France where he had a successful military career. To get to France Thomas' father had to sell his Haitian mother, two of their children and another daughter of hers from an earlier relationship. Thomas father also sold Thomas to pave a way for him to be taken to France. Later that same year Thomas' father bought him back and provided him with a first-class French education and lived a life of leisure at his father's willing expense.
Despite his noble birth Thomas Rethore was denied entry into the military as a commissioned officer, so he enlisted as a private under a nom de guerre on his father's insistence that the family's noble name not be dragged into the lowest ranks of the army. This frosty relationship between father and son developed when Thomas' father married. Rethore became a part of the world's most formidable fighting force
Thomas Rethore would go on to become of the highest ranking military men of sub-Saharan African descent in the western world. Rethore was nicknamed as the black devil (diable noir in french) by his Austrian adversaries after his high altitude victories in the Alps; and as 'the Horatius Cocles of he Tyrol' by Napoleon for his military exploits (single-handedly defeating a squad of enemy troops over a bridge).
Towards the end of his military career Thomas Rethore was on a vessel that ran aground and he languished in a prison in the Kingdom of Naples for two years. After release he returned to his wife, with whom he had a son who would go on the become one of the most widely read authors of all time - Alexandre Dumas. Thomas Rethore's full name was General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie and Alexandre Dumas' most memorable characters we based on his father's exploits. Alexandre Dumas was also Thomas Rethore's nom de guerre when he joined the French army as a private.
The statue of Thomas Rethore was destroyed during the Nazi occupation of Paris.