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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The novel begins in 1815, when Dantès is a happy young man, about to become captain of Morrelís ship The Pharaon and he is engaged to his fiancée, Mercedes. However, Dantès is unaware that his shipmate, Danglars, is jealous of his success and promotion as captain, and that Mercedesí cousin Fernand is jealous of Mercedesí love for Dantès. Both Danglars and Fernand contrive a plan to frame Dantès as one of Napoleonís agents, a particularly damning charge as the King at this point is fighting to retain power in the face of Napoleonís large and loyal following. Danglars and Fernand send a letter denouncing Dantès as a revolutionary agent to Marseillesí local magistrate, M. de Villefort, a staunch royalist, who is horrified to learn that Dantès was unwittingly going to deliver a letter planning the return of Napoleon (known as The 100 Days) to his father, a revolutionary. In order to save his father from discovery and to gain the good graces of the King, Villefort throws Dantès in prison although he believes him to be innocent, and gains a good post as a magistrate from the King as thanks for the warning of Napoleonís imminent arrival.
Dantès is thrown in a political prison and forgotten for 14 years, during which time he contemplates suicide, unaware that his father has starved to death while he was imprisoned, that his employer was unable to find out where he was being kept or have him released, and that Mercedes has married Fernand. During his last few years in prison, he and his neighboring prisoner, the Abbé Faria, contrive a plot to escape the prison. As they plan their escape and dig tunnels, the Abbé Faria teaches him everything he knows (which is a substantial amount), helps him to understand that Danglars, Fernand and Villefort were responsible for his imprisonment, and offers to give Dantès half of an immense fortune that the Abbé knows is hidden on the Island of Monte Cristo. Shortly before their planned escape, the Abbé Faria dies, and Dantès replaces the Abbe's corpse with his own body, thereby escaping the prison when the "Abbe's body" is thrown into the ocean.
Having escaped the prison, Dantès spends some time as a smuggler on a ship in the Mediterranean as he decides what to do, and during one smuggling trip he has the opportunity to go to the Island of Monte Cristo, where he discovers the incredible treasure. He immediately resigns from the smuggler ship, and proceeds to find out what has happened to his old friends and enemies in Marseilles. He uses the money to anonymously rescue his old employer Morrel from bankruptcy and dishonour, and then, in disguise, goes to see his old neighbour Caderousse, who tells him where everyone is now living and what they are all doing. The novel then skips ahead a few years and we are next introduced to "The Count of Monte Cristo" in Italy, who is a wealthy, amazingly eccentric and intelligent man. He meets two young men from Paris in Rome and renders Albert de Morcerf (Fernandís son) a favour by helping to ransom him from a bandit friend of Monte Cristoís named Luigi Vampa. In return, the Count asks that Albert act as his host when he moves to Paris in three months.
When the Count arrives in Paris, he causes a sensation with his money and ability to do everything that would be impossible for anyone with less money or intelligence. He gets to know Villefort and his family, Danglars and his family, and Fernand, Mercedes and their family very well, never revealing that he is Edmond Dantès. Slowly, the Count begins to destroy the lives of his enemies in the way that is the most damaging to their lives: he tampers with the political intelligence that Danglars uses to play the stock market, and Danglars is rendered practically bankrupt at the end of the novel, and is made to repent of his crimes. Fernandís family learns of his treachery of both Dantès and his former employer, the Ali Pasha, and he commits suicide when he is publicly humiliated for this betrayal and his wife and son leave him.
Monte Cristo assists Villefortís second wife in the systematic murder of several members of Villefortís family, and then tricks Villefort into believing that his beloved daughter, Valentine, has also died, although the Count has only helped her to escape so that she might marry the Countís friend, Maximilan Morrel. Along the way, the Count punishes a number of evil people including Caderousse, whose greed continuously causes him to harm others, as well as Benedetto, the bastard child of Villefort and Madame Danglars that Villefort once buried alive in order to preserve his own reputation. This child also grows up to be evil, and Monte Cristo uses Benedetto to destroy Villefort, and then punishes Benedetto himself.
At the end of the novel, Monte Cristo has saved Valentine, one of the only members of the Morcerf, Villefort and Danglars family he believes was worth saving, and assists her and Maximilian Morrel in their plans to marry. Mercedes and her son Albert have left Fernand and leave to begin a new life in Marseilles, and Monte Cristo/Edmond Dantès has fallen in love with Haidee, the daughter of the man betrayed by Fernand, and sets on a new life of happiness and love, feeling as if he has accomplished his purpose.