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Free Study Guide-The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas-Summary
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY

Alexandre Dumas was born July 24, 1802 in Villes-Cotterets to a French noble father that had settled in Santo Domingo (now part of Haiti). His paternal grandmother, Marie-Cessette, was an Afro-Caribbean that had been a black slave in Santo Domingo. There is no indication that Dumas ever defined himself as a black man, although his works would later be popular among African-Americans, probably because the tales were often stories of emancipation, and a shorter work, Georges (1843), specifically examined the issues of race and colonialism. Dumasí father was a well-known general in Napoleonís army that eventually fell out of favour, and Dumas himself maintained close ties with the resistance movement during the Napoleonic era. After Dumasí fatherís death in 1806, Dumas worked as a notaryís clerk and went to Paris in 1823 to find work. There, he gained a position with the Duc díOrleans (later King Louis Philippe), and did some theatre work and publishing for obscure magazines.

Dumas was notoriously fond of women, having several mistresses and fathering illegitimate children, one being his son Alexandre Dumas fils ("fils" meaning "son") with Marie- Catherine Labay in 1824. In general, his life, like his books, was adventurous. He took part in the revolution of July 1830, caught cholera during the epidemic of 1832 and married one of his mistresses, Ida Ferrier, an actress, in 1840, separating from her after having spent her entire dowry. He built himself an impressive chateau, which he named "The Chateau de Monte Cristo" on the outskirts of Paris, and spent two years in exile in Brussels between 1855 and 1857 from his creditors before returning to Paris. He travelled widely to countries including Russia and Italy and assisted in Italyís struggle for independence between 1860 and 1864. Alexandre Dumas fils also later became a writer, dramatist and moralist, but never accepted his fatherís lifestyle.


Dumas published his play Henri III et Sa Cour in 1829, which was produced by the Comedie Francaise. The play being a huge success, Dumas went on to write and produce several more plays, including La Tour De Nesle in 1832. The lifting of press censorship in the 1830s gave rise to the rapid proliferation of newspapers in France, and editors began to entice readers with serial novels. Dumas was one of the first French writes to master the art of the "roman feuilleton" and is credited with revitalizing the historical novel in France. His first true serial novel was Le Capitaine Paul in 1838, essentially a quick re-write of a play. Historical novels were especially lucrative for Dumas, and he published some 250 books in conjunction with 73 assistants including August Maquet (used for The Count of Monte Cristo). It is said that Maquet developed subjects for novels and sometimes wrote first drafts for some of Dumasí most famous serial novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Dumasí mastery of dialogue is seen particularly in The Count of Monte Cristo, as most action takes place through the mouths of its characters, with little in the way of symbolism or metaphor, particularly as the use of effective and captivating dialogue made for popular serial novels.

While Dumasí novels are primarily focused on adventure, his works generally tackled issues of racism, God, greed, forgiveness and menís relationships. Dumas has been criticized for his sometimes melodramatic tales which are not necessarily faithful to the historical facts, although it should be noted that for the purposes of the roman feuilleton, fast-paced and adventurous tales based on intrigue and action usually use the historical background as a supplement to the tale as a whole. Dumas died in December of 1870 at Puys, near Dieppe at the age of 68, pursued by creditors and having spent most of the money he had on his lavish lifestyle.

LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION

Published in 1844, The Count of Monte Cristo is, along with The Three Musketeers, one of Dumasí best-known novels. Dumas was well-known in Paris at the time of The Count of Monte Cristoís publishing as both a celebrated playwright, but also as a master of "romans feuilletons", the serialized novels which were extremely popular in nineteenth-century Paris. The Count of Monte Cristo was published as one of these "romans feuilletons" in Parisí Le Journal des Debats between 1844 and 1846, which serves somewhat to explain the adventurous mood of the tale, whose chapters would have provided effective cliff-hangers for its readers.


The period of Dumasí writing The Count of Monte Cristo was still very soon after the French revolution, the rise to power of Napoleon, Napoleonís defeat and subsequent return from Elba, and the eventual restoration of the French monarchy. French political history was therefore at the forefront in the minds of most French citizens and the novel is liberally littered with true historical facts and details. The Count of Monte Cristoís theme of revenge had already been used by Dumas in Georges, published in 1843, but most importantly, Dumas desired to base The Count of Monte Cristo on the true story of Francois Picaud, who was essentially also a wronged man who became empowered to avenge himself and who returns from exile to become an anonymous instrument of Providence. It is said that the novel may also have been influenced by Dumasí relationship with the son of Jerome Bonaparte (Jerome was Napoleon Bonaparteís brother), who Dumas occasionally took on short educational journeys. The two once spotted the Island of Monte Cristo while travelling to or from the Island of Elba, and Dumas determined to write a novel about it. Around the general time of the novelís publication, Dumas built himself a huge country house - the Chateau de Monte Cristo on the outskirts of Paris.

It is perhaps obvious to say that Dumas also based a large part of The Count of Monte Cristo on The Arabian Nights, borrowing names, backgrounds and major Themes. Dumas was also assisted in his writing of the novel by Auguste Maquet, a scholar who assisted in the research of factual and historical material and sources.

In all, however, The Count of Monte Cristo reads quickly, like an adventure tale, and the major Themes of revenge, betrayal, escape and intrigue all ensure the reader remains captivated by the tale. The reader roots for Dantès in his quest for revenge and becomes a fascinated observer of the battle between good and evil.

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Free Study Guide-The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas-Summary
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