Story Behind the Story: Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

Who has not heard of the novel and/or film entitled The Count of Monte Cristo?
The original novel was written by a Frenchman by the name of Alexandre Dumas who also wrote the classic novel later to be produced in several films – The Three Musketeers.
The Count of Monte Cristo story was completed in 1844 and was based on true historical events between the years 1815-1838.
Another novel by Dumas is also famous: The Man in the Iron Mask a tale of intrigue and treachery – also with true historical background.
The gist of the tale surrounded by factual history is what has kept it alive for so long, truly a classic and often required reading in literature classes of high school and universities.
It is a story of revenge that Alexandre Dumas gathered from a true false incarceration of a shoemaker, Pierre Picaud, in France during the turbulent years after Napoleon was exiled and under the reign of Louis-Philippe of France. The tale of Pierre Picaud is as interesting as the background plot of the novel.

Story Behind Story
Pierre Picaud was a shoemaker in Ntimes and engaged to a rich woman, who had three jealous friends, Loupian, Solari, and Chaubart who falsely accused him of being a spy for England. Although a fourth friend by the name of Allut knew of his innocence, it was not reported and Picaud was incarcerated in the Fenestrelle fortress for seven years, not even knowing why he was imprisoned until he had served his second year. While he was imprisoned he dug a passageway into a neighboring cell and befriended a wealthy Italian prisoner, Father Torri. i A year later Torri died, but before he did, bequeathed to Picaud a treasure hidden in Milan. ii After the fall of the Imperial government in 1814, Picaud was released from prison and he went to Milan to get his treasure. He then returned to Paris under another name and spent ten years plotting revenge against his so-called friends.
James Caviezel

Picaud first murdered Chaubart, or possibly had him murdered. iii While Picaud had been in prison, his former fiancé, two years after he had been imprisoned, married his former friend Loupian. Picaud tricked Loupian’s daughter into marrying a criminal, whom he had arrested. Loupian’s daughter died of a nervous breakdown. Picaud then burned down Loupian’s restaurant which impoverished Loupian. iv His next step towards revenge was to poison Solari and manipulated Loupian’s son into stealing some gold jewelry and framed him for committing a crime. When the boy was sent to jail, Picaud stabbed Loupian to death. Afterward, Allut, who could have cleared Picaud of any wrong doing, abducted and killed him.

On Allut’s deathbed, he confessed the whole story to the French police, who recorded it into the records of the murder cases, as well as Picaud’s imprisonment records. How Allut knew of Picaud’s experience in prison is not known. v It is possible that when Allut abducted Picaud, he may have been told of the background of when he was in prison and his acts of revenge.
This true story from the French police records shows that Picaud not only sought revenge against those who falsely accused him, but also ruthlessly against their family members; which Alexandre Dumas did not portray in the form of Dantés, the revenging character in the novel.
Political Background
2002 Film

As far as the political background of his novel, Alexandre Dumas used intrigue of the return of Napoleon I in 1815. Thomas Alexandre Dumas, Alexandre’s father, was a general during the French Revolution and who was wrongfully dismissed from his position because of his Haitian bloodline. The father naturally was bitter toward Napoleon. It appeared that Dumas had close contact with members of the Bonaparte family while living in Florence in 1841, and who had renewed popularity of French after the death of Napoleon I. Dumas sailed in a small boat around the island of Monte-Cristo accompanied by friends, one of them cousins of the emperor of France. During the trip he promised the prince that he would write a novel with the island’s name in the title.

Films made based on the novel:

2002: The Count of Monte Cristo James Caviezal.

The last film is a modern remake that is well done, sticks to the original tale, and the acting and directing superb. It was directed by Kevin Reynolds.
Island of Montecristo

A tiny island whose name means Mount of Christ which indeed the island is a mountain rising above the sea, who few have visited because it is a protected and forbidden island by the government of Italy. It is located in the Tuscan Archipelago, between Corsica and the Italian peninsula. It is a volcanic island that was known to ancient Greeks and Romans who called it Artemisia, and later called Mons Jovis.

When the Vandals sacked Sicily in the 5th century, the Bishop of Palermo, Saint Mamiliano, took refuge at the island. According to legend, Mamiliano fought and killed a dragon guarding the island, renamed it Montecristo and founded a monastery.

In the 16th century, Montecristo was seized by the Turkish pirate, Oruç Reis, known as Redbeard, which increased the rumor that there was wealth hidden on the island that belonged to the Monastery of San Mamiliano, Reis, and his successor, Turgut Reis, known as Dragut. The treasure is supposedly stashed in a hidden grotto on the island. The treasure either belonged to the monks, who hid it when Dragut pillaged the monastery in 1553, or was hidden by the pirates themselves.

Either way, the intrigue and mystery of the island’s history and the beauty he saw in the volcanic island in 1842, inspired it to be the location of his classic novel, destined to be immortalized.
While the island is controlled by the Italian government and declared off limits, a person can apply for a one-day visa to visit it. The island is protected mostly from people digging around for the legendary treasure that most likely doesn’t exist. The only man-made structure on the island is the ruins of the monastery and the Villa of Cala Maestra.
Popularity of Island of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas isn’t the only author who used the island as backdrop in a tale of adventure and intrigue. Another classic tale written by Robert Louis Stevenson, an English novelist, used the legend of Monte-Cristo island in his story Treasure Island.
Further Study
Republic of Monte Cristo [History of island and knights]
Montecristo [Forbidden island of Tuscan Archipelago]
i True Stories of Immortal Crimes by H. Ashton-Wolfe, 1931. p.22
ii True Stories of Immortal Crimes by H. Ashton-Wolfe, 1931, p. 23
iii True Stories of Immortal Crimes by H. Ashton-Wolfe, 1931, p. 27
iv True Stories of Immortal Crimes by H. Ashton-Wolfe, 1931, p. 28
v True Stories of Immortal Crimes by H. Ashton-Wolfe, 1931, p. 33 

This entry was posted in History.