The Count of Monte Cristo
Edmond Dantès is the apple of this novel's eye. We will follow him over the course of twenty-three years and 117 chapters (yikes). During this time he will pretend to be a number of different people, including Sinbad the Sailor, Lord Wilmore, Abbé Faria, and the Count of Monte Cristo.
Edmond returns from a long journey at sea. The captain of his ship, the Pharaon, has died along the way, and Edmond has successfully lead the crew and the cargo home to Marseilles, France. The ship's owner, Monsieur Morrel, is extremely happy about this. Edmond gets a promotion. He is super-excited to marry the love of his life, a local lady named Mercédès. Everything seems to be going so well.
Unfortunately, there are two men who are severely jealous of Edmond: Danglars, the ship accountant, resents Edmond for his success and his promotion, and Fernand Mondego, a local fisherman, is in love with Mercédès. Danglars decides that they will frame Edmond for treason, telling authorities that Edmond is in possession of an incriminating letter that will prove that he is a supporter of Napoleon. Napoleon is the French Emperor who has recently been stripped of his power and exiled to the island of Elba (check out our "Setting" section for the dirt on Napoleon). Danglars knows that, on their way back to Marseilles, Edmond carried out the dying wish of their ship's captain: he agreed to deliver a package to a close friend of the captain's, and he was given a letter from the island of Elba to deliver to someone in Paris. Edmond doesn't know what either the package or the letter contains.
When Danglars and Fernand falsely accuse Edmond of treason, the authorities capture Edmond, taking him away from his wedding. Edmond then meets Monsieur Villefort, who is kind of like an assistant district attorney, and Monsieur Villefort takes a look at the so-called incriminating letter from Edmond's former ship captain. Monsieur Villefort's eyes get really big, and the next thing we know Edmond is thrown into the Chateau d'If for life. Chateau d'If is a prison on an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It turns out that the letter was written by someone close to Napoleon and was addressed to Monsieur Villefort's father. And so Monsieur Villefort destroys the letter and has its messenger locked up in order to protect his father.
Edmond spends fourteen years in prison. During that time, he almost goes crazy and nearly gives up on life. But then he meets a wealthy Italian prisoner (a priest) called Abbé Faria. The Abbé educates Edmond about all kinds of things, and the two figure out a way to dig an escape route out of the prison. They have big plans, but, at the last minute, the Abbé becomes very sick and dies. The Abbé leaves Edmond directions to a buried treasure on the island of Monte Cristo.
Edmond escapes Chateau d'If by pretending to be the dead Abbé. He swims to safety on a ship, and he eventually finds his way to the island of Monte Cristo, where he finds riches beyond his wildest dreams. With this newfound treasure, Edmond reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, traveling all over the world buying beautiful things. He begins to hatch an elaborate plot to take revenge on Danglars, Fernand, and Monsieur Villefort.
Eventually, the Count finds himself in Paris where Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort have all settled. Each of them is very wealthy, successful, and married with children. Fernand has married Mercédès. The Count is an instant hit with these social-climbing families. He's mysterious, sophisticated, wise, and elegant – everyone wants to be his best friend. The Count's intricate revenge plot gains momentum in Paris and around Paris where he gradually ruins the lives of each of his enemies.
The Count gives his home on the island of Monte Cristo and his land in France to Maximillian Morrel (the son of Monsieur Morrel), and Max's sweetheart, Valentine Villefort (Villefort's daughter). The Count leaves the island of Monte Cristo and his revenge-loving life behind, choosing to seek a new existence with his new love, Haydée, a former Greek slave. The Count rides off into the sunset.