It is difficult to pinpoint the exact motive Dumas had in mind when he wrote The Count of Monte Cristo. He wrote the novel in 1844 and it was published in 18 fragments between the years 1844-46. This was at the same time that Dumas embarked on his project including the D'Artagnan romances. These romances were written in conjunction with his collaborator Auguste Maquet starting in 1837. Their objective was to reconstruct French National history through a series of novels. The Three Musketeers is such a novel. In any case, The Count of Monte Cristo, also written with a team of collaborators, was written at the same period as these novels, which had a distinct didactic purpose. It was Dumas goal to teach the French people their historical heritage. The plots of the D'Artagnan romances are thus restricted to actual historical events and the characters reflect actual historical personages. The Count of Monte Cristo is only loosely based in fact, and thus does not fit the category of the D'Artagnan romances. History forms a mere backdrop to the plot. Dumas thus had much more freedom to create the imaginative plot and to develop the characters' role. Does this mean that The Count of Monte Cristo is not didactic in nature? Most likely the novel was created as a relief from the genre of the D'Artagnan romances, however , this is not to say that one cannot find historical events within the novel. Historical and social values are still contained within the work, though they are reduced to the backdrop. The work covers the period of French History from 1814-1838.
Historically one is carried through the closing Hundred days of Napoleon's Dynasty, the reigns of Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis Philipe, and the Revolution of July. These events however, do not particularly intrude upon the story.
Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo also covers French societal customs of the period. It was completely possible that a political prisoner should be forgotten in prison, though political prisoners normally stayed for a year. Another feature of 19th century post-Napoleonic society that Dumas illustrates is the humble origins of many of the most influential persons of Parisien society. Danglars, The Count de Morcerf and
Villefort represent three different means by which an individual of humble origin entered elite Parisien society. One is financial (Danglars), Morcerf represents military and political advancement, and Villefort's advancement is judicial. Other features of society outlined by Dumas are the theatrical shows the elite attend (such as the Opera), and the trend to purchase a house in Parisien suburbs, such as the Count did in Auteuil. Though Dumas' purpose in writing the novel was not didactic, it certainly contained many historical and societal realities.
Perhaps Dumas wrote this novel as a tribute to the spirit of his father who he never knew. His father had been a General in Napoleon's army, and had led a life full of adventure and intrigue. Perhaps Noirtier, the old Bonapartist hero in this tale is thus a tribute to Dumas' father.
These are not the reasons why The Count of Monte Cristo is often listed as one of the ten best novels of all time. It is rather the imagery of man acting as a force of divine justice that enthralls the senses. The Count if Monte Cristo focuses on man-man hatred. This hatred is far more powerful than the man-woman love contained within the work. The psychological portrayal of vengeance is one that fascinates yet it is a portrayal that also repels. Monte Cristo's character does not arouse sympathy, yet somehow his actions are justified. He is almost a mythological hero. A supernatural aura creates an adventure tale that is hard to resist.