The Count of Monte Cristo

Historical background

The success of Monte Cristo coincides with France's Second Empire. In the book, Dumas tells of the 1815 return of Napoleon I, and alludes to contemporary events when the governor at the Château d'If is promoted to a position at the castle of Ham.[Notes 1] The attitude of Dumas towards "bonapartisme" was conflicted. His father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas,[Notes 2] a Haitian of mixed descent, became a successful general during the French Revolution. New racial-discrimination laws were applied in 1802, and the general was dismissed from the army and became profoundly bitter toward Napoleon. In 1840, the ashes of Napoleon I were brought to France and became an object of veneration in the church of Les Invalides, renewing popular patriotic support for the Bonaparte family.

In "Causeries" (1860), Dumas published a short paper, "État civil du Comte de Monte-Cristo", on the genesis of the Count of Monte-Cristo.[Notes 3] It appears that Dumas had close contacts with members of the Bonaparte family while living in Florence in 1841. In a small boat he sailed around the island of Monte-Cristo accompanied by a young prince, a cousin to Louis Bonaparte, who was to become emperor of France ten years later. During this trip he promised the prince that he would write a novel with the island's name in the title. At that time the future emperor was imprisoned at the citadel of Ham – a name that is mentioned in the novel. Dumas did visit him there,[25] although he does not mention it in "Etat civil". In 1840 Louis Napoleon was sentenced to life in prison, but escaped in disguise in 1846, while Dumas's novel was a great success. Just in the manner of Dantès, Louis Napoleon reappeared in Paris as a powerful and enigmatic man of the world. In 1848, however, Dumas did not vote for Louis Napoleon. The novel may have contributed, against the will of the writer, to the victory of the future Napoleon III.

A chronology of The Count of Monte Cristo and Bonapartism

During the life of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas:

  • 1793: Thomas-Alexandre Dumas is promoted to the rank of general in the army of the First French Republic.
  • 1794: He disapproves of the revolutionary terror in Western France.
  • 1795-97: He becomes famous and fights under Napoleon.
  • 1802: Black officers are dismissed from the army. The Empire re-establishes slavery.
  • 1802: Birth of his son, Alexandre Dumas père.
  • 1806: Thomas-Alexandre Dumas dies, still bitter about the injustice of the Empire.

During the life of Alexandre Dumas:

  • 1832: The only son of Napoleon I dies.
  • 1836: Alexandre Dumas is famous as a writer by this time (age 34).
  • 1836: First putsch by Louis Napoleon, aged 28, fails.
  • 1840: A law is passed to bring the ashes of Napoleon I to France.
  • 1840: Second putsch of Louis Napoleon. He is imprisoned for life and becomes known as the candidate for the imperial succession.
  • 1841: Dumas lives in Florence and becomes acquainted with King Jérôme and his son, Napoléon.
  • 1841-44: The story is conceived and written.
  • 1844-46: The story is published in parts in a Parisian magazine.
  • 1846: The novel is published in full and becomes a European bestseller.
  • 1846: Louis Napoleon escapes from his prison.
  • 1848: French Second Republic. Louis Napoleon is elected its first president but Dumas does not vote for him.
  • 1857: Dumas publishes État civil du Comte de Monte-Cristo

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