In 1815 Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor who has just recently been granted the succession of his erstwhile captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his Catalan fiancée Mercédès. Leclère, a supporter of the exiled Napoléon I, found himself dying at sea and charged Dantès to deliver two objects: a package to General Bertrand (exiled with Napoleon Bonaparte on Elba), and a letter from Elba to an unknown man in Paris. On the eve of his wedding to Mercédès, Fernand (Mercédès' cousin and a rival for her affections) is given subtle advice by Dantès' colleague Danglars (who is jealous of his rapid rise to captain), to send an anonymous note accusing Dantès of being a Bonapartist traitor. Caderousse (Dantès' cowardly and selfish neighbor) is drunk while the two conspirators set the trap for Dantès, and while he objects to the idea of hurting Dantès, he stays quiet the next day as Dantès is arrested then sentenced even though his testimony could have stopped the entire scandal from happening. Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor in Marseille, while initially sympathetic to Dantès, destroys the letter from Elba when he discovers that it is addressed to his own father, Noirtier (who is a Bonapartist), as if this letter came into official hands, it would destroy his ambitions and reputation as a stauch Royalist. In order to silence Dantès, he condemns him without trial to life imprisonment.
After six years of imprisonment in the Château d'If, Dantès is on the verge of suicide when he befriends the Abbé Faria ("The Mad Priest"), a fellow prisoner whom he hears trying to tunnel his way to freedom. Faria's calculations on his tunnel were off, and it ends up connecting the two prisoners' cells rather than leading to freedom. Over the course of the next eight years, Faria comes to give Dantès an extensive education in language, culture, and science. He also explains to Dantès how Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort would each have had their own reasons for wanting Dantès in prison. Knowing himself to be close to death, due to an inherited disease, Faria tells Dantès the location of a treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. When Faria dies, Dantès takes his place in the burial sack, moving the corpse to his own bed through their tunnel. When the guards throw the sack into the sea, Dantès narrowly escapes with his life and swims to a nearby island - an extremely difficult feat because of the Château d'If's isolated location and dangerous offshore currents. No one was known to have escaped the prison and survived. Dantès is rescued by a smuggling ship the next morning. After several months of working with the smugglers, the ship makes a stop at Monte Cristo. Dantès fakes an injury and persuades the smugglers to leave him temporarily on the island while they finish their trip without him. He then makes his way to the hiding place of the treasure. After recovering the treasure, he leaves the smuggling business, buys a yacht, and returns to Marseille, where he begins to find out what became of everyone from his previous life. He later purchases both the island of Monte Cristo and the title of Count from the Tuscan government.
Returning to Marseille, Dantès learns that his father died of starvation during his imprisonment, but before embarking on his efforts for revenge, he first helps several people who were kind to him before his imprisonment. Traveling as the Abbé Busoni, he meets Caderousse, now living in poverty, whose intervention might have saved Dantès from prison. Dantès learns that his other enemies have all become wealthy. He gives Caderousse a diamond that can be either a chance to redeem himself, or a trap that will lead to his ruin. Learning that his old employer Morrel is on the verge of bankruptcy, Dantès, in the guise of a senior clerk from a banking firm, buys all of Morrel's outstanding debts and gives Morrel an extension of three months to fulfill his obligations. At the end of the three months and with no way to repay his debts, Morrel is about to commit suicide when he learns that all of his debts have been mysteriously paid and that one of his lost ships has returned with a full cargo, secretly rebuilt and laden by Dantès. Dantès rejoices at the Morrel family's joy, then pledges to banish all warm sentiments from his heart and dedicate himself to vengeance.
The Count of Monte Cristo
Returning as the rich Count of Monte Cristo, Dantès takes revenge on the three men responsible for his unjust imprisonment: Fernand, now Count de Morcerf and Mercédès' husband; Danglars, now a baron and a wealthy banker; and Villefort, now procureur du roi — all of whom now live in Paris. The Count appears first in Rome (in the early 1838), where he becomes acquainted with the Baron Franz d'Épinay, and Viscount Albert de Morcerf, the son of Mercédès and Fernand. Dantès arranges for the young Morcerf to be captured by the bandit Luigi Vampa before rescuing him from Vampa's gang. The Count then moves to Paris, and with Albert de Morcerf's introduction, becomes the sensation of the city. Through a series of clever contrivances, the count ingratiates himself to everyone, including his enemies, who do not recognize him. The Count dazzles the crass Danglars with his seemingly endless wealth, eventually persuading him to extend him a credit of six million francs, and withdraws 900,000. Under the terms of the arrangement, the Count can demand access to the remainder at any time. The Count manipulates the bond market, through a false telegraph signal, and quickly destroys a large portion of Danglars' fortune. The rest of it begins to rapidly disappear through mysterious bankruptcies, suspensions of payment, and more bad luck in the Stock Exchange.
Villefort had once conducted an affair with Madame Danglars. She became pregnant and delivered the child in the house that the Count has now purchased. In a desperate attempt to cover up the affair, Villefort told Madame Danglars that the infant had been stillborn. Villefort then smothered the child, and thinking him to be dead, he tried to bury him secretly behind the house. While Villefort was burying the child, he was stabbed by the smuggler Bertuccio (who had sworn vengeance on him after Villefort refused to do anything about the murder of Bertuccio's brother). Bertuccio assumed Villefort was burying treasure. He dug it up, found the near dead child and brought him back to life. Bertuccio's sister-in-law brought the child up, giving him the name "Benedetto." Benedetto takes up a life of crime as he grows into adolescence and spends his time with other young criminals. He decides to rob his adoptive mother (Bertuccio's sister-in-law) and ends up killing her in the process. After that, Benedetto runs away. The Count learns of this story from Bertuccio, who later becomes his servant. He purchases the house and hosts a dinner party there, to which he invites, among others, Villefort and Madame Danglars. During the dinner, the Count announces that, while doing landscaping, he had unearthed a box containing the remains of an infant and had referred the matter to the authorities to investigate. This puzzles Villefort, who knew that the infant's box had been removed and so the Count's story could not be true, and alarms him that perhaps he knows the secret of his past affair with Madame Danglars and may be taunting him.
Meanwhile, Benedetto has grown up to become a criminal and is sentenced to the galleys with Caderousse. After the two are freed by "Lord Wilmore", Benedetto is sponsored by the Count to take the identity of "Viscount Andrea Cavalcanti" and is introduced by him into Parisian society at the same dinner party, with neither Villefort nor Madame Danglars suspecting that Andrea is their presumed dead son. Andrea then ingratiates himself to Danglars who betrothes his daughter Eugénie to Andrea after cancelling her engagement to Albert, son of Fernand. Meanwhile, Caderousse blackmails Andrea, threatening to reveal his past. Cornered by "Abbé Busoni" while attempting to rob the Count's house, Caderousse begs to be given another chance, but Dantès grimly remarks that he had done so twice and Caderousse did not change. He forces Caderousse to write a letter to Danglars exposing Cavalcanti as an impostor and allows Caderousse to leave the house. The moment Caderousse leaves the estate, he is stabbed in the back by Andrea. Caderousse manages to dictate and sign a deathbed statement identifying his killer, and the Count reveals his true identity to Caderousse moments before Caderousse dies.
Years before, Ali Pasha, the ruler of Janina, had been betrayed to the Turks by Fernand. After Ali's death, Fernand sold Ali's wife Vasiliki and his daughter Haydée into slavery. While Vasiliki died shortly afterwards, Haydée was found and bought by Dantès and becomes the Count's ward. The Count manipulates Danglars into researching the event, which is published in a newspaper. As a result, Fernand is brought to trial for his crimes. Haydée testifies against him, and Fernand is disgraced. Mercédès, still beautiful, is the only person to recognize the Count as Dantès. When Albert blames the Count for his father's downfall and publicly challenges him to a duel, Mercédès goes secretly to the Count and begs him to spare her son. During this interview, she learns the truth of his arrest and imprisonment. She later reveals the truth to Albert, which causes Albert to make a public apology to the Count. Albert and Mercédès disown Fernand, who is confronted with Dantès' true identity and commits suicide. The mother and son depart to build a new life free of disgrace. Albert enlists as a soldier and goes to Africa in order to rebuild his life and honour under a new name, and Mercédès begins a solitary life in Marseille.
Valentine, Villefort's daughter by his late first wife, stands to inherit the fortune of her grandfather (Noirtier) and of her mother's parents (the Saint-Mérans), while Villefort's second wife Héloïse seeks the fortune for her son Édouard. The Count is aware of Héloïse's intentions, and "innocently" introduces her to the technique of poison. Héloïse fatally poisons the Saint-Mérans, so that Valentine inherits their fortune. Valentine is disinherited by Noirtier in an attempt to prevent Valentine's impending marriage with Franz d'Épinay. The marriage is cancelled when d'Épinay learns that his father (believed assassinated by Bonapartists) was actually killed by Noirtier in a duel. Afterwards, Valentine is reinstated in Noirtier's will. After a failed attempt on Noirtier's life, which instead claims the life of Noirtier's servant Barrois, Héloïse then targets Valentine so that Édouard will finally get the fortune. However, Valentine is the prime suspect in her father's eyes in the deaths of the Saint-Mérans and Barrois. On learning that Morrel's son Maximilien is in love with Valentine, the Count saves her by making it appear as though Héloïse's plan to poison Valentine has succeeded and that Valentine is dead. Villefort learns from Noirtier that Héloïse is the real murderer and confronts her, giving her the choice of a public execution or committing suicide by her own poison.
Fleeing after Caderousse's letter exposes him, Andrea gets as far as Compiègne before he is arrested and returned to Paris, where Villefort prosecutes him. While in prison awaiting trial, Andrea is visited by Bertuccio who tells him the truth about his father. At his trial, Andrea reveals that he is Villefort's son and was rescued after Villefort buried him alive. A stunned Villefort admits his guilt and flees the court. He rushes home to stop his wife's suicide but is too late; she has poisoned her son as well. Dantès confronts Villefort, revealing his true identity, but this, combined with the shock of the trial's revelations and the death of his wife and son, drives Villefort insane. Dantès tries to resuscitate Édouard but fails, and despairs that his revenge has gone too far. It is only after he revisits his cell in the Château d'If that Dantès is reassured that his cause is just and his conscience is clear, that he can fulfil his plan while being able to forgive both his enemies and himself.
After the Count's manipulation of the bond market, Danglars is left with only a destroyed reputation and 5,000,000 francs he has been holding in deposit for hospitals. The Count demands this sum to fulfil their credit agreement, and Danglars embezzles the hospital fund. Abandoning his wife, Danglars flees to Italy with the Count's receipt and 50,000 francs in petty cash, hoping to live in Vienna in anonymous prosperity. While leaving Rome, he is kidnapped by the Count's agent Luigi Vampa and is imprisoned in the same way as Albert. Forced to pay exorbitant prices for food and nearly starved to death (as Dantès's father had been), Danglars eventually signs away all of his ill-gotten gains. Dantès anonymously returns the stolen money to the hospitals. Left emaciated, grey-haired and driven nearly mad by his ordeal, Danglars finally repents his crimes. Dantès forgives Danglars and allows him to leave with his freedom and his 50,000 francs.
Maximilien Morrel, believing Valentine to be dead, contemplates suicide after her funeral. Dantès reveals his true identity and explains that he rescued Morrel's father from bankruptcy, disgrace and suicide years earlier; he then tells Maximilien to reconsider his suicide. On the island of Monte Cristo one month later, Dantès presents Valentine to Maximilien and reveals the true sequence of events. Having found peace, Dantès leaves the newly reunited couple his fortune and departs for an unknown destination to find comfort and a new life with Haydée, who has declared her love for him. The reader is left with a final thought: "all human wisdom is contained in these two words, 'Wait and Hope".