On the day of his wedding to Mercédès, Edmond Dantès, first mate of the Pharaon, is falsely accused of treason, arrested, and imprisoned without trial in the Château d'If, a grim island fortress off Marseille. A fellow prisoner, Abbé Faria, correctly deduces that his jealous rival Fernand Mondego, envious crewmate Danglars, and double-dealing magistrate De Villefort turned him in. Faria inspires his escape and guides him to a fortune in treasure. As the powerful and mysterious Count of Monte Cristo (Italy), he arrives from the Orient to enter the fashionable Parisian world of the 1830s and avenge himself on the men who conspired to destroy him.
In 1815, Edmond Dantès, a young merchant sailor who has recently been granted the succession of his captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his Catalan fiancée Mercédès. Leclère, a supporter of the exiled Napoleon, found himself dying at sea and charged Dantès to deliver two objects: a package to General Bertrand (exiled with Napoleon on Elba), and a letter from Elba to an unknown man in Paris. On the eve of Dantès' wedding to Mercédès, Fernand Mondego (Mercédès' cousin and a rival for her affections) is given advice by Dantès' colleague Danglars (who is jealous of Dantès' 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 stays quiet as Dantès is arrested, then sentenced. Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor in Marseille, destroys the letter from Elba when he discovers that it is addressed to his own father, Noirtier (who is a Bonapartist), since if this letter came into official hands, it would destroy his ambitions and reputation as a staunch Royalist. 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"), an Italian fellow prisoner who had dug an escape tunnel that ended up in Dantès' cell. Over the next eight years, Faria gives Dantès an extensive education in language, culture, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, and science. Knowing himself to be close to death, Faria tells Dantès the location of a treasure on the small island of Monte Cristo. When Faria dies, Dantès takes his place in the burial sack. When the guards throw the sack into the sea, Dantès breaks through and swims to a nearby island. He is rescued by a smuggling ship that passes Monte Cristo. Fearing the members of the ship will find him and his treasure, he used the excuse of hunting sheep while he actually went to hunt the treasure. To stay on the island (to furthermore find his treasure for he has not found it yet), Dantès pretends he has a broken back. Six days later, the smuggling ship comes back for him and he boards it carrying with him only a few diamonds which are carefully hidden. In port, Dantès trades these diamonds for a yacht and then starts sail to Monte Cristo again to claim the rest of his treasure. After recovering the treasure, Dantès returns to Marseille. He later purchases the island of Monte Cristo and the title of Count from the Tuscan government.
Traveling as the Abbé Busoni, Dantès meets Caderousse, now living in poverty, who regrets not intervening and possibly saving Dantès from prison. 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 buys Morrel's debts and gives Morrel 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 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.
The Count of Monte Cristo
Reappearing as the rich Count of Monte Cristo, Dantès begins his 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 (prosecutor for the king). The Count appears first in Rome, 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 and then seemingly rescues him from Vampa's gang. Albert, feeling a debt of gratitude to the Count for his rescue, agrees to introduce the Count into Parisian society. The Count then moves to Paris and dazzles Danglars with his wealth, persuading him to extend him a credit of six million francs. The Count manipulates the bond market 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. To cover up the affair, Villefort told Madame Danglars that the infant was stillborn, smothered the child, and thinking him to be dead, buried him in the garden. While Villefort was burying the child, he was stabbed by the smuggler Bertuccio, who unearthed the child and resuscitated him. 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. He robs his adoptive mother (Bertuccio's sister-in-law) and ends up killing her, then runs away. Bertuccio later becomes the Count's servant and informs him of this history.
Benedetto is sentenced to the galleys with Caderousse, who had sold the diamond but killed both his wife and the buyer out of greed. After Benedetto and Caderousse are freed by Dantès, using the alias "Lord Wilmore," the Count induces Benedetto to take the identity of "Viscount Andrea Cavalcanti" and introduces him into Parisian society. Andrea ingratiates himself to Danglars, who betroths his daughter Eugénie to Andrea (not knowing they are half-siblings) after cancelling her engagement to Albert. Meanwhile, Caderousse blackmails Andrea, threatening to reveal his past if he doesn't share his new-found wealth. Cornered by "Abbé Busoni" while attempting to rob the Count's house, Caderousse begs to be given another chance. Dantès forces him 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 by Andrea. Caderousse dictates a deathbed statement identifying his killer, and the Count reveals his true identity to Caderousse moments before he dies.
Years before, Ali Pasha 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 thereafter, Dantès purchased Haydée. The Count manipulates Danglars into researching the event, which is published in a newspaper. As a result, Fernand is investigated by his peers and disgraced. When Albert blames the Count for his father's downfall and challenges him to a duel, Mercédès, having already recognized Monte Cristo as Dantès, goes to the Count and begs him to spare her son. During this interview, she learns the truth of his arrest and imprisonment but still convinces the Count not to kill her son. Realizing that Edmond now intends to let Albert kill him, she reveals the truth to Albert, which causes Albert to make a public apology to the Count. Albert and Mercédès disown Fernand and leave his house. Fernand is confronted with Dantès' true identity and shoots himself. Albert and Mercédès renounce their titles and wealth and depart to begin new lives.
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 introduces her to the technique of poison. Héloïse fatally poisons the Saint-Mérans, so that Valentine inherits their fortune. Valentine is briefly disinherited by Noirtier in an attempt to prevent Valentine's impending marriage with Franz d'Épinay, whom she does not love; however, the marriage is cancelled when d'Épinay learns that his father (believed assassinated by Bonapartists) was actually killed by Noirtier in a fair duel. After a failed attempt on Noirtier's life which leaves Noirtier's servant Barrois dead, Héloïse targets Valentine so that Édouard will 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.
Fleeing after Caderousse's letter exposes him, Andrea 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. 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 drives Villefort insane. Dantès tries but fails to resuscitate Édouard, causing him to question if he has gone too far.
After the Count's manipulation of the bond market, Danglars is left with 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. While leaving Rome, he is kidnapped by the Count's agent Luigi Vampa and is imprisoned. Forced to pay exorbitant prices for food and nearly starved to death, Danglars signs away his ill-gotten gains. Dantès anonymously returns the stolen money to the hospitals. Danglars finally repents his crimes, and a softened Dantès forgives him and allows him to leave with his freedom and 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 years earlier; he then tells Maximilien to reconsider his suicide, and Maximilien is saved.
On the island of Monte Cristo, Dantès presents Valentine to Maximilien and reveals the true sequence of events. Having found peace, Dantès now leaves the newly reunited couple part of his fortune on the island 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'".