Places: The Count of Monte-Cristo

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, 1844-1845, serial; 1846, book (The Count of Monte-Cristo, 1846)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1815-1838

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Marseilles

*Marseilles Count of Monte-Cristo, The (mar-SAY). Southeastern French city in a bay on the Mediterranean coast, popularizer of the French revolutionary anthem, “La Marseillaise,” and the home of Alexandre Dumas’s hero, Edmond Dantès. Dumas depicts Marseilles as a romantic gateway to such exotic Mediterranean ports as Smyrna and Algiers, as host to a Catalan (Spanish) community–where the heroine lives–and as a loyal supporter of Napoleon Bonaparte during his hundred-day return from exile in 1815. Like Gascony in Dumas’s The Three Musketeers (1844), this Marseilles provides the hero with southern liberalism, nobility of heart, and passion.


Pharaon. Ship on which Dantès serves as mate. Its stop at Elba dooms him even while its name foreshadows the “Arabian” wealth and power that is later at his command.


*Porto-Ferraio. Largest town on the island of Elba, off the west coast of Italy, to which Napoleon was exiled in 1814. Dantès’s visit to this island enables his enemies to accuse him of Bonapartism.

*Château d’If

*Château d’If. Fortified castle on If, one of several small islands in the bay of Marseilles. Lying about two miles out to sea, the island presumably takes its name from its dominant tree, the cypress (if in French). Built in 1524 by King François I, the historical château eventually became a prison. Dantès’s fourteen-year imprisonment here–through reigns of three French kings–indicates the repressive injustice of the post-Napoleonic Restoration governments. His imprisonment also partially parallels Napoleon’s years of exile, first to Elba and later to St. Helena in the South Atlantic. Like the Corsican outsider who conquered much of Europe, Dantès transforms himself from a plebeian into a fabulously powerful figure who dominates his world. By making Dantès’s fellow inmate the Abbé Faria, imprisoned in 1808 for espousing Italian unity, Dumas parallels the reactionary injustices in Italy and France in the first decades of the nineteenth century.


*Corsica. Mountainous French island in the Mediterranean–smaller than Sicily, Sardinia, and Cyprus–located 105 miles from southern France and 56 miles from northwestern Italy. In the novel, the island is thematically important as Napoleon’s birthplace and as home of the Italian blood feud known as the vendetta–related to both the count’s complex plot and his Corsican servant Bertuccio’s simpler vengeance.


*Monte-Cristo. Tiny Mediterranean island south of Elba. Here Dantès discovers a treasure that the novel repeatedly links to the fabulous tales of the fifteenth century Arabian Nights Entertainments–an association typical of late-Romantic era Orientalism. Moreover, the island’s name–literally, “Christ’s Mount” in English–conveys religious connotations suitable for a protagonist who first pretends to be dead in order to escape prison, then is rebaptized in the sea, and finally hopes for rebirth in abandoning his vengeful path. In real life, Dumas celebrated the phenomenal success of this novel by building himself a château he named Monte Cristo, where he played host on a scale matching that of his fictional hero.

Pont du Gard Inn

Pont du Gard Inn (POHN-dyu-gahr). Lowly French hotel owned by one of Dantès’s treacherous friends, situated between Nîmes and Beaucaire in southern France, west of Marseilles. Whereas a Parisian veneer of elegance and wealth covers the other conspirators’ criminality and self-interest, here baseness appears in cruder, provincial form.

Sinbad the Sailor’s grotto

Sinbad the Sailor’s grotto. Dantès’s palatial hideaway on the isle of Monte-Cristo. Here he welcomes a French visitor dazzled to find a sumptuous establishment on a tiny island that is believed to be inhabited only by wild goats and visited only by pirates and smugglers. The hideaway consists of a boudoir filled with ankle-deep Turkish carpets and luxurious fabrics; a dining room with marble walls and magnificent statues holding huge baskets of pineapples from Sicily, pomegranates from Malaga, oranges from the Balearic Islands, peaches from France, and dates from Tunis; a waiting room whose walls, floor, and ceiling are decorated with skins from Bengal tigers, Siberian bears, and Norwegian foxes. Besides reflecting the period’s sea commerce, the grotto’s furnishings–like the name that Dantès adopts from one of the heroes of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments–contributes to the novel’s fairy-tale exoticism.


*Rome. Largest and richest city of Italy. Crowded with carnival festivities, Rome is the appropriate stage for Dantès’s first appearance in the guise of the “count of Monte-Cristo,” one of several masks he wears. In chapters 31-39, Dumas invests the city’s renowned tourist attractions with colorful melodrama as the count meets with an Italian bandit at the moonlight Colosseum, rescues a Frenchman held for ransom in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian, and attends an execution on the Piazza del Populo. Just as Monte-Cristo associates Dantès with smugglers and pirates, so Dumas’s picturesque, brigand-filled Rome showcases the count as a master among bandits.


*Paris. In chapters 40-112, Dumas recreates the Paris of 1838 with a specificity based on his own daily experience of life in the capital during and after this period. Thus, realism prevails as characters visit the opera to hear Wilhelm Tell, go for carriage drives on the Champs Élysées, buy houses in the suburbs, and follow the stock market with an eye on Spanish politics. At the same time, a Gothic atmosphere of evil broods over the luxurious homes of the count’s enemies. For the most part, the novel’s Paris is that of the privileged classes, among whom a deadly concern with wealth, prestige, and power has atrophied morality and passion–except in the younger generation. Toward the end of the novel, Paris appears through the departing count’s eyes as “this modern Babylon.”


*Auteuil (oh-TEI). Parisian suburb in which Dantès buys and refurbishes a house, complete with a huge library and a conservatory with exotic plants. Here the count gives a fabulous “Oriental feast [ . . . ] one would attribute to Arabian fairies,” with food and drink from the four corners of the world, including sturgeon from the Volga river in Russia and lamprey from Lake Fusaro in Naples. The story of a newborn buried on the grounds reveals the corruption at the heart of this respectable Parisian milieu.


*Janinna. City on the shores of Lake Janinna in northern Greece, governed by the Greek Pasha Ali Tebelin until 1822 despite Turkish domination of his country. Whereas Dumas uses most exotic locations in the novel simply to suggest the count’s cosmopolitanism, he lends Janinna some historical dimension as a site of French treachery and Turkish repression during the Greek war for independence. The historical Ali’s death at Janinna at the hands of the Turks in 1822 is a matter of record–and although Dumas invents the sale of Ali’s wife and daughter as slaves to a sultan in Constantinople, it is a scenario based on Turkish custom. The novel’s sympathetic representation of Greek nationalism accords with its endorsement of French liberalism and Italian unity.

BibliographyBell, A. Craig. Alexandre Dumas: A Biography and Study. London: Cassell, 1950. Discusses the origins and the genesis of The Count of Monte-Cristo, including notes from Dumas to his collaborator Auguste Maquet. Provides clear analysis of character, settings, and theme.Hemmings, F. W. J. Alexandre Dumas: The King of Romance. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979. Good introductory source describing the origins of the plot of The Count of Monte-Cristo in an earlier story, “Georges,” and in the imprisonment of François Picaud. Argues that the work is the greatest revenger’s tragedy in the history of the novel and that it employs the hero as an instrument of divine providence. Clear analysis of theme and character.Ross, Michael. Alexandre Dumas. Newton Abbot, Devon, England: David and Charles, 1981. Explores the relationship between Dumas and his collaborator Auguste Maquet, discussing the role each played in the plot development of The Count of Monte-Cristo. Compares the real and fictionalized versions of the story of François Picaud.Schopp, Claude. Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life. Translated by A. J. Koch. New York: Franklin Watts, 1988. Detailed biography that provides a good introduction to Dumas’ life and work, including the events surrounding the creation of The Count of Monte-Cristo and an account of public response. Provides insights into Dumas’ working methods.Stowe, Richard. Alexandre Dumas (père). Boston: Twayne, 1976. Provides a clear plot summary of The Count of Monte-Cristo and detailed analysis of character, setting, and atmosphere. Compares Dantès with other Dumas heroes and traces the novel’s development, focusing on its interesting blending of reality and fantasy.
Categories: Places