Home > 19th Century, French Literature, Literary Escapades, Personal Posts > Literary Escapade: Alexandre Dumas, Edmond Dantes and the Château d’If

Literary Escapade: Alexandre Dumas, Edmond Dantes and the Château d’If

February 21, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Le Comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is one of my fondest memories of reading during my teenage years. It’s the definition of a page turner, I remember reading it with eagerness and delight. What a story!

With The Three Musketeers, it is the most famous novel by Alexandre Dumas and I don’t think I need to sum up its plot. If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link to the related Wikipedia page and to its free pdf edition on Project Gutenberg. Now you have no excuse not to read it.

Alexandre Dumas published Le Comte de Monte Cristo in 1844 and a significant part of the plot is set in the Château d’If. It is where Edmond Dantes is imprisoned and where he connects with Abbé Faria. The Château d’If really exists, it’s near Marseille and tourists can visit it after a mere 20 minutes boat trip from the Vieux Port. How could I resist such a literary escapade?

Photo by Jean-Marc Rosier, from Wikipedia

The Château d’If is a fortress built on the orders of King Francis I between 1527 and 1529 and reinforced by the military engineer Vauban in the 18th century. (There are Vauban fortresses all over the country. The man was everywhere, I don’t know how he made it). The Chateau d’If was a prison during 400 years and became extremely famous when Alexandre Dumas set his novel there. The last prisoners left the Chateau d’If in 1914.

Dumas knew of the Chateau d’If through his father, who was a general in Napoléon’s army. For the General Dumas, this fortress was where the General Kléber’s coffin was kept after he was assassinated in Egypt in 1800. Bonaparte was embarrassed by his death and Kléber’s body remained at the Château d’If until 1814.

Alexandre Dumas visited If in 1834 for the first time. During a trip in the Mediterranean, he came across an island named Monte Cristo. The legend says that in the Middle Ages, monks amassed a treasury on this island and nobody ever found it.

So, life provides material for fiction but the writer is the one who ties together the real story of Pierre Picaud, the Chateau d’If, the island of Monte Cristo and the political context of the Restauration.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo was first published as a feuilleton in the Journal des Débats, from 1844 to 1846. The newspaper gave it a large audience as papers circulated more than books at the time, as they were cheaper and available in cabinets de lecture. (The cabinets de lecture were establishments where people could read newspapers and books against a small fee.) It was then published as a novel and immediately translated into 20 languages. So, Le Comte de Monte Cristo is one of the first international bestsellers!

Le Comte de Monte Cristo was a huge success when it was published. Dumas came to the Chateau d’If, in 1858, ten years after the novel was released as a feuilleton. To his astonishment, a guard, not knowing who he was talking to, explained the whole story of Dantes and Faria as if it were real facts. He showed the supposed cells of the two fictional prisoners and a passage between the two had even been built! It is still visible today.

This is a picture of Marseille, taken from If, only 1.5km away at sea.

How frustrating it must have been to be so close to the coast and unable to go back to the city! The only person who managed to escape this fortress is the fictional Edmond Dantes.

Readers started to visit the Château d’If as soon as the novel was published. It wasn’t officially opened to visitors but the novel was so popular that it drew people to see the fortress and Dantes and Faria’s cells. See, we’re not so original with Harry Potter or Hunger Games tours! I find this kind of trivia fascinating and I often realize that a lot of our modern behaviors started out in the 19th century.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo has an amazing plot, and it was made into a play by Dumas himself, into films and into a manga by Ena Moriyama. The clerk of the boutique at the Chateau d’If told me that she met a Japanese tourist who was staying in France for four months to learn French and was very happy to visit the castle as he was a huge fan of the Monte Cristo manga.

History and fiction are entwined in such a way that the Château d’If has 100 000 visitors per year, something it would never have without Dumas. Otherwise, it is a rather banal fortress, a prison whose most notorious prisoner is a character in a bestseller.

And, that is the lasting power of literature and books for you, my friends. 🙂

  1. February 21, 2022 at 4:24 pm

    I think I first read this one in a condensed children’s version and really enjoyed it: I only got to the unabridged version much later. That there are cells supposed to have been occupied by Dantes and Faria at the Chateau d’If and the number of visitors it gets certainly testifies to its continuing popularity. I’d heard of the manga version but haven’t read it, but I must look it up. Enjoyed your post

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:07 pm

      Thanks for your message.
      It’s an excellent book, one that can hook you to reading because it’s a lot of fun and pleasure.
      I need to check out the manga too.
      To think that the chateau d’If is famous because of the book and not its own historical interest!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. February 21, 2022 at 5:13 pm

    My son made me get this one for him recently in French, as he wanted to read the unabridged version in the original (I might get there before him). A real humdinger of a story, and I remember seeing the film as a child too and never forgetting the scene of the escape. More lovely Marseille reading!

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:08 pm

      Good to know that the young generation are interested in this book too. Happy reading to him!
      It’s a book I remember quite well too because it was so thrilling, with striking characters. And who wouldn’t root for Edmond Dantes?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. February 21, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    How fun and even be able to visit his cell, lol!

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:10 pm

      If you don’t know the truth, you might think that these two prisoners really existed. It’s worth visiting for the story around the fortress and the literary history too.

      Like

  4. Joy
    February 21, 2022 at 8:08 pm

    I too read The Count of Monte Cristo when I was in Junior High School. You may want to read « The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo » by Tom Reiss. Reiss claims Dumas based the story on the life of his own grandfather.

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:12 pm

      Welcome to Book around the Corner and thanks for commenting.

      I’ve never heard of this book by Reiss. I’ve read that Edmond Dantes is based upon Pierre Picaud. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Picaud) but that doesn’t mean that Reiss is wrong and that Dumas’s grand-father wasn’t material for Edmond Dantes.

      Like

  5. February 21, 2022 at 11:51 pm

    *chuckle* What a wonderful snippet about Dumas being told about his own novel!
    That is a superb photo…

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:13 pm

      Isn’t it incredible? Imagine his face!

      The first picture is beautiful since I’m not the one who took it. 🙂 I’m terrible at taking pictures.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. February 22, 2022 at 1:21 am

    I meant that Dumas was inspired to write The Count of Monte Cristo by the life of his grandfather.

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:20 pm

      That’s what I understood. A biography of the Dumas family must be fascinating. Between the family’s roots in Saint Domingue, the father’s career in Napoleonic wars, Dumas’s own life and his son’s life as a writer too. What a lineage!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. February 22, 2022 at 3:15 am

    I have very fond memories of reading the book as a teenager and being so caught up in the story. What a gorgeous day for a visit! and the idea of the guard telling Dumas his own story makes me giggle.

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:15 pm

      I’ve never heard of anyone not being caught up in this story. It’s everything a book should be to embark on a grand adventure and forget everything else for a while.

      I wish I could have seen Dumas’s face when he heard the guard’s explanations!

      Like

  8. February 22, 2022 at 6:20 am

    I have a shelf of my father’s Dumas novels. I’m not sure how he came to get them as a set but they look impressive and old. And yes, I’ve read some, at least The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Christo and The Black Tulip. The others are for when I retire and read only from my own shelves

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 12:17 pm

      Well, it’s been a bestseller since it was published and it’s one of the most read and translated French books. So, I’m not so surprised that your father had them too.

      Retirement? Is that even a word you’ll consider one day? 🙂

      Like

  9. February 22, 2022 at 3:52 pm

    Same fond memories! I started with an abridged version – an inspired gift from my great-grandmother – but I graduated quite fast to the full version, which I must have read umpteen times. Strangely, I’ve never been attracted to any of his other books.
    Do you think Dumas was vexed that he wasn’t recognised?

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 6:17 pm

      I haven’t reread it yet (too afraid to spoil these fond memories) but now I want to.
      I’ve read La Reine Margot but that’s all.

      As far as Les trois mousquetaires are concerned, I’ve never graduated from the anime that was broadcasted in Club Dorothée. 🙂

      I’m not sure people expected to be recognized outside of their immediate environment in 1858. There weren’t many photographies and all that. (Unless you’re Louis XVI with your face on coins!!)

      Like

  10. February 22, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    Lovely post Emma – I envy your travels and thank you for sharing them! It’s so long since I read any Dumas that I can’t recall what I have or haven’t read. Maybe time to go back to his books!

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 6:18 pm

      Thanks, Karen. I’m not traveling very far, you know. Marseille is only three hours away but I’m glad I went, it was lovely and good to get out of everyday’s routine.

      I wonder if we should do a Comte de Monte Cristo readalong. Other readers might be interested.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. February 22, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    Such an interesting post Emma, I love the story of Dumas having his story told back to him! When I was a child I adored the film adaptations and my children’s versions of the books but strangely I’ve never read him as an adult. I really must, they’re wonderful stories.

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks!

      I think he’s interesting to read as an adult, to see his take on the early 19th C society. With all the changes of regimes, people had to survive and change sides (or not) or live in the nostalgia of the Empire during the Restauration, etc.
      It’s a topic in The Red and the Black and it must have transpired in Le Compte de Monte Cristo too.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. February 22, 2022 at 9:32 pm

    Wow, that’s just amazing. I loved reading about this. I’ve had the idea that I would enjoy reading this for some time now (I think there was a readalong about three or four years ago, which probably means five or six LOL) and have been keeping it in mind as a “sink into it for a summer” type of read. I think I might pencil it into next summer! Or maybe it would make for good entertainment in my “Proust” planned year. Nah, that would probably not be a good fit. Heheh What do you think?

    Like

    • February 22, 2022 at 10:17 pm

      It’s definitely a “sink into it for a summer” or a “sink into it when you’re snowed in”. You need free time, otherwise you’ll get frustrated because once you start reading the Comte de Monte Cristo, you just want to keep reading and forget all of your adult problems.

      I’m not sure it’s a great fit with Proust if you consider their style but it can be a good breathing time between volumes, especially between the claustrophobic La Prisonnière and Albertine disparue. Plus, if I remember well, Proust was a great fan of Dumas. So, all things considered, it’s a great idea! 🙂

      Like

      • February 23, 2022 at 6:26 pm

        I’d like to pair it with a biography of Dumas that I’ve had on my TBR for an embarrassingly long time. Hmmm, okay, I think I will situate it with that in mind. I think I will plan on it for next year instead. I don’t think I want to break up my volumes of Proust in the following year (although I could see doing so in other reading years). Love the fact that Proust was a fan of Dumas…that seems to make it a fit of sorts after all!

        Like

        • February 23, 2022 at 10:15 pm

          Wonderful project!
          A biography of Alexandre Dumas must be as fascinating as one of his books.

          Like

          • February 23, 2022 at 10:26 pm

            When I went to check my library note, I saw it was about the “real” Count instead: The Black Count by Tom Reiss (2012). As usual, too many books. Or…not enough!

            Like

            • February 23, 2022 at 11:06 pm

              That’s the book mentioned by Joy in the comments above. An interesting theory about who inspired the character of Edmond Dantes, apparently.

              Like

  13. February 24, 2022 at 10:22 pm

    Oh yeah, me too, although the idea of being entombed in a dungeon for twenty years still horrifies me.

    Like

    • March 5, 2022 at 9:43 pm

      Sorry for the very slow answer.
      Yes, I think no one envies Edmond Dantes for those years and even less after seeing the real life cells. Chilling.

      Like

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