On August 28, 1844, a Paris newspaper called Les Journal des Débats, or The Journal of Debates, debuted the first part of a rip-roaring new tale about a man wrongfully accused of treason and thrown into jail with no trial. It was Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, and it would go on to become one of the most beloved adventure novels of all time.
Today’s Google Doodle pays homage to that anniversary with a slideshow of illustrations that depict the novel’s protagonist, Edmond Dantès, embarking on his journey of finding riches and exacting revenge. The pictures don’t give too much away, but the unofficial statute of limitations on "spoiler alerts" for this book probably expired sometime in the 20th century anyway.
While Dumas’s tale is definitely a classic, the inspiration behind it isn’t quite as well-known. The author got the idea from the real-life story of Pierre Picaud, a shoemaker conspired against by a few men trying to steal his fiancée. Like Dantès, Picaud was falsely incarcerated on charges of treason, became the beneficiary of a large fortune, and sought vengeance on the men who tried to ruin his life (though it’s possible Picaud’s story has been embellished over the years).
There are also some noteworthy similarities between The Count of Monte Cristo and the life of Dumas’s own father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Born in modern-day Haiti to an enslaved Black mother and a white French father, the elder Dumas later sailed to France and quickly climbed the military ranks, becoming a general in Napoleon’s forces. According to Vox, Napoleon began to resent General Dumas’s popularity, and he didn’t bargain for his freedom when Dumas was imprisoned during a conflict in Naples in 1799. His wife helped secure his release after about two years, but his health was failing him, and he died of stomach cancer in 1806. His family never received his pension or the unpaid wages he was entitled to.
Knowing that tragic history, The Count of Monte Cristo reads almost like a tribute to Alexandre Dumas’s father—a tale in which the hero is able to fight back against injustice and claim the legacy he deserved.