In his book True Stories
of Immortal Crimes, Mr. H. Ashton Wolfe describes the process by
which myth and reality merge. Coming across the documentation for the
basis of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, he says:
"As I scanned
the reports of the old, famous story, I felt as I imagine a man would
feel who suddenly, unexpectedly, encounters a fabled monster -a mermaid,
or a unicorn. I realized that I had never believed the tale. Yet here,
on ancient, rough, linen paper, and written in the clear and mincing
hand of police officials who lived more than a century ago, were the
names, dates, and statements... " (Wolfe,
This fabulous tale of Edmond
Dantes, a man falsely imprisoned who extracts his revenge in dramatic
and gory ways, weaves in and out of every social class and setting,
from Dantes budding courtship of a young lady, to his long, harsh imprisonment
and bloody revenge. Dantes undertakes several identities in the course
of the book, which makes the story that much more exciting.
The figure of the terrible
Count was very popular, and this tale has been retold in various mediums,
including film and comic illustration. That the story originates from
facts about a man named Pierre Picaud,
and that these bloody facts would have been published at the time shows
us the proximity of violent crime to the daily life of France.
On the one hand,
people were pressed up against aspects of crime in their lives and
homes, so tales like these may have been more realistic and terrifying
than they seem to us. Whether readers made these characters into heroes
or villains probably had much to do with their place in society, but
good or bad these figures would be familiar and realistic.
On the other hand,
their adaptation for fiction may have made the stories appear all
the less true,explaining Wolfe's original disbelief (expressed in
the quote above) in their validity.