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The Underworld

Pierre Picaud: The "Real" Count.


The System

Famous Crime





"Now, listen -just for a joke we'll send a letter to the commissaire. We'll say that Picaud is a spy of the English and an agent of the Vendeens. The police will arrest him and that'll put off his wedding feast for some time." (Wolfe, 19)


With those words, Pierre Picaud's "friends" sent him on the adventure of a lifetime.

(Picture from Wolfe)

Jealous over his soon to be rewarded courtship with a certain fair young towns-lady, Pierre's friends send their prank letter to the commissaire, and Picaud is indeed arrested -if you may term it that. He is hoodwinked and carried off to a distant prison, where he is held under a false name and for no particular charges. During his seven year stay in the harsh prison fortress Fenestrelle, he became weakened, bitter, and delusional in his continued love for the woman (whom he was sure would be waiting for him if ever he escaped).

But also in prison was a man who shared vast knowledge (and eventually vast wealth) with Pierre, a priest named Torre. Because of this, Pierre is able to reenter society in a fashionable manner. Hugo's Jean Valjean also uses hidden treasure to support himself once out of prison. However, though Valjean repeatedly tried to "play it straight," Picaud's sole obsession was to press "vengeance upon those who were guilty of sending him to that living death." (Wolfe, 21)

The adventurous story of the ruin and tragedy that Picaud brings into the lives of those who ruined him has been documented by police records and compiled by the famous French archivist Monsieur Peuchet. But the more popular version of this man's fearsome path of destruction is in the fictionalized account by Alexandre Dumas called The Count of Monte Cristo.

True tales like that of Picaud's rampage served as both popular entertainment and social commentary in French society.

• On the one hand, stories like The Count of Monte Cristo thrilled and chilled French readers, who could live out the danger and excitement of criminal types from the comfort of their "study."

• On the other hand, tales of false imprisonment and prison brutality like Picuad's (or false accusation and wrongful execution like Joseph Lesurques) helped educate French society about the evils of the judicial system and the needs for reform.