The Count of Monte Cristo was inspired by an anecdote from the Parisian police archives, a pearl of a story, Dumas called it, ‘A rough, shapeless pearl, of no value, waiting for its jeweller’. Edmond Dantè’s betrayal, his incarceration in the fortress-prison of If, his search for Abbé Faria’s hidden treasure, and his reappearance, now fabulously rich, as the brooding, Byronic and vengeful Count of Monte-Cristo – these are the bare outlines of a book which Thackeray, for one, found impossible to put down. Dumas set his magnificent novel of L’action et l’amour in nineteenth-century metropolitan Paris with interludes in Marseilles and Rome. In it he gave free rein to the sensational – hashish-smoking, vampirism and sex – and to his interest in travel, classical myth, the orient, human psychology and disguises. The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-46) is one of the great popular novels of all time, and a landmark in the development of modern popular fiction.