Today, 198 years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated as emperor of France and was shipped off to the island of Elba off the coast of France. In fact, he managed to escape less than a year later, and went on to reclaim power and lead one of the most infamous battles in history: The Battle of Waterloo.
But his incarceration on Elba sparked off at least two writers’ imaginations. One of them was Alexandre Dumas, who in 1844 published The Count of Monte Cristo, and the inciting incident for the entire novel was based on the hapless hero, Edmond, accepting a letter from Napoleon when they were forced to land on Elba to find medical aid for their captain, and promising to deliver it to a stranger. Edmond’s life utterly changes from there.
It was made into a movie in 2002 starring Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce and Richard Harris…and the movie rocks. They’ve managed to compress 800 pages of florid 19th century prose down into taut romantic suspense — and it is romantic. Caviezel makes your knees weak in the later half of the movie as his fifteen year plan for vengeance gets closer to fruition and is nearly derailed by…well, I won’t spoil it except to say that the movie pays careful attention to plot, emotions, character and romance. It’s fabulous. If you can scare up a copy, watch it. It’s worth it. If you’ve seen it already, do you agree?
The other writer who was inspired by Bonaparte’s incarcaration was Frank Darabont, the writer/director of The Shawshank Redemption– although his inspiration was indirect, via Dumas. There is a moment in the movie when the prisoners are unpacking donated library books:
I got here an auto repair manual,
and a book on soap carving.
Trade skills and hobbies, those go
under educational. Stack right
Cristo, you dumbshit.
…by Alexandree Dumb-ass.
Dumas. You boys’ll like that one.
It’s about a prison break.
Floyd tries to take the book. Heywood yanks it back. I saw it first. Red shoots Andy a look.
Maybe that should go under