The story takes place in France, Italy, and islands in the Mediterranean during the historical events of 1815–1838 (from just before the Hundred Days through the reign of Louis-Philippe of France). It is primarily concerned with themes of justice, vengeance, mercy, and forgiveness, and is told in the style of an adventure story.
Dumas got the idea for The Count of Monte Cristo from a true story, which he found in a memoir written by a man named Jacques Peuchet. Peuchet related the story of a shoemaker named Pierre Picaud, who was living in Paris in 1807. Picaud was engaged to marry a rich woman, but four jealous friends falsely accused him of being a spy for England. He was imprisoned for seven years. During his imprisonment a dying fellow prisoner bequeathed him a treasure hidden in Milan. When Picaud was released in 1814, he took possession of the treasure, returned under another name to Paris and spent ten years plotting his successful revenge against his former friends.
Edmond Dantès, a 19-year-old sailor aboard the ship Pharaon, returns home to Marseille. He is excited to be reunited with his family and friends, and eager to marry his fiancée, the Catalan beauty Mercédès. He is also proud of his recent promotion to captain. At the same time, he is saddened by the recent death of his friend Captain Leclère, his predecessor.
Captain Leclére, a supporter of the now exiled Napoléon, had charged Dantès on his deathbed to deliver a package to former Grand Marshal Maréchal Bertrand, who had been exiled to the isle of Elba. During the Pharaon's stop at Elba, Dantès spoke to Napoléon himself, who asked the sailor to deliver a confidential letter to a man in Paris.
Edmond's good fortune inspires jealousy in those close to him. His promotion to captain offends the ship's purser, Danglars; his windfall stuns his neighbor, the impoverished tailor Caderousse; his relationship with Mercédès inspires the jealousy of her cousin Fernand Mondego, who wants Mercédès for his own. Danglars writes an anonymous letter to the crown prosecutor accusing Dantès of being a Bonapartist, that is, a traitor to the Royalists who are in power. Inflaming his jealousy, he instigates Fernand to send the letter, while Caderousse looks on in a drunken stupor.
Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor in Marseille, assumes the duty of investigating the matter on Dantès' wedding day and on the day of his own betrothal to Renee de Saint-Meran; he indeed finds an incriminating letter. Dantès knows nothing of its contents, only that he was asked to deliver it. Although at first sympathetic to Dantès' case, when Villefort questions Dantès as to where and to whom the letter was to be delivered, he discovers to his horror that it is addressed to his own father, Noirtier de Villefort.
Due to the political climate created by the restoration of King Louis XVIII, Villefort wants to distance himself from his Bonapartist father. The deputy crown prosecutor burns the letter, which has the potential to fatally hinder his success. Although Villefort would rather not imprison an innocent man, he ultimately chooses to save his political career rather than properly exercise justice and condemns Dantès to life imprisonment in the island prison of the Château d'If, using his knowledge of the letter's contents to advance himself and his career at the court of Louis XVIII.
Escape to riches
While in prison, Dantès slowly sinks into despair and finally looks to God for salvation. After years of solitary confinement in a small, fetid dungeon, Dantès loses all hope and contemplates suicide by means of starving himself. His will to live is restored, however, by faint sounds of digging. Dantès soon begins his own tunnel to reach that of his fellow prisoner, the Abbé Faria, an Italian priest whose escape tunnel has strayed in the wrong direction. The two prisoners eventually connect and quickly become inseparable friends.
The old man, a gifted scholar as well as a priest, provides Edmond with a comprehensive education in subjects including languages, history, economics, philosophy, and mathematics. Edmond also learns the manners of polite society, growing in confidence and sophistication. Aside from the lessons, the two discuss Edmond's betrayal and piece together the events that placed the young man in his brutal predicament.
Both men continue to work assiduously on their tunnel, but the elderly and infirm Faria does not survive to see its completion. Knowing that he would soon die, Faria confides in Dantès the location of a great cache of treasure on the Italian islet of Monte Cristo.
After his mentor dies, Dantès uses the opportunity to escape. He moves Faria's body into his own cell and then slips into Faria's body bag. To Dantès surprise, instead of carrying him to the burial ground, as he had expected, the prison guards attach a cannonball to Edmond's feet and throw him into the sea. Edmond plummets, fearfully, from the cliff side, crashing into the cold Mediterranean Sea.
Remarkably, and with the help of a sailor's training, Dantès frees himself and swims toward a nearby island. A great storm rages, and Edmond is nearly drowned. The next day, Edmond discovers a shipwreck from the previous evening's storm. Cleverly, Dantès flags down a passing ship and pretends to be its sole survivor. He boards the new vessel and quickly realizes that his comrades are actually a group of smugglers. After months of gaining their trust and respect, Edmond suggests the isle of Monte Cristo as an ideal location to trade smuggled goods. Once on the islet, Edmond feigns an injury, asking to be left behind until the crew can return to pick him up. Although reluctant to leave Edmond, the crew departs. Dantès, alone on the island, is free to search for his hidden treasure.
Edmond's sufferings have had a profound effect on him and even changed his physical appearance--to the extent that even his closest friends and former associates would not recognize him. Intellectually, his studies with the Abbé give him a much greater depth and breadth of knowledge, and his wealth grants him access to the highest levels of society. Perhaps the greatest change to Dantès is psychological. His betrayal by men whom he had trusted removes the naiveté of his idealistic youth and replaces it with the cynicism of bitter experience.
Ten years after his return to Marseilles, Dantès puts into action his plan for revenge. He reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, a mysterious, fabulously rich aristocrat. He surfaces first in Rome, where he becomes acquainted with Franz d'Epinay, a young aristocrat, and Albert de Morcerf, Mercédès's and Mondego's son. He subsequently moves to Paris, where he becomes the sensation of the city. Due to his knowledge and rhetorical power, even his enemies find him charming, and because of his status, they all want to be his friend.
Traveling in disguise under the alias of the Abbe Busoni, Monte Cristo first meets Caderousse, now living in poverty, supposedly being punished by God for his jealousy and cowardice in not acting to save Dantès. Playing on Caderousse's greed, Monte Cristo learns about what has happened since his arrest, and how his other enemies have all become wealthy and prosperous. Since Caderousse has already been punished to some extent, Monte Cristo gives him a diamond that can be either a chance to redeem himself, or a trap that will lead his greed to ruin him. Caderousse's greed leads him into murder, until Monte Cristo frees him and gives him another chance at redemption. He does not take it, and becomes a career criminal. Caderousse's greed is the death of him when he is murdered by a confederate - actually the illegitimate son of Villefort (see below) - while trying to rob Monte Cristo's house.
Monte Cristo then meets Danglars, who has become a banker. Monte Cristo dazzles him with his seemingly endless wealth, eventually persuades him to extend him 6,000,000 francs credit, and withdraws nine hundred thousand. Under the terms of the arrangement, Monte Cristo can demand access to the remainder of the six million francs (5,100,000 francs) at any time. The Count manipulates the bond market and quickly destroys a large portion of Danglars' fortune. After a few months, all Danglars is left with is a good reputation and five million francs he is about to repay to a hospital. The Count asks for the five million to fulfill their credit agreement. Danglars' reputation is ruined. He must either default to the Count or default to the hospital. He chooses the latter, giving the Count the five million francs in exchange for a note for 5,000,000 francs. Danglars flees to Rome to redeem the note for cash and live in anonymous prosperity. But he is intercepted by the Count's agent, the celebrated bandit Luigi Vampa, and starved into giving up all but 50,000 francs. Dantès confronts Danglars, leaving him shattered but alive.
Monte Cristo owns an Albanian slave, Haydée. Her noble father, Ali Pasha, the ruler of Janina, had implicitly trusted Fernand, only to be betrayed by him in a war. After his death, she and her mother were sold into slavery. The Count manipulates Danglars into researching the event, which is published in a newspaper. As a result, Fernand is brought to trial for his crimes. Haydée testifies against him, and Fernand is disgraced.
Mercédès had married Fernand and borne him a son, Albert. She alone recognizes Monte Cristo. When Albert blames Monte Cristo for his father's downfall and publicly challenges him to a duel, she goes secretly to Monte Cristo and begs him to spare her son. During this interview, she learns the entire truth about why Edmond Dantès had been arrested and imprisoned, and later to save both Monte Cristo and Albert reveals the truth to Albert, which causes Albert to make a public apology to Monte Cristo. Albert and Mercédès disown Fernand, who subsequently commits suicide. The mother and son depart to build a new life free of disgrace, he to Africa as a soldier to rebuild his life and honor under a new family name Herrera given to him by his mother, and she to a solitary life back in Marseilles.
Last to feel Monte Cristo's vengeance is Villefort. Villefort's family is divided. Valentine, his daughter by his first wife, stands to inherit the entire fortune of her grandfather and of her mother's parents (the Saint-Mérans), while his second wife, Héloïse, seeks the fortune for her small son Edward. Monte Cristo is aware of Héloïse's intentions, and "innocently" introduces her to the technique of poison. Héloïse fatally poisons the Saint-Mérans, so that Valentine gets their inheritance. Then she attempts to murder Valentine's grandfather, Nortier, but his servant accidentally drinks the poisonous draught and dies. Nortier is coincidentally saved from a second attempt when he disinherits Valentine as a ploy to stop Villefort from forcing Valentine to marry Franz d'Epinay. Héloïse then targets Valentine, so that Edward would get her fortune.
Meanwhile, Monte Cristo haunts Villefort with his past affair with Danglars' wife and the son they had. Years before, Mme. Danglars bore a child by Villefort, at a house in Auteuil. Villefort had buried the child, thinking it was stillborn. However, the boy was rescued from his grave and raised by Bertuccio, an enemy of Villefort who attempted to kill the judge on the night of his child's birth. Monte Cristo, whom Bertuccio now serves as a paid servant and who now owns the house in Auteuil, is able to use them against Villefort. As a grown man, the son enters Paris in disguise as Prince Andrea Cavalcanti (sponsored by the Count) and cons Danglers into betrothing his daughter. Caderousse blackmails Andrea, threatening to reveal his past, and Andrea murders Caderousse. Andrea is arrested and about to be prosecuted by Villefort.
After Monte Cristo learns that his old friend Morrel's son is in love with Valentine, he saves her by making it appear as though Héloïse's plan to poison Valentine has succeeded and that Valentine is dead (although actually in a drugged sleep caused by a mixture of hashish and opium prepared by Monte Cristo). Villefort learns from Noirtier that Héloïse is a murderer. Villefort confronts Héloïse, giving her the choice of a public execution or committing suicide by poison. Then he goes off to Andrea's trial. There, Andrea reveals that he is Villefort's son, and rescued after Villefort buried him alive. Villefort admits his guilt and flees the court. He feels he is as guilty as his wife, and rushes home to stop her suicide. He finds she has poisoned herself and "taken her son with her." Dantès confronts Villefort. Villefort shows Dantès his dead wife and son, and becomes insane. Dantès tries to resuscitate Edward, fails, and is remorseful that his revenge has gone too far.
Matters, however, are more complicated than Dantès had anticipated. His efforts to destroy his enemies and reward the few who had stood by him become horribly intertwined. This problem reaches its zenith when Edmond learns that Maximilien Morrel, the son of one of his steadfast friends, is in love with Valentine de Villefort, and soon thereafter that the child Edward de Villefort has been poisoned by his mother. These tragic complications, especially the latter, cause Dantès to question his role as an agent of a vengeful God. This temporarily deters him from his course of action. During this period of doubt, he questions himself and after a visit to the Château d'If he finds the answer. The guide of the former prison, grateful for the generous gift from the Count after providing a tour, gives him the old Abbe's memoirs. Dantès comes to terms with his own humanity and is finally able to forgive both his enemies and himself. It is only when he is sure that his cause is just and his conscience is clear, that he can fulfill his plan.
Maximilien Morrel is distraught because he believes his true love, Valentine, to be dead. He contemplates suicide after witnessing her funeral. Monte Cristo reveals himself to be the person who rescued Mr. Morrel from suicide years earlier. Maximilien is grateful and is persuaded by Monte Cristo to delay his suicide for a month. A month later, on the island of Monte Cristo, the count presents Valentine to Maximilien and reveals that he saved her from the poison attempt. Monte Cristo then leaves the island and sends his friend Jacobo to deliver a letter to them which reveals that he has bequeathed much of his treasure to Maximilien. Haydée offers Edmond a new love and life. The two leave together, seemingly to begin anew.
There are a large number of characters in this book, and the importance of many of the characters is not immediately obvious. Furthermore, the characters' fates are often so interwoven that their stories overlap significantly.
Edmond Dantès and his aliases
- Edmond Dantès — Dantès is ruggedly handsome and initially an experienced, generally well-liked sailor who seems to have everything going for him, including a beautiful fiancée (Mercédès) and an impending promotion to ship's captain. After transforming into the Count of Monte Cristo, his original name is only revealed to each of his main enemies as each revenge is completed, often driving his already weakened victims into despair.
- Number 34 — When a new governor arrives at the Château d'If early in Dantès's, he does not feel it worth his time to learn the names of all the prisoners, instead choosing to refer to them by the numbers of their cells. Thus, Dantès is called Number 34 during his imprisonment.
- Count of Monte Cristo — The persona that Edmond assumes when he escapes from his incarceration and while he carries out his dreadful vengeance. This persona is marked by a pale countenance and a smile which can be diabolical or angelic. Educated and mysterious, this alias is trusted in Paris and fascinates the people.
- Lord Wilmore — The English persona in which Dantès performs seemingly random acts of generosity. The Englishman is eccentric and refuses to speak French. This eccentric man, in his kindness, is almost the opposite of the Count of Monte Cristo and accordingly the two are supposed to be enemies.
- Sinbad the Sailor — The persona that Edmond assumes when he saves the Morel family. Edmond signs a letter to Mme Julie using this persona, which was accompanied by a large diamond and a red satin purse. (Sinbad the sailor is the common English translation of the original French Simbad le marin.)
- Abbé Busoni — The persona that Edmond puts forth when he needs deep trust from others because the name itself demands respect via religious authority.
- Abbé Faria — Italian priest and sage; befriends Edmond while both are prisoners in the Château d'If, and reveals the secret of the island of Monte Cristo to Edmond. Becomes the surrogate father of Edmond, while imprisoned, digging a tunnel to freedom he educates Edmond in languages, and all the current sciences (including chemistry which comes to his aid greatly during his revenge plan) and is the figurative father of the Count of Monte Cristo. He dies from his third attack from a disease.
- Bertuccio — The Count of Monte Cristo's steward and very loyal servant; in the Count's own words, Bertuccio "knows no impossibility" and is sure of never being dismissed from the Count's service because, as the count states, the count will "never find anyone better." He had declared vendetta against Monsieur de Villefort, for refusal to avenge Bertuccio's brother's murder. Before ever meeting Edmond, he stabs Villefort, believing him to be dead, but becomes involved in Villefort's personal life by rescuing his illegitimate newborn, later named Benedetto by Bertuccio.
- Luigi Vampa — Italian bandit and fugitive; owes much to the Count of Monte Cristo, and is instrumental in many of the Count's plans.
- Haydée — The daughter of Ali Pasha is eventually bought by the Count of Monte Cristo from a Sultan. Even though she was purchased as a slave, Monte Cristo treats her with the utmost respect. She lives in seclusion by her own choice, but is usually very aware of everything that is happening outside. She usually goes to local operas accompanied by the Count. At the trial of Fernand Mondego, she provides the key evidence required to convict Fernand of treason. She is deeply in love with the Count of Monte Cristo, and although he feels he is too old for her, he eventually reciprocates.
- Ali — Monte Cristo's Nubian slave, a mute (his tongue had been cut out as part of his punishment for intruding into the harem of the Bey of Tunis; his hand and head had also been scheduled to be cut off, but the count bargained with the Bey for Ali's life). He is completely loyal and utterly devoted to the count and is trusted by him completely. Ali is also a master of horses.
- Baptistin — Monte Cristo's valet-de-chambre. Although only in Monte Cristo's service for little more than a year, he has become the number three man in the Count's household and seems to have proven himself completely trustworthy and loyal.
- Mercédès Mondego — (née: Herrera) The fiancée of Edmond Dantès at the beginning of the story, she marries Fernand Mondego while Dantès is imprisoned. It must be noted this is not out of her love for Fernand, but for her desire to have companionship. So, Dantès actually remains her true love. After marrying Mondego she is presumably rejected by Dantès. This complicates matters as her love for him is evident. But, at the end of the story, Dantès comes to realize that it is Haydée he loves. He has a respect for Mercédès, but leaves her to live her life in Marseille, where he bought the house in which he lived as a young man.
- Fernand Mondego — Later known as the Count de Morcerf. He is also in love with Mercédès and will do anything to get her. He is overall a representation of evil, as he lies and betrays throughout his life for his own personal gain. But, when confronted by his nefarious acts, disgraced in public and abandoned by his wife and son, he commits suicide.
- Albert de Morcerf — Son of Mercédès and the Count de Morcerf. Befriends Monte Cristo in Rome; viewed by Monte Cristo as the son that should have been his with Mercédès. At the end, he realizes his father's faults and, along with his mother, Mercédès, abandons him and his name.
- Baron Danglars — Initially the purser on the same ship on which Dantès served as first mate, he longs to be wealthy and powerful and becomes jealous of Dantès for his favor with Pierre Morrel. He also developed a grudge against Dantès who, having Morrel's trust, told the shipowner about Danglars' dishonest accounting. The source of his wealth is not clear but is possibly due to unscrupulous financial dealings. His intelligence is only evident where money is concerned; otherwise he is a member of the nouveau riche with only superficial good taste (he cannot even tell the difference between original paintings and copies) and no true family feelings.
- Madame Danglars — Was independently wealthy before marrying Danglars. With help from her close friend (and presumed lover) Lucien Debray, Madame Danglars invests the money of Danglars and is able to amass over a million francs for her own disposal.
- Eugénie Danglars — The daughter of Danglars engaged to Albert de Morcerf but who would rather stay unwed. She is presented as a lesbian, and the connotations at this and her running away with another girl were considered scandalous.
- Gérard de Villefort — A royal prosecutor who has even denounced his own father (Noirtier) in order to protect his own career. He is responsible for imprisoning Edmond Dantès to save his aspirations for his career.
- Valentine de Villefort — The daughter of Gérard de Villefort, the crown prosecutor and enemy of Edmond. She falls in love with Maximilien Morrel, is engaged to Baron Franz d'Epinay, is almost poisoned by her stepmother, saved once by her grandfather, Noirtier, and is finally saved by Dantès. Valentine is the quintessential (French, nineteenth century) female: beautiful, docile, and loving. The only person she feels that she can confide in is her invalid grandfather.
- Noirtier de Villefort — The father of Gérard de Villefort and grandfather of Valentine. After suffering an apoplectic stroke, Noirtier becomes mute and a quadriplegic, but can communicate with Valentine and his servant Barrois through use of his eyelids and eyes. Although utterly dependent on others, he saves Valentine from the poison of her stepmother and her undesired marriage to Baron Franz d'Epinay. Throughout his life he was a Bonapartist – an ardent French Revolutionary. Gérard de Villefort had realized that Edmond intended to fulfill his dying captain's last wish by conveying a letter from the imprisoned Napoleon to Noirtier, and therefore imprisoned Edmond in order to hide that fact, which might have hindered Gérard's advancement.
- Héloïse de Villefort — The murderous second wife of Villefort who is motivated to protect and nurture her only son and his inheritance.
- Édouard de Villefort — The only (legitimate) son of Villefort who is unfortunately swept up in his mother's greed. (His name is sometimes translated as Edward de Villefort.)
- Benedetto — Illegitimate son of de Villefort and Hermine de Nargonne (now Baroness Hermine Danglars); raised by Bertuccio (Monte Cristo's servant) and his sister-in-law, Assunta. Murderer and thief. Returns to Paris as Andrea Cavalcanti.
Other important characters
- Gaspard Caderousse — A tailor and originally a neighbor and friend of Dantès, he witnesses while drunk the writing by Danglars of the denunciation of Dantès. After Dantès is arrested, he is too cowardly to come forward with the truth. Caderousse is somewhat different from the other members of the conspiracy in that it is what he does not do, rather than what he actually plans, that leads to Dantès' arrest. He moves out of town, becomes an innkeeper, falls on hard times, and supplements his income by fencing stolen goods from Bertuccio. After his escape from prison, Dantès (and the reader) first hear the fates of many of the characters from Caderousse. Unlike the other members of the conspiracy, Monte Cristo offers Caderousse a chance to redeem himself, but the latter's greed proves his undoing.
- Pierre Morrel — Edmond Dante's patron and owner of the major Marseille shipping firm of Morrell & Son. While a very honest and shrewd businessman, he is very fond of Edmond and eager to advance his interests. After Edmond is arrested, he tries his hardest to help Edmond and is hopeful of Edmond's release when Napoleon is restored to power, but because of his sympathies for the Bonapartist cause is forced to back down and abandon all hope after the Hundred Days and second Restoration of the monarchy. Between 1825 and 1830, his firm undergoes critical financial reverses due to the loss of all of his ships at sea, and he is at the point of bankruptcy and suicide when Monte Cristo (in the guise of an English clerk from the financial firm of Thompson and French) sets events in motion which not only save Pierre Morrel's reputation and honor but also his life.
- Maximilien Morrel — He is the son of Edmond's employer, Pierre Morrel, a captain in the Spahi regiment of the Army stationed in Algiers and an Officer of the Legion of Honor. After Edmond's escape and the Count of Monte Cristo's debut in Paris, Maximilien becomes a very good friend to the Count of Monte Cristo, yet still manages to force the Count to change many of his plans, partly by falling in love with Valentine de Villefort.
- Julie Herbault — Daughter of Edmond's patron, Pierre Morrel, she marries Emmanuel Herbault.
- Emmanuel Herbault — Julie Herbault's husband; he had previously worked in Pierre Morrell's shipping firm and is the brother-in-law of Maximilien Morrel and son-in-law of Pierre Morrel.
- Louis Dantes — Edmond's father. Died short time after Edmond's imprisonment, in a sort of hunger strike masked as a diet.
- Baron Franz d'Epinay — A friend of Albert de Morcerf, he is the first fiancé of Valentine de Villefort. Franz's father was killed in a duel by Monsieur Noirtier de Villefort.
- Lucien Debray — Secretary to the Minister of the Interior. A friend of Albert de Morcerf, and a close friend of Madame Danglars, to whom he funnels insider information regarding investments.
- Beauchamp — A leading journalist and friend of Albert de Morcerf.
- Le Baron de Château-Renaud — Another friend of Albert de Morcerf. Renaud's life was saved in Africa by Maximilien Morrel.
Commentary and Analysis
Captain Le Clerc develops brain fever while arranging to deliver the letter to Napoleon and dies soon after. It indicates the dangerous intensity connected with the mission which results in Dante’s imprisonment. Dantes is overjoyed at the good fortune issuing from Le Clerc’s death – his joy is premature and unwise and later frustrated.
Danglars, Caderousse and Fernand are overtly and explicitly jealous of Dantes and resentful of his happiness and prosperity. This atmosphere around him, unwilling to support his joy, brings him misery instead. Dantes clearly feels Caderousse’s hostility behind his dissimulating friendship. Although Caderousse tries to dissuade Danglars and Fernand from their plot against Dantes, in fact he is the one who brings them together and feels an intense jealousy because Dantes is rising in life. His inner feeling is as evil as theirs, though his outer action is apparently positive. Caderousse loses his first wife and he ends up marrying a devil as Villefort does. Also, Villefort has not just sacrificed Dantes to protect his father, Noirtier. He could have simply burned the letter and cautioned Dantes to silence for that. He has sacrificed Dantes to his ambition for the king’s attention. Caderousse’s outer behavior is one of goodwill and friendship for Dantes but conceals envy and ill-will. Therefore, though Dantes outwardly helps him by giving the jewel, the result is Caderousse’s downfall. Dantes invites Caderousse, Danglers and Fernand to his betrothal despite their ill will. He sits Danglers on his left. Mercedes sits Fernand on hers. Their ill will destroys the occasion.
Mercedes was a Catalan and an orphan. By custom the Catalans do not intermarry with the population of Marseille. Fernand calls it a sacred law. Being an orphan, Mercedes’ need for physical companionship and security is far greater than normal. That need attracts Fernand despite her mental purity to Edmund. Fernand reminds Mercedes that his love of her had Mercedes’ mothers’ sanction. They are cousins. Mercedes’ mother died a year ago when she was sixteen, leaving a small inheritance of a hut. Mercedes and Edmund disapproved of being called Madame and Captain Dantes by their evil wishers, since to be called by a title before it is attained is an evil omen. Mercedes is beautiful, but not capable of true loyalty while Edmund is essentially loyal; therefore their marriage was broken. Mercedes who betrayed her oath never to marry any man but Edmund, is married to Fernand who betrays his oath of loyalty to Napolean (deserting to England during the 100 days) and Ali Pasha.
The betrothal party for Edmund and Mercedes occurs the very same night as the betrothal party for Villefort and Renee. Edmund loses his bride to his enemy, Villefort loses his wife to an early death and ends up marrying a devil. Renee’s mother, the Marquise, urges Villefort to prosecute and punish without mercy any Bonapartist. Her instinctive response to Dante’s arrest is negative, whereas her daughter regards the news as a bad omen for their marriage (which it is since she dies within ten years) and pleads for mercy. The Marquise is poisoned by Madame Villefort; Renee’s daughter Valentine is spared. Because Renee pleads mercy for Dantes without even knowing him, 20 years later Dantes saves Renee’s daughter Valentine from poisoning by her stepmother.
Edmund had smuggled a small chest of coffee and tobacco on the ship for his father. A small illegal act on his part is sanction for legal action against him. Like Othello, Edmund achieves a peak of joy which becomes unbearable and unsustainable and calls into play the other side of his nature. In Othello’s case it is the impure vital depths that rise in jealousy. In Edmund the inner content is pure and good (e.g.: he first seeks his father, only then Mercedes), but the outer nature is naïve and unsuspecting. He lacks the wisdom and alertness to protect himself, his woman, and his position from attack. The years in prison impart that mental capacity which he lacked as a youth. At the age of 20, Edmund who was good, honest and noble, lacked the knowledge of human nature, alertness, sagacity, and cunningness necessary to marry a beautiful woman and assume a captaincy, both coveted by others with less scruples than him. His arrest and imprisonment are a direct result of this weakness in his character.
Morrel’s main concern on the arrival of his ship is for his cargo, only secondarily for the dead Le Clerc. Years later when the same ship is sunk, his concern is for the crew rather than the ship, though its loss means his certain ruin. His years of crises have brought out his goodness, while Caderousse’s years of suffering brought out his evil. (A man who is more concerned with his cargo than with his crew is one who will lose cargo). When Dantes escapes and returns 20 years later, Morrel loses the Pharaon which Dantes had sailed on and becomes bankrupt. This time he is able to express genuine concern for his crew rather than his cargo and his wealth comes back to him. He has acquired real goodness. Morrel and his son both undergo prolonged suffering before Dantes restores good fortune to them (Morrel 90 days till the pro notes expire and Maximilien 30 days during which he believes Valentine dead) – this indicates their goodness was not an inherent natural possession, but something acquired. Therefore life’s response is not immediate.
On board Dantes quarrels with Danglers and proposes they stop at the isle of Monte Cristo to settle their differences, but Danglers refuses. It forebodes the importance of this isle in their later life and the greater quarrel to ensue. The death of Captain Le Clerc before he could deliver the letter to Napoleon reflected the weight of that mission. Le Clerc was not strong enough to accomplish it, Dantes was. Le Clerc paid with his life; Dantes retained his life but lost everything else – his job, his love, his name. Dantes could not suppress his joy at Le Clerc’s death which made his promotion to Captain certain. His joy brought Le Clerc’s misfortune on Dantes in a different form. His premature joy evokes a hostile reaction that deprives him of even what he had. Dantes, like Othello, was overwhelmed by the ecstatic good fortune that greeted his return to France – captaincy at the age of twenty and marriage to a beautiful girl. He too could not support that peak of joy and swiftly turned into an equal intensity of despair.
There was a close parallel between Dantes and Villefort. Both were at the beginning of a bright career. Both met on their betrothal days. What should have ended Villefort’s career and marriage plans he used it to fulfill his highest ambitions by simultaneously destroying Dantes’ life and marriage. The letter Dantes received from the hands of the Emperor brought Villefort into the presence and graces of King Louis XVIII. One man’s fortune was another’s disaster. What brought about Dantes’ fall? The negative atmosphere around his life, the jealousy of Danglars for his job and Fernand for his would-be wife (and perhaps Caderousse for his wealth). Dantes’ father nearly starved for want of money during Dantes last voyage. It was an omen of things to come, for his father did starve to death. Edmund failed to see the danger.
From the moment of his arrest until his decision to starve to death in prison several years after his arrival, Dantes life was in a steep decline. Suddenly when he was near his very last breath, virtually dead, the pendulum began its upward swing beginning with the sound of the Abbe’s digging. From then on the climb was steady – the meeting with the Abbe, friendship, acquisition of knowledge, the hope of the treasure, his escape to the island, the wreck of the ship providing him wood to float on, the arrival of the smugglers’ ship just before the discovery of his escape, his acceptance and survival with the smugglers, the smugglers’ plan to land at Monte Cristo, the discovery of the treasure.
Napoleon was a giant and an enemy of the state imprisoned on Elba. The moment Dantes lends himself to aid the Emperor he lands in prison, as Napoleon was. When he emerges, he too like the Emperor is a man whose power and stature are larger than life. Dantes is charged with conspiring for Napoleon’s return. In fact it is true that he did serve that purpose. The letter he delivered to the Emperor helped Napoleon gain freedom from his island prison for a hundred days. The price Dantes paid was years of imprisonment on an island like Napoleon. Napoleon’s letter to Noirtier never reached its destination. It foreshadowed the failure of Napoleon’s return. For a few moments in his life a sailor named Dantes came face to face with Napoleon. Dantes’ later life – the knowledge and wealth he attained – were reminiscent of a gift from the Emperor who possessed both in great measure. When Napoleon returns to power, Morrel tries to assert his power as a Bonapartist over Villefort in order to aid Dantes. But Villefort is cleverer than Morrel and matches his social assertion with a social bluff.
Jacobo is the one who pulls the drowning Dantes out of the water, saving his life, and lends him some clothes. When Dantes is wounded by a customs officer’s bullet while trading smuggled goods, Jacobo leaps to attend on him with greatest concern. Dantes tests him by offering to give half his prize money from the raid, but Jacobo refuses it. He is attracted to Dantes as a superior man and natural leader. When Dantes is apparently injured on Monte Cristo, Jacobo offers to relinquish his share in the smuggling venture to remain and care for him. Dantes is struck by the loyalty and affection of the smugglers for him. Later Jacobo becomes captain of Dantes boat.
When Dantes is wounded, he feels the joy of strength and says “Pain, thou art not evil.” Pain has been the teacher that gave him knowledge, strength and wealth. Therefore, in trying to help others—Morrel and Maximilien, Dantes resorts to the only teacher he knows—pain. The treasure belonged to Cardinal Spada who dies of poisoning. It serves Dantes and Haydee primarily as an instrument for vengeance. After escaping from prison, Dantes in disguise as the Abbe Busoni meets Caderousse and tries to reward the outer action by presenting Caderousse with the diamond. It brings out the evil in Caderousse and his wife and he responds directly by murdering the jeweler. Caderousse ends up in prison and lives the rest of his life as a criminal. For trying to give Caderousse what he did not deserve, Caderousse tries to take his life when he stabs Abbe Busoni during his attempted robbery of the Count’s house in Paris.
Mercedes’ son Albert had an aristocratic Parisian friend, Franz, who stumbled on Monte Cristo’s island while in search of adventure and was entertained by the Count in his grotto paradise. Later one night in the Coliseum, Franz overheard the Count arranging with the outlaw Vampa for the release of a peasant who was sentenced for execution in Rome. A day later Franz recognized the Count in a box at the opera and learned that the Count was living on the same floor of the same hotel as he and Albert in Rome. Still later, Albert is kidnapped by Vampa. By what mechanism of life was Albert, Fernand’s son, put in intimate contact with his father’s bitter enemy? The link was always a smuggler or outlaw. Franz’s adventure on the Isle of Monte Cristo was after warnings that it was a smuggler’s haven and with the intention of dining with the smugglers on the shore to share their roast goat. He dined with the Count instead, who befriended smugglers and thieves. The night he overhead the Count and Vampa at the Coliseum, it was after he and Albert had been expressly warned of the danger of Vampa by their hotel patron and they chose to ignore it. Franz had been further warned of the Count’s links by the patron’s story of the Count’s initial encounter with Vampa within hours before Vampa became chief of the bandits. Meeting the Count and exchanging gifts with him propelled Vampa from mere shepherd to the top of the criminal profession!
The Countess G’s prescient fear of the Count and warning to Franz and Franz’s own anxiety and discomfort with the Count did not prevent him and Albert from availing of the Count’s hospitality. Albert was finally committed to return the Count’s kindness after the Count saved him from Vampa and got him released. The Count had innumerable links with the underworld including his rescue by the smugglers after his escape from prison and the smuggler who employed as a steward. As an outcast and escaped criminal, Dantes felt a natural affinity with criminals. The young men’s thirst for adventure brought them into touch with that world and through it with the Count. The Countess’ instinctive repulsion to the Count who she feels is a Vampire is actually an unconscious attraction. In Paris she unknowingly supports the Count’s entry in the horse race which wins the cup and is intrigued when she finds the cup waiting for her at her home. Albert’s search for an illicit secret love affair led him into Vampa’s trap – sex and crime are so closely linked. From Edmund’s side his very deep and intense craving to avenge the evil done to him by Albert’s father and the others was an all-powerful force that attracted the proper circumstances for their fulfillment.
Edmund & Mercedes
Mercedes is a good girl socially. She acts out with a sense of honesty, propriety and goodwill. She seeks to be honest and fair with her cousin Fernand, she is caring and concerned about Edmund’s father, she is affectionate with Edmund and longs and suffers for him as well as herself when he is imprisoned. After hearing the report of his fall into the sea, she dreams of his death every night for years and later has herself painted as the Catalan girl in front of a dark hillside. Why then does such a good, loyal girl end marrying a traitor like Fernand who is capable of any betrayal? The principle is that when we live on the surface we attract to ourselves that which is similar to our own nature. Thus, a socially good Mercedes is attracted to Edmund who is psychologically good. But her social goodness cannot fulfill his psychological need. Both he and she need to evolve beyond their present attainments and neither can be the source of that evolution for the other. Mercedes must outgrow the social goodness of being a beautiful, happy loyal girl to become a psychological person. That requires separation from that which would fulfill her socially. A deeper principle is that when we are making a progress beyond the level of our present endowment we attract that which is necessary to complete that progress, which is very often the opposite of that which we are or possess. Mercedes marries a treacherous, unscrupulous man incapable of the psychological feelings she is trying to evolve. She develops and expresses them in her relationship with her son. Her progress is from social goodness to psychological depth through a process of estrangement, a marriage of form that lacks inner substance, the discovery of Fernand’s betrayal and her renunciation of the title, wealth, property and security he had given her in favor of real psychological right or goodness. The strength she confesses to Edmund that she lacked at the time of his imprisonment she acquired through her life and is now able to exercise to leave Fernand. Had she possessed that inner goodness and strength at the outset, she would not have needed to undergo that separation from Edmund. On his part, Edmund also needed to make a psychological progress from surface attachment to deeper emotions. He is separated from all that he loves and cherishes, but later forges a relationship with a real psychological personality, Haydee, a woman capable of mature, deep emotions of loyalty and devotion. Edmund is forced to give up the social forms of recognition, wife, and career and becomes a true psychological individual. When he makes that progress, he meets and is loved by another psychological individual.
Edmund & Haydee
Cucumetto, the bandit chief, had raped Rita, the lover of his gang member, Carlina. Carlina then killed Rita to save her the humiliation of further molestation by the gang. Rita’s father came and learning the facts killed himself. A few days later Cucumetto shot Carlina in the back anticipating Carlina’s plan for revenge. Once when Cucumetto was escaping from the soldiers he was hidden by the shepherd boy Luigi Vampa and his girlfriend Teresa. Luigi refused to turn him in despite the offer of a big reward. Luigi and Teresa are invited to their master’s, Comte de San Felice, masquerade ball. For want of a fourth appropriate lady dancing partner, Teresa is invited to fill in and a nobleman extends an amorous proposition to her. Overcome with jealousy, that night Luigi steals the Countess’ precious gown and jewels for Teresa. When he gives the dress to Teresa, the Count happens to arrive asking for directions. Luigi walks off to show him the way and they exchange gifts of friendship. On his return Luigi sees Teresa being carried off by Cucumetto and he kills Cucumetto with a bullet in the back just as Cucumetto had killed Carlina. Luigi decides to become an outlaw and is chosen as chief.
Carlina had learned that resorting to force as a way of life also exposes what is dear to him to the same force. He and his love die for it, since he is not strong enough for revenge. His revenge is fulfilled by Vampa when Cucumetto tries to repeat the act against Teresa. Vampa’s initial encounter with the Count has two immediate results. He loses Teresa only to recover her by homicide and he becomes chief of the bandits. Again the Count is linked to bandits. Sometime later Vampa and ten of his gang try to capture the Count not recognizing him, but the Count captures Luigi and his men, then lets them go in a show of friendship. The Count is the only one who has defeated the outlaw Vampa. Where does his power come from? It comes from being an outlaw himself of greater energy and purpose; though like Luigi essentially not evil in nature. The Count cements their relationship when he arranges for the release of Pepino, an innocent shepherd boy who helped feed Vampa’s gang and was sentenced to death for complicity with the bandits. In return Vampa becomes an unconscious aid to the Count’s scheme for revenge when Vampa kidnaps Albert and gives the Count the opportunity to save Albert’s life by asking Vampa to release him, which he does. The Count’s life is in harmony with those of other underworld characters.
He felt and expressed strong jealousy toward Dantes when he returns to port and is likely to be made Captain.He was not a conscious participant in Danglars' plot against Edmund. He was drunk while the scheming took place, but protested against the very suggestion of implementing it. When he realized Danglars has acted, he is restrained by Danglars' warning that he too may be arrested along with Dantes.While Dantes was at sea, Caderousse demanded the return of his loan to Edmund from Edmund’s father who by complying deprived himself of sufficient money and nearly starved to death. After Dantes’ imprisonment, his father did die of voluntary starvation of which Caderousse was an innocent by-stander. Later Caderousse’s business failed, he bought the Port de Gard tavern and became bankrupt. After the death of his first wife, he remarried and his second wife got marsh fever which made her a half crippled, constantly suffering termagant.
At this moment when Caderousse had fallen to the very depths and had nothing more to lose, Edmund returned disguised as the Abbe Busoni and gave him the 50,000-franc jewel in return for the information about the others which Caderousse rendered with honesty. Instead of becoming a turning point in Caderousse’s life leading to recovery and happiness as it did for Morrel’s family, the jewel evoked their greed, and led to the jeweler’s murder, his wife’s death and Caderousse’s conviction for life imprisonment. Later he meets Benedotte and escapes. Why did Dantes’ gifts have such a different effect on Caderousse and Morrel? Because Morrel was essentially positive, Caderousse essentially negative.
Like Caderousse, M. Morrel suffered a long downward spiral of fortune after Edmund’s imprisonment. He made innumerable attempts to discover Edmund’s fate and get him released, but to no avail. When Edmund’s father was short of funds, Morrel left a purse of gold on his mantle. Edmund returned fourteen years later when Morrel was on the verge of bankruptcy. By purchasing Morrel’s pro notes from his creditors, Edmund saved him from the humiliation of dishonoring his debts. The very moment that they met, news came that Morrel’s last ship, the Pharaon - Edmund’s own – had sunk, and that Morrel was broke. Edmund gave him three month’s extension, then canceled the notes, gave a 100,000-franc diamond to Morrel’s daughter as dowry and replaced the lost Pharaon with its cargo. Morrel’s goodness is amply demonstrated not only by his concern for Edmund’ father, but at his great joy on learning the crew of the Pharaon had been saved at the very moment he believed he was totally ruined. Until his death Morrel constantly sought to discover the identity of his benefactor and came to suspect it was none other than Edmund. So great was his desire to discover and offer gratitude, that sure knowledge of that it was Edmund came as an inspiration the moment before his death.
He was a Corsican smuggler whose brother, an officer in Bonaparte’s army, was murdered by Royalists after the second restoration. When Bertuccio applied to Villefort for legal action against the murders, he was roughly rebuffed. Bertuccio swore revenge against Villefort. Three months later Bertuccio tracked Villefort to his country house at Auteuil where Villefort had gone for a rendezvous with Hermione de Nargonne (now Madame Danglars after her first husband had died a few months earlier) who was about to give birth to their illegitimate child. When the child was born, Villefort thought it was stillborn or smothered it (?) and buried it in the garden. Bertuccio stabbed him, dug up the box and escaped only to discover he was carrying a nearly dead infant. Bertuccio’s sister-in-law (brother’s widow) raised the child, Benedetto, with deep affection, but when the evil boy was in his late teens he and a few friends attacked the woman who burned to death and they stole all Bertuccio’s money and disappeared. Unknowingly she was raising the means of avenging her husband’s death.
Bertuccio, a lucky smuggler, was one day nearly caught and narrowly escaped to the Pont De Gard tavern run by Caderousse and concealed himself in a closet under the stairway just in time to witness to arrival of Caderousse and the jeweler who offered to buy the F-50,000 diamond given to Caderousse by the Abbe (Edmund). Bertuccio overheard Caderousse’s story and the theft which resulted in the death of Caderousse’s wife and the jeweler while Caderousse escaped. Bertuccio was arrested by the customs officers who overheard the shot nearby, was imprisoned for murder and released when the Abbe came to confirm his story, then on the Abbe’s recommendation joined up with the Count. Benedetto became a criminal, joined the same prison as Caderousse and later escaped. Caderousse too later escaped and found Benedetto at Auteuil playing the role of Andrea Cavalcanti which the Count has established for him.
Villefort punished Edmund as a Bonapartist. Villefort is nearly assassinated and his affair with Hermane and infanticide are discovered when he allows the murderer of another Bonapartist to go free, thus evoking Bertuccio’s revenge. Bertuccio, suffering from a similar offense by Villefort, is a willing and suitable instrument for Edmund’s revenge. Villefort’s vulnerability arises from his own violation of law and morals by his affair and attempted infanticide.
Character of Life in the story
- Napoleon’s letter which Dantes was carrying was for Villefort’s father, Noirtier, making it imperative for Villefort to somehow conceal the fact and resulting in Edmund’s imprisonment.
- Just as Edmund is about to die of self-imposed starvation, he hears the sound of Abbe Faria’s excavations and therefore decides to live. Knowledge, freedom and wealth follow.
- Dantes is rescued from the sea after his escape from prison by the sudden wreck of a fishing boat and the passing of a smugglers’ ship.
- Disguised as a representative of a Roman banker, Dantes meets Morrel on the very day Morrel’s last ship, Pharaon, is lost and Morrel is ruined. (Dantes’ desire to repay Morrel’s help, brings him just at the most opportune moment.)
- Bertuccio swears revenge against Villefort, the same man Dantes seeks, and discovers Villefort’s secret affair and infanticide
- Bertuccio, trying to escape the customs agent, witnesses the murder of the jeweler and Caderousse’s wife’s death. The storm outside conspires to aid Caderousse in his plot.
- The Count meets Bertuccio and learns Villefort’s secret through Bertuccio’s chance encounter with Caderousse and Bertuccio's arrest.
- The child Bertuccio saved, Benedetto, killed Bertuccio’s sister-in-law as Benedetto’s father, Villefort, had condoned the murder of Bertuccio’s brother.
- Bertuccio meets Caderousse in prison.
- Benedetto also meets Caderousse in prison and later again in Paris.
- Franz arrives by chance at Monte Cristo isle and meets the Count – or is it by the Count’s contrivance?
- Albert and Franz reside on the same floor of the same hotel in Rome as the Count - again perhaps the Count’s contrivance?
- Franz overhears the Count’s discussion with Vampa in the coliseum.
- Vampa’s meeting with the Count the first time coincides with Cuccumetto’s kidnapping of Teresa and Vampa’s turning bandit.
- Vampa’s kidnapping of Albert and Albert’s release by the Count may have been contrived by the Count, but if so it is Albert who responds to the lure.
- The flight of Madame Danglars' carriage with Madame Villefort and Edmund inside which Ali halted – the Count’s contrivance surely since he returned the same horses to Madame Danglars just hours before and he had Ali waiting for them to pass by.
- In the early part of his life, Edmund is subject to the whims of life – his captain’s death, Danglars' plot, Villefort’s betrayal, Abbe’s excavation. As the Count he learns to drive life and makes it respond to his wishes – Bertuccio, Albert, Franz, Benedetto all aid his plots.
- Maximilien overhears the doctor inform Villefort that his mother-in-law died of poisoning, (a poison given to Villefort’s wife by the Count).
- Madame Villefort, Villefort’s second wife, poisoned Marquis Madame de Saint Meran, the parents of Villefort’s first wife, with poison that Madame Villefort obtained from the Count. The St. Meran’s were present at Villefort’s betrothal to Renee St Meran at the time when Edmund was arrested. The parents instinctively urged a severe punishment for the unknown suspect, while the daughter who died after bearing Valentine, pleaded for mercy. Even at her death, Madam St. Meran sided with Villefort, urged Valentine’s immediate marriage to Franz which opposes Valentine’s and Maximilien’s hopes.
- The news of Marquis de St. Meran’s death came at the Mercerf’s ball at the moment that Edmund and Mercedes are talking privately for the first time. Their meeting signals the beginning of calamity in Villefort’s house.
- The Count of Monte Cristo available at Project Gutenberg.
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