“I regret now,” said he, “having helped you in your late inquiries, or having given you the information I did.”
“Why so?” inquired Dantès.
“Because it has instilled a new passion in your heart—that of vengeance.”
This prophetic exchange occurs between Abbé Faria and Dantès in Chapter 17, immediately after Faria deduces the events surrounding Dantès’s imprisonment. Until this moment, Dantès has been entirely ignorant of the evil done to him, believing that his misfortune is merely the result of incredibly bad luck. Once Faria reveals that Dantès has in fact been betrayed, Dantès’s innocence is destroyed forever. He is confronted with the simple fact that evil exists, a fact he has never before considered. From this moment onward, Dantès begins a transformation from a kind and loving man into a vengeful and hate-filled one. This transformation has not yet begun, of course, at the time Faria expresses his regret. Yet Faria, with his thorough understanding of human nature, accurately predicts that Dantès will soon be consumed with the thought of the wrong done to him and will thirst for vengeance. He knows that once this transformation occurs, Dantès will never be able to experience life the way he does before he feels these emotions of bitter vengeance.
“I . . . have been taken by Satan into the highest mountain in the earth, and when there he . . . said he to me, ‘Child of earth, what wouldst thou have to make thee adore me?’ . . . I replied, ‘Listen . . . I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.’”
Monte Cristo makes this surprisingly frank admission to Villefort in Chapter 49, during their initial reunion. Monte Cristo’s obsession with reward and punishment, which he here confesses, is the driving force of the last two-thirds of the novel, and this statement provides excellent insight into Monte Cristo’s own concept of his mission. What is particularly striking about this passage is its demonstration that Monte Cristo associates his mission of vengeance not only with God but also with the devil. His characterization of his mission as both godlike and satanic is likely an attempt to frighten and unnerve Villefort. Yet this characterization foreshadows Monte Cristo’s later realization that there is in fact something slightly evil to his mission as well as something holy. Ultimately, Monte Cristo acknowledges that only God has the right to act in the name of Providence, and that, like the devil, he himself has overstepped his bounds by trying to act in God’s domain.
[H]e felt he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, and that he could no longer say, “God is for and with me.”
This statement appears in Chapter 111, when Monte Cristo discovers that Edward de Villefort has been killed. Edward is the first innocent person whom Monte Cristo unwittingly strikes down, and this tragic injustice casts Monte Cristo’s entire project into doubt. Though he has already come close to killing the angelic Valentine and has destroyed the lives of the noble Mercédès and Albert, up to this point, Monte Cristo has not wreaked any irreversible harm on anyone unworthy of punishment. In a burst of clarity, Monte Cristo realizes that, as a mere mortal, he is not capable of doling out retribution in such a way as to ensure that no innocents are harmed. He is not omniscient or omnipotent and therefore cannot determine or control what unforeseen effects his actions might have. For the rest of the novel, Monte Cristo grapples with doubt, ultimately deciding that only God has the right to act in the name of Providence. In order to atone for “pass[ing] beyond the bounds of vengeance,” Monte Cristo attempts to help Valentine and Maximilian attain ultimate happiness.
“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.”
This passage appears in the parting letter that Monte Cristo leaves for Maximilian in Chapter 117. Monte Cristo offers this analysis of happiness as an explanation for his allowing Maximilian to spend an entire month under the false impression that his beloved, Valentine, is dead. Monte Cristo believes that in order to experience ultimate happiness, Maximilian first has to experience absolute despair, just as Monte Cristo himself has. Monte Cristo suggests that only now that Maximilian has demonstrated a willingness to die in order to be reunited with Valentine can he truly appreciate living alongside her. It is clear that this swing from ultimate despair to ultimate bliss not only pertains to Maximilian but also to Monte Cristo, who has finally found ultimate happiness in Haydée’s love, decades after the ultimate despair of his days in prison. The notion Monte Cristo expresses here—that of the necessary connection between ultimate misery and ultimate joy—recalls one of the main ideas in The Count of Monte Cristo, the assertion that happiness and unhappiness depend more on one’s internal state of mind than on one’s external circumstances.
“[U]ntil the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words,—‘Wait and hope.’”
This remark also appears in the final letter Monte Cristo leaves for Maximilian in Chapter 117. These words represent Monte Cristo’s final renunciation of his project of vengeance. Until now, he has considered himself God’s agent on earth, attempting to carry out the retribution that he believes God has appointed him to oversee. He has effectively placed himself on a par with God, unwilling to allow his mortal limits to prevent him from doling out divine justice. Yet doubt over Monte Cristo’s capacity and right to act as God’s agent has been building steadily ever since Edward’s unjust death and has finally resulted in a complete disavowal of the mission Monte Cristo has just completed. Here, Monte Cristo acknowledges that God is the only one who can act as Providence, the only force that can hand out people’s fates. Humans, rather than taking God’s task into their own hands, ought to simply “[w]ait and hope” that God does indeed eventually reward the good and punish the bad.
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