The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Villefort

But instead of enemies you may have aroused jealousy. You are about to become captain at nineteen, an elevated post; you are about to marry a pretty girl, who loves you, and these two pieces of good fortune may have excited the envy of some one.

Villefort, questioning Dantès about the letter which has denounced Dantès as a Bonapartist, quickly realizes the truth of the matter: Dantès’s situation has provoked jealousy, and someone is deliberately trying to destroy him. Unlike the innocent and good-hearted young Dantès, Villefort understands or at least recognizes impulses of jealousy and ambition. His intelligence, coupled with a naturally suspicious nature, qualify him as the ideal candidate for assistant state prosecutor.

‘Every revolution has its catastrophes,’ returned M. de Villefort. ‘Your brother has been the victim of this; it is a misfortune, and government owes nothing to his family . . . What happened is quite natural, and is only the law of reprisals . . . You have mistaken the time; you should have told me this two months ago; it is too late now. Depart at once, or I will have you ejected.’

Bertuccio explains to Monte Cristo why he declared a vendetta against Villefort. On his way home from fighting in the wars between Napoleon and the monarchy, Bertuccio’s brother was massacred along with fellow soldiers. When Bertuccio sought justice from the procureur du roi, Villefort rebuffed him. Villefort repeatedly survives the changes between ruling parties thanks to family connections, yet has no sympathy for those who do get caught up in the conflicts.

‘What do you propose to me, d’Avrigny?’ said Villefort, in despair; ‘once a third party is admitted to our secret, an inquest will become necessary; and an inquest in my house, impossible! . . . [O]ne has not been procureur du roi twenty-five years without having amassed a tolerable number of enemies; mine are numerous. Let this affair be talked of, it will be a triumph for them which will make them rejoice and cover me with shame. Pardon me, doctor, these worldly ideas; were you a priest I should not dare tell you that.’

D’Avrigny, a doctor, knows that Villefort’s family members are being poisoned. Despite his role as the government’s top prosecutor, Villefort hypocritically wants d’Avrigny to keep the deaths in his house a secret. He feels worried about the potential negative effect on his career. He does acknowledge to the doctor that his concerns are “worldly” rather than morally correct. Unfortunately, after convincing d’Avrigny to stay quiet, another family member dies, thus making Villefort indirectly responsible for that death.

[H]aving sinned myself, and perhaps more deeply than others, I never rest till I have torn the disguises from my fellow-creatures, and found out their weaknesses. I have always found them; and more, I repeat with joy, I have always found some proof of human perversity or error. Every criminal I convict seems to me a living proof that I am not a hideous exception to the rest. Alas! alas! alas! all the world is wicked, let us therefore strike at wickedness!

Villefort admits to Madame Danglars that he commits transgressions, despite his public appearance and position. But admitting his own sinfulness does not make him more sympathetic to others’ weaknesses. Rather, seeking out others’ weaknesses obscures his own. Villefort believes that the repeated deaths in his family serve as retribution, which suggests that he knows he deserves punishment just as much as everyone else in the world.

‘No, no, it is useless!’ stammered M. de Villefort, in a hoarse voice; ‘no, it is useless! . . . I mean that I feel it impossible to struggle against this deadly weight which crushes me! Gentlemen, I know I am in the hands of an avenging God! We need no proof; everything relating to this young man is true.’

Benedetto, on trial for murder, has just declared himself the illegitimate son of Villefort, whom Villefort buried alive at birth. In a single moment, Villefort has been publicly accused of adultery, attempted murder, and being the parent of a murderer. Villefort suddenly realizes the role of providence in his situation and therefore refuses to deny the accusations. Of course, his belief reveals poetic justice: His actual accuser Dantès as Monte Cristo believes he acts on God’s behalf.