The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Chapters 103–108

Chapter 108: The Lions’ Den

Bertuccio visits Benedetto in prison. Benedetto still expects to be saved by his powerful protector, the Count of Monte Cristo. He believes that Monte Cristo is his true father, a suggestion that disgusts Bertuccio. Bertuccio tells Benedetto that he is here to reveal the true identity of Benedetto’s father, but they are interrupted before he is able to do so. He promises that he will return the following day.

Analysis: Chapters 103–108

Villefort’s and Danglars’s persistent vices lead them to suffer more severe punishments than they might otherwise face. Danglars’s excessive greed motivates him to force his daughter into a marriage she does not want. He thereby loses both his daughter, as Eugénie justifiably flees a family that forces her to settle down against her will, and his dignity, suffering the public humiliation of nearly having an ex-convict for a son-in-law. Though Danglars would be financially ruined and utterly devastated even without these added blows, they certainly make his pain that much greater. Similarly, it is Villefort’s excessive ambition that leads to the demise of his in-laws, his wife, his son, and—he thinks—his beloved daughter, Valentine. Villefort knows that a murderer is loose in his household, but he is also aware that, as a public prosecutor, widespread awareness of this murderer’s existence could do his career and reputation great harm. Fearing the loss of dignity and the possible loss of his own power, he refuses to let an investigation take place until it is too late. In their reactions to Monte Cristo’s schemes, we see that Danglars and Villefort are complicit in their respective downfalls, which underscores just how fully the men deserve their punishment. They have neither repented nor improved as they have aged.

Just as Eugénie and Valentine act as foils for each other, accentuating each other’s characteristics, Madame Danglars and Mercédès also cut a striking contrast. There are obvious similarities between their situations, as both are now husbandless and publicly humiliated. Yet their attitudes could not be more different. Though Madame Danglars has actually played a large part in her husband’s ruin, she feels as if she has been treated unfairly by fate. On the other hand, Mercédès, who has had no part in her husband’s ruin, does not wallow in self-pity, although she does have a right to feel that fate has treated her unfairly. Rather than feel victimized, Mercédès feels that she has more wealth and luxury than she deserves. Despite her innocence, she ultimately abandons her vast fortune out of commitment to her personal honor. Lucien Debray notes this contrast between Madame Danglars and Mercédès, reflecting that “the same house had contained two women, one of whom, justly dishonored, had left it poor with 1,500,000 francs under her cloak, while the other, unjustly stricken, but sublime in her misfortune, was yet rich with a few deniers.” Though Debray astutely notices the contrast, his focus is a bit off: what really differentiates the two women is not how rich they consider themselves, but how they react to their lowered status.

The contrast between Mercédès’s graceful reaction and Madame Danglars’s resentful reaction illustrates with an idea prominent in The Count of Monte Cristo: the importance of attitude in determining happiness or satisfaction. In objective terms, Madame Danglars is in a much better position than Mercédès: she is still enormously wealthy—as she has been siphoning money from her husband’s fortune for years—and will be able to return to her old life in Parisian society in a matter of years. In addition, since Madame Danglars has no fondness for her husband, his loss is not particularly painful for her. Mercédès, on the other hand, is impoverished and will never be able to resume the comfortable life she once led. Additionally, though she is horrified by her husband’s bad deeds, she has loved him and feels his loss acutely. Yet, while Madame Danglars endlessly bemoans her relatively benign circumstances, Mercédès does not lament her far worse fortune. She accepts the events of her life stoically and even considers them her just punishment for disloyalty to Dantès. In this respect, Madame Danglars is a parallel to Caderousse, making the worst of any situation, while Mercédès, like Emmanuel and Julie, exhibits the ability to overcome adversity with courage and acceptance.