The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Chapters 35–39

Analysis: Chapters 35–39

Dumas was well known as a travel writer and dramatist before he became popular as a novelist, and we can see his talent for travel writing in this section of the novel. Travel writing was a very popular form of entertainment in the nineteenth century, and exotic locations were a particular public obsession. Generally, anywhere south of the country in which one resided counted as exotic; so, to French audiences, Italy certainly qualified. Dumas’s vibrant portrait of Italy depicts a place that is alluringly colorful, sensual, exciting—and, perhaps most important, different from France.

Italy, as Dumas describes it, is full of spectacles, including the execution and the carnival. In some respects, such as its gruesome public executions, Italy is portrayed as more primitive than other civilizations to the north. In other respects, such as the stylish and urbane behavior of its women, Italy is portrayed as more sophisticated than these northern countries. In addition to Italy, Dumas also taps into the French obsession with Greece by introducing the character of Haydée. Greece was of particular interest to French writers of Dumas’s era because of the Greek struggle for independence from Great Britain in the 1820s. By setting scenes of his novel in Greece, Italy, Constantinople, and even Marseilles—a city in the southernmost part of France—Dumas put his talent for travel writing to work and satisfied the public demand for exciting descriptions of exotic places.

Countess G—’s suspicion that Monte Cristo is a vampire connects the novel to yet another staple of Romanticism: a fascination with horror stories in general and vampires in particular. Countess G— repeatedly calls Monte Cristo by the name “Lord Ruthven,” referring to the main character in a popular 1816 story entitled “The Vampyre.” Though “The Vampyre” was actually written by Dr. John William Polidari, it was widely misattributed to the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron, which gave it enormous popularity. Charles Nodier wrote a drama based on the saga of Lord Ruthven, and Dumas wrote another Lord Ruthven play soon thereafter. The Romantic interest in vampires continued throughout the nineteenth century, culminating in the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Lord Ruthven was considered both terrifying and alluring, two traits Monte Cristo clearly embodies as well. In a later chapter, the character Lucien Debray gives a description of a vampire that, according to Albert, describes Monte Cristo precisely. Like a vampire, Monte Cristo is a man partly of this world and partly of another world, simultaneously appealing and terrifying.

The breakfast discussion among Monte Cristo, Franz, and Albert raises several interesting issues about the limits of human justice. Monte Cristo explains that his dissatisfaction with human justice stems not only from the fact that the system sometimes allows the guilty to fall through the cracks, going unpunished for heinous crimes, but also from the fact that modern means of punishment are insufficient. The worst punishment that the modern criminal justice system will impose is death, yet death is nothing compared to the agony that many victims of crime suffer. Monte Cristo wonders whether it is enough that a criminal “who has caused us years of moral sufferings undergoes a few moments of physical pain.” Monte Cristo’s remarks offer a deep psychological insight into his mind as an avenger. He cannot feel any satisfaction until his enemies undergo something as painful as that which they have inflicted upon him. We can surmise from Monte Cristo’s words that the revenge scheme he is planning is no simple murder plot—like the plot hatched by Piçaud, the real life model for Monte Cristo—but rather an attempt to destroy his enemies psychologically and emotionally.

Here, Dumas portrays Albert as a frivolous child who naïvely courts danger and adventure. When he first hears of the existence of the notorious Luigi Vampa, he wants to take off immediately to fight the bandit chief. Albert is also desperate to have numerous romantic adventures while in Italy. His silliness, though, is presented as a natural aspect of his youth, not an essential defect of character. In fact, Albert’s uninquiring gratitude toward Monte Cristo and his bravery in Vampa’s lair demonstrate that he has the makings of a noble adult. Aside from Monte Cristo, Albert is one of the few characters in the novel to undergo psychological development as the story progresses.