The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Edmond Dantès/The Count of Monte Cristo

‘But, cried Dantès, ‘it was a hundred and forty franks I owed Caderousse . . . And you paid him out of the two hundred francs I left you? . . . So that you lived for three months on sixty francs? . . . Heaven pardon me,’ cried Edmond, falling on his knees before the old man . . . ‘You have cut me to the heart.’

Dantès has just returned from a sea voyage to discover that his father has barely been able to eat after paying off one of Dantès’s debts. Dantès feels terribly guilty that his father suffered at all, but especially on his behalf. He quickly gives his father all the money he has. Dantès shows devotion to his father by giving his visits to his father priority over those to Mercédès, his fiancée.

[M]y opinions— I will not say political, but private, are limited to these three sentiments— I love my father, I respect M. Morrel, and I adore Mercédès. That, sir, is all I can tell you, and you see how uninteresting it is.

Dantès speaks these lines after being arrested when someone anonymously denounced him as a supporter of Napoleon. The charges are absurd—Dantès is too young to have served under Napoleon and he works as a merchant seaman who does not have any political ambitions. At this point in the story, Dantès is nineteen and innocent, and as made clear here, his ambitions are purely personal. Injustice and suffering will change Dantès into a more complex person.

Dantès possessed a prodigious memory and astonishing quickness and readiness of conception. The mathematical turn of his mind rendered him apt at all kinds of calculation, while his natural poetical feelings threw a light and pleasing veil over the dry reality of arithmetical computation or the rigid severity of geometrical lines. He already knew Italian, and had also picked up a little of the Romaic dialect during his different voyages to the East; and by the aid of these two languages he easily comprehended the construction of all the others[.]

The narrator explains how Dantès becomes the Count of Monte Cristo, with the help of his fellow prisoner the Abbé Faria, long stretches of time with nothing else to do, and his own latent intelligence. Dantès transforms himself over the course of about two years from a quick-witted but uneducated sailor to a multilingual mathematician, scientist, and man of the world. This education will allow Dantès to assume various disguises and a nobleman’s identity—the Count of Monte Cristo—once he gains his freedom.

He had contemplated danger with a smile, and when wounded had exclaimed with the great philosopher, ‘Pain, thou art not an evil.’ He had, moreover, looked upon the custom-house officer wounded to death; and whether from heat of blood produced by the encounter, or the chill of human sentiment, this sight had made but slight impression upon him; Dantès was on the path he desired to follow, and was moving toward the end he wished to achieve: his heart was in a fair way of turning to stone in his bosom.

After escaping prison, Dantès finds work with smugglers. Their work being illegal, they sometimes have encounters with customs officers. The narrator explains that in one such instance, an officer loses his life. Before prison, Dantès would have been on the side of the law and would have avoided hurting anyone. But now he deliberately inures himself to violence because he made an oath of vengeance, and he understands that violence will probably be necessary to fulfill his pledge.

I would fight a duel for a trifle, for an insult, for a blow; and the more so, that, thanks to my skill in all physical exercises, and the indifference to danger I have gradually acquired, I should be almost certain to kill my man. Oh! I would fight for such a cause, but in return for a slow, profound, eternal suffering, I would render the same were it possible: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, as the Orientalists say[.]

Here Dantès clearly spells out his moral stance: Fighting a duel against a person who causes suffering has limited scope for punishment. Instead, he prefers to inflict a commensurate degree of suffering on the guilty party. Although extremely secretive and often false in his self-presentation, Dantès frequently shares this philosophy openly. This philosophy reflects the most essential element of himself, and he believes others should share his beliefs.

If it were otherwise, if he treated me diplomatically—that is to say, like a man who wishes, by some means or other, to obtain a footing in the house so that he may ultimately gain the power of dictating to its occupants—he would have honoured me with the smile which you extol so loudly; but no, he saw that I was unhappy, he understood that I could be of no use to him, and therefore paid me no attention whatever. Who knows, but that in order to please Madame de Villefort and my father, he may not persecute me by every means in his power?

Valentine de Villefort disagrees with her beloved, Maximilian Morrel, about the Count of Monte Cristo. To Maximilian, the Count comes across as kind and warm, while to Valentine, the Count seems completely indifferent. Maximilian cannot understand Valentine’s opinion, but she has correctly surmised the Count’s attitude toward her. The Count has completely different attitudes to the two lovers. Maximilian he loves as a son, while Valentine exists as just a tool for vengeance against Villefort. Valentine has glimpsed the Count’s true feelings.

A mantelpiece, with two modern Sèvres vases, a timepiece representing Cupid with his bent bow, a looking-glass, a greyish . . . wallpaper, red and black tapestry — such was the appearance of Lord Wilmore’s drawing-room . . . After ten minutes’ expectation the clock struck ten; at the fifth stroke the door opened, and Lord Wilmore appeared. He was rather above the middle height, with thin, reddish whiskers, light complexion, and fair hair, turning rather grey . . . His first remark on entering was: ‘You know, sir, I do not speak French?’

The narrator describes the scene during which an investigator makes inquiries about the Count of Monte Cristo at the home of Lord Wilmore. Unlike the Count’s home furnished in the Eastern style, Wilmore’s home appears in the style of typical upper-class European. In addition, Wilmore, an Englishman, purportedly does not speak French. Both of those features of his personality function as stratagems to obscure the fact that Wilmore and the Count of Monte Cristo are in fact the same person, Edmond Dantès.

In fact the bullets had actually pierced the cards in the exact places which the painted signs would otherwise have occupied, the lines and distances being as regularly kept as if they had been ruled with a pencil . . . ‘Why so surprised, my dear viscount?’ asked Monte Cristo, wiping his hands on the towel which Ali had brought him; ‘I must occupy my leisure moments in some way or other.’

The narrator describes the Count’s superior skills with firearms by recounting his target practice with playing cards. He has shot the bullets through the markings on the cards. This skill demonstrates to Albert that though uninterested in duels, the Count would certainly hold his own in one. The Count may have intended this demonstration as a warning to Albert, anticipating that Albert will become angry with him sometime soon, as the Count’s vengeance plot against Albert’s father comes to a head.

‘See,’ said he, ‘my dear friend, how God punishes the most thoughtless and unfeeling men for their indifference, by presenting dreadful scenes to their view. I, who was looking on, an eager and curious spectator, — I, who was watching the working of this mournful tragedy, — I, who, like a wicked angel was laughing at the evil men committed, protected by secrecy . . . I am, in my turn, bitten by the serpent whose tortuous course I was watching, and bitten to the heart!’

Dantès as Monte Cristo has just learned that one of his ancillary vengeance victims, Valentine de Villefort, is in fact his friend Maximilian’s beloved. Once completely indifferent to her fate, Dantès suddenly feels the need to intervene on her behalf. This moment represents the first time, but not the last, that the Count questions the integrity of his vengeance plot. Up to this point, he believed he was an instrument of God’s will but now senses God’s chastisement.

The next day, about five o’clock in the afternoon, Madame de Morcerf, having affectionately embraced her son, entered the coupé of the coach which closed upon her. A man was hidden in Lafitte’s banking-house . . . he saw Mercédès enter the coach, and he also saw Albert leave. Then he passed his hand across his forehead, which was clouded with doubt. ‘Alas,’ he exclaimed, ‘how can I restore the happiness I have taken away from these poor innocent creatures? God help me!’

In getting revenge against Fernand, Dantès as Monte Cristo has also punished Fernand’s wife, Mercédès, and son Albert with dishonor and poverty, and he wonders how he can make life better for them. Initially their suffering meant nothing to him. In fact, he planned on killing Albert in a duel. But Mercédès’s pleas for mercy for her son and expressions of her own guilt have reawakened human feelings in Dantès that he has long repressed. He now believes that the innocent should not also have to suffer.