“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.