Chapter 1: The Arrival at Marseilles

In the port of Marseilles, France, an eager crowd watches as a ship called the Pharaon pulls into dock. The ship’s owner, Monsieur Morrel, is greeted with sad news: the ship’s captain has died at sea. The nineteen-year-old first mate, Edmond Dantès, reassures Morrel that despite the loss of the captain, the trip went smoothly and all the cargo arrived safely. Morrel is impressed with the young man’s performance as temporary captain.

Danglars, the ship’s supercargo, who is responsible for all financial matters, attempts to undermine Morrel’s good opinion of Dantès. Morrel boards the ship and Danglars tells him that Dantès forced the ship to stop at the Isle of Elba, which cost them precious time. When Morrel confronts Dantès with this accusation, Dantès explains that he stopped the ship at Elba in order to carry out his captain’s dying request: to deliver a package to an exiled grand-marshal, Maréchal Bertrand. He says that while he was on the island he spoke with Napoleon, the deposed emperor of France.

With this matter cleared up, Morrel asks Dantès for his opinion of Danglars. Dantès answers honestly, explaining that he has a personal dislike for Danglars but that Danglars does his work very well. Morrel approves of Dantès’s behavior at Elba, of his honest assessment of an enemy, and of his character in general. Morrel declares that after he consults with his partner, Dantès will be named the new captain of the Pharaon, despite his young age. Dantès is ecstatic, while Danglars is beside himself with envy.

Chapter 2: Father and Son

Leaving the docks, Dantès goes straight to see his father. He is shocked by the old man’s physical deterioration and soon discovers its cause: his father has been starving for the past few months. Though Dantès left his father with 200 francs, the tailor Caderousse demanded that the elder Dantès pay him a debt that his son owed, which left the old man with only sixty francs on which to live. Dantès tells his father the good news of his promotion and hands him a modest pile of gold, telling him to buy himself all the provisions he needs.

Caderousse then enters the small room to welcome Dantès home. Dantès receives Caderousse politely, telling himself “he is a neighbour who has done us a service . . . so he’s welcome.” Caderousse has already heard the news of Dantès’s promotion and congratulates him. Caderousse then leaves the father and son and goes downstairs, where Danglars is waiting for him. The two men discuss their dislike for Dantès and accuse him of being arrogant. Caderousse reveals that Dantès’s good luck might be about to change: the woman he loves, Mercédès, has been seen in the company of another man. Danglars and Caderousse, hoping for the worst, decide to wait by the road near Mercédès’s house, in order to determine whether Dantès has really been jilted.

Chapter 3: The Catalans

As expected, Dantès next goes to visit Mercédès, a beautiful girl who belongs to the Spanish community of Catalans. He finds Mercédès in the company of Fernand Mondego, her lovestruck cousin, who has been trying for years to make her his wife. Mercédès welcomes Dantès with a passionate embrace, and Fernand stalks off, enraged. Fernand passes Danglars and Caderousse drinking wine by the side of the road, and they call him over. As the three men drink together, Danglars and Caderousse try to whip Fernand up into a frenzy of envy and anger much like their own. Dantès and Mercédès appear, blissfully oblivious to the malice directed toward them. The couple tells Fernand, Caderousse, and Danglars that they plan to be married the next day because Dantès must travel to Paris to fulfill the last commission of his dead captain. Though Dantès does not state explicitly why he is going to Paris, Danglars suspects Dantès is delivering a letter that has been entrusted to him by Napoleon to Bonapartist plotters—supporters of Napoleon who are helping him plan to overthrow the French government. The allusion to the letter sparks an evil idea in Danglars’s mind.

Chapter 4: Conspiracy

Danglars and Fernand plot Dantès’s downfall as Caderousse descends deep into intoxication. Fernand is unwilling to kill Dantès, since Mercédès has promised to commit suicide should Dantès die. Danglars suggests that they should have him imprisoned instead. Danglars drafts a letter informing the public prosecutor that Dantès is bearing a letter from Napoleon to the Bonapartist Committee in Paris. Caderousse protests against this defamation of Dantès’s character, so Danglars makes a show of tossing the letter into a corner, telling Caderousse that he is merely jesting. Danglars then leads Caderousse away, and Fernand, as expected, retrieves the letter and plans to mail it.

Chapter 5: The Betrothal Feast

In the middle of Dantès and Mercédès’s betrothal feast, royal guards burst in and arrest Dantès. Everyone is confused, especially Dantès, who has done nothing wrong, as far as he knows. Danglars offers to take over duties as captain of the Pharaon until Dantès is released, and Morrel gratefully accepts this offer.

Analysis: Chapters 1–5

From the opening of The Count of Monte Cristo, the hero, Edmond Dantès, comes across as a model of honesty, competence, and innocence. Despite his youth, he is an effective leader to his sailors. He is devoted to his aging father and to his young fiancée. Perhaps most admirable, Dantès is capable of overlooking his personal dislike for Danglars, Caderousse, and Fernand, and he treats all of them fairly and civilly. When Morrel asks Dantès to evaluate Danglars’s work on the ship, Dantès could easily ruin his enemy’s career with a mean word. Yet he chooses to put aside his personal feelings and honestly evaluates Danglars on a professional level, noting his competence as the ship’s financier. Similarly, rather than rebuke Caderousse for mistreating his father, Dantès politely welcomes him into his home and offers to lend him money. Dantès even manages to curb his ill will toward Fernand, his rival for Mercédès affections. Dantès is loyal to those he loves and sees the best in those who are flawed. These traits elevate him above any of the other characters introduced so far.

Read an in-depth analysis of Edmond Dantès.

While Dantès sits atop the pedestal of honesty and generosity, his three enemies could not be further from it. Unaware of Dantès’s kindness and tolerance, they have convinced themselves that he is unbearably arrogant. When Dantès exults in his good luck, the other men feel injury to their own egos. Viewing Dantès’s joy through the prism of their envy, they consider it to be a sign of arrogance. Dumas is careful to mention several times that Dantès is beloved by all the sailors who work under him. This fondness suggests that Dantès is extremely likable and that those who perceive arrogance on his part must have other reasons—such as their own insecurities—for this perception. Actually, only two of the enemies, Caderousse and Danglars, actually dislike Dantès at this point; Fernand’s hatred of Dantès, by contrast, does not stem from any willful misreading of Dantès’s character. Fernand simply dislikes Dantès because he is the main obstacle to his own happiness with Mercédès. Dumas sets these three grudging men up as foils—characters whose attitudes or emotions contrast with and thereby accentuate those of another character—to the noble-hearted Dantès.

Read an in-depth analysis of Caderousse.

Though the three men all participate in Dantès’s downfall, they are each guilty of a different crime that corresponds to their different attributes and relationships to Dantès. Dumas clearly portrays Danglars as the most villainous of Dantès’s three enemies, the only one who acts on a premeditated plan and the only one who acts rationally and coolly toward his designs. Perhaps most important, since Danglars is the only one who suspects the contents of the letter Dantès is carrying, he is the only one who understands the ramifications of the accusations planned against Dantès. Fernand’s crime, on the other hand, is an impetuous crime of passion. Gripped with the overwhelming desire to have Mercédès for himself, Fernand takes Danglars’s bait and mails the letter. Different still, Caderousse is merely guilty of cowardice and weakness. He is not an active participant in drafting or mailing the letter. Yet, though Caderousse knows Dantès’s motives regarding the letter are innocent, he says nothing in Dantès’s defense when he is arrested. Though Caderousse feels pity for Dantès as well as guilt over his part in the crime, he is too fearful of implicating himself and chooses to remain quiet and let an innocent man go to prison. Danglars’s clear, calculating ambition, Fernand’s impetuous criminality, and Caderousse’s cowardice and spinelessness remain the characteristics that define these three men throughout the novel.

Read an in-depth analysis of Danglars.