The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Chapters 94–102

Both Danglars and Benedetto are very adept at playing roles, pretending to be much better people than they truly are. We first saw Danglars’s playacting in his interaction with Morrel, whom he manages to fool thoroughly enough to win a recommendation into the Spanish banking house where he wins his fortune. In Chapter 96, we learn that Danglars continues to play a part: “to the world and to his servants Danglars assumed the good-natured man and the weak father . . . in private . . . the brutal husband and domineering father.” Likewise, Benedetto brings phoniness to a whole new level, becoming an actual impostor in his guise as Andrea Cavalcanti. Soon after, Benedetto behaves in a misleading manner similar to Danglars’s, speaking “in the tone in which he had heard Dorante or Valère reply to Alceste in the Théâtre Français.” The juxtaposition of their behaviors makes a clear point: these two greedy and deceptive men deserve to be each other’s ruin.

In contrast to the conniving Danglars and Benedetto, Valentine is so guileless that she is incapable of grasping evil motives. When faced with the fact that her stepmother is trying to kill her, she cannot even begin to figure out why. Monte Cristo is forced to remind her that if she dies, all of her inheritance would go to Edward. Valentine’s confusion signals her complete and trusting innocence and is reminiscent of Dantès’s initial inability to understand how or why is imprisoned. However, whereas Dantès becomes vengeful when he discovers that he has enemies, Valentine does not. In fact, she so lacks a desire for revenge that she cannot even find it within herself to denounce the woman trying to murder her. Unlike Dantès’s innocence, which passes quickly, Valentine’s seems almost indestructible. Her innocence is not merely a function of youth and inexperience but an essential character trait that she simply cannot overcome. This trait, presumably, is one reason Valentine is consistently referred to as an “angel.”

Eugénie poses a sharp and interesting contrast to Valentine’s innocent passivity. Both Eugénie and Valentine long for the same thing—the freedom to choose how they live their own lives—yet each woman goes about achieving this goal in a very different way. Valentine balks at even the idea of opposing her father’s will, and it takes an enormous amount of persuasion on Maximilian’s part to persuade her to run away with him. That Valentine ultimately manages to marry the man she loves has nothing to do with her own actions, but depends entirely on the clever ruses devised by other people, namely Noirtier and Monte Cristo. Eugénie, by contrast, has no trouble standing up to her father, speaking boldly and calmly about her refusal to follow his orders. She displays no fear at all as she prepares to run away with Louise d’Armilly, enthusiastically embracing the prospect of finding her own way through Europe and making a career as an artist. Whereas Valentine lives an entirely passive life, depending upon other people to help her overcome any difficulties, Eugénie takes an active part in shaping her own destiny. Like Monte Cristo and Albert, she refuses to be a pawn of fate or any other external force, such as the expectations of her father or of society as a whole.