In another part of town, a very different betrothal feast is taking place. This feast is in honor of an aristocratic couple: the young daughter of the Marquis of Saint-Méran and her fiancé, Gérard de Villefort, the deputy public prosecutor of Marseilles. Villefort, we learn during the course of the lunch conversation, is the son of a prominent Bonapartist. In the wake of Napoleon’s defeat and the subsequent reinstatement of King Louis XVIII, Villefort, an ambitious young man, has decided to ally himself with the royalists. He renounces his father and his father’s politics, and swears to the assembled guests that he will brutally punish any Bonapartist sympathizer who falls into his hands. The betrothal feast is interrupted when Villefort is called away to deal with a Bonapartist plot that has just been uncovered.
After dismissing Morrel’s efforts to intercede on his employee’s behalf, Villefort enters his office and finds the accused plotter, Edmond Dantès. He confronts Dantès with the allegations against him. Dantès admits that he is carrying a letter to Paris and that the letter was entrusted to him by Napoleon. He pleads innocent, however, to any political involvement, explaining that he is merely carrying out the dying wish of his ship’s captain. Dantès announces that he has no opinions other than his love for his father, his love for Mercédès, and his admiration for Monsieur Morrel.
Villefort takes a liking to Dantès’s open, sincere character and is planning to let him go free until Dantès unwittingly lets slip the name of the man to whom the Bonapartist letter is addressed. The intended recipient is a man named Noirtier—Villefort’s father. Terrified that word of his father’s treasonous activities could leak out and damage his family name, Villefort decides that he must send Dantès away forever.
Villefort has Dantès locked away in the Château d’If, a notorious prison reserved for the most dangerous political prisoners. There, Dantès demands to see the governor and violently threatens the guard when he is refused this privilege. As punishment, Dantès is sent down into the dungeon, where the insane prisoners are kept. The guard tells Dantès about one particular prisoner in the dungeon, a man who constantly promises the guards millions of francs in exchange for his liberation.
Villefort returns to his fiancée’s home and announces that he must leave for Paris. He confides to his father-in-law that if he can only reach the king in time, his fortune will be made. On his way out, Villefort encounters Mercédès, who is seeking information about Dantès. Faced with the fact that he is destroying an innocent man’s happiness for the sake of his own ambitions, Villefort is seized with agonizing regret.
Villefort rushes to Paris to tell King Louis XVIII of the schemes contained in the letter Dantès was carrying. He informs the king that there is a conspiracy afoot to bring Napoleon back to power.
Villefort’s warning has come too late. Napoleon has already landed in France and is marching on Paris. Nevertheless, Villefort wins the king’s gratitude, as he is the only person who was able to uncover Napoleon’s plot in advance.
Noirtier visits Villefort. Villefort tells his father that the police are looking for a man who fits Noirtier’s description in connection with the murder of a royalist general. While Villefort looks on, Noirtier shaves his beard and changes his clothes. As he leaves, he tells Villefort that Napoleon is advancing quickly and is again being hailed as emperor by a still-admiring public.
Napoleon quickly recaptures all of France. Now that Bonapartism is no longer considered a crime, Monsieur Morrel approaches Villefort multiple times to intercede on Dantès’s behalf, but he is always placated with promises. Danglars, unaware that Villefort has an intense personal interest in keeping Dantès locked away, fears that Dantès will be released and then will seek revenge. Danglars resigns from Morrel’s service and moves to Madrid. Fernand comforts Mercédès and wins her gratitude, but has to leave to join Napoleon’s army. In the meantime, Dantès’s father dies of misery over his son’s imprisonment. Morrel pays for the old man’s funeral and settles the small debts he has incurred. After only one hundred days in power, Napoleon is deposed again, and Louis XVIII reassumes the throne.
The inspector-general of prisons visits the Château d’If, where Dantès begs him for a fair trial. The inspector is moved by Dantès’s pleas and promises to look into his case. When he examines the register, he sees that Villefort wrote that Dantès took an active part in Napoleon’s return from Elba. The inspector decides that he cannot help Dantès.
Nineteenth-century France was divided by a deep political schism between revolutionary Bonapartists, who hoped to bring Napoleon and his liberal democratic ideas back to the French throne, and conservative royalists, who were committed to the old French royal family and their traditional rule. This divide plays an important role in the early chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo. Characters associated with the Bonapartist cause, such as Morrel, Dantès, the dead captain, and Noirtier, are portrayed in a sympathetic light, while the aristocratic royalists, such as Villefort and the Marquise de Saint-Méran, are cast in the roles of villains. This stark division between good Bonapartists and bad royalists is not surprising, since Dumas was a great admirer of Napoleon and had strong democratic leanings. His father had been a general in Napoleon’s army, and Dumas grew up with a love of freedom and a respect for individual rights.
The Count of Monte Cristo is heavily tinged with these Napoleonic ideals, which Dumas clearly prefers over the old aristocratic tenets. Dantès is undone not only by the jealousy of dishonorable men but also by the oppressive political system of the post-revolutionary era, a system that routinely sentenced suspected radicals to life in prison with little or no proof of guilt. Dantès is a pawn in a game of political intrigue, and his rights as an individual are ignored as Villefort uses him to advance his personal political goals. Furthermore, Noirtier paints a bleak picture of modern political regimes when he tells his son that “in politics . . . there are no men, but ideas—no feelings, but interests; in politics we do not kill a man, we only remove an obstacle.” The political system’s prioritization of ideas over men and interests over feelings, along with its perception of man as an obstacle, is a natural outcome of its impersonal and dehumanizing nature. Like Napoleon himself, Dantès eventually emerges as a champion for the rights of the individual, working against the oppressive tyranny of the political system.
Dantès’s lack of intellectual opinions follows a model of the Romantic ideal. Indeed, Dantès is a living embodiment of the Romantic idea of the cult of feelings. Romanticism, a cultural movement in nineteenth-century Europe, viewed emotion as superior to intellect and admired the human who feels over the human who calculates. Dantès simply loves and admires; he does not analyze or judge. Interestingly, when he emerges later as the Count of Monte Cristo, he is guided only by ideas. He is specifically motivated by one idea—revenge; consequently, he becomes incapable of feeling normal human sentiments. Given Dumas’s affiliation with the Romantic movement, it is not surprising to find that the Dantès of the early chapters, a man of unimpeachable character, is portrayed as a person dominated by emotion. For the same reason, it makes sense that when Dantès later falls into error and sin, becoming a strange mixture of hero and antihero, it is his intellect that takes over as a dominating yet dangerous force. This dichotomy between emotion and intellect allows Dumas to show his belief in the supremacy of the Romantic individual over the rational human being.
By giving Chapter 12 the same subtitle as Chapter 2—“Father and Son”—Dumas invites us to compare the two father-son pairs portrayed in these chapters. In Chapter 2 the father and son are Louis and Edmond Dantès, a pair bound by absolute love and devotion. In Chapter 12, however, the father-son pair of Noirtier and Villefort is bound by little more than mutual distrust. When Dantès hears of his newfound good fortune, his first thought is of how he might improve life for his father; he fantasizes about all the nice things his newfound affluence will enable him to provide for the old man. Villefort, in contrast, is prepared to sacrifice his father in order to increase his own fortune. Though Villefort warns his father that the authorities are searching for a man of his description, this act is motivated not by loyalty but by self-interest: Villefort knows that his own career will be ruined if his father is charged with murder. Later, Villefort attempts to break all ties with Noirtier, even going so far as to renounce his family name. When his future in-laws ask him to state his allegiances, Villefort has no qualms about harshly denouncing his father. Here, filial loyalty serves to underscore the vast difference in character between Dantès and Villefort. Dantès’s devotion to his father reveals his kindness and basic goodness, while Villefort’s neglect and betrayal of his father expose him as a heartless conniver, looking out only for himself.