While visiting the Colosseum in Rome, Franz overhears a conversation between his mysterious Monte Cristo host (Dantès) and the bandit chief Luigi Vampa. An innocent shepherd named Peppino has been arrested for being an accomplice to bandits. Although he merely provided them with food, he has been sentenced to a public beheading, which is to take place in two days. Monte Cristo promises to buy Peppino’s freedom, and Vampa pledges his everlasting loyalty in return.
The next evening, Franz and Albert attend the opera, and Franz again sees his mysterious host. Monte Cristo is accompanied by Haydée, the most beautiful woman Franz has ever seen, dressed in a Greek costume. The lovely Countess G—, who is sitting with Franz and Albert, is terrified by the mysterious and deathly pale Monte Cristo, whom she is certain is a vampire. The following morning, the hotel owner informs Franz and Albert that their fellow guest, Monte Cristo, has offered to lend them his coach for the duration of the carnival. Albert and Franz pay a visit to Monte Cristo, and Franz is stunned to discover that he is the same man who acted as his mysterious host on the island of Monte Cristo.
Before breakfast, Monte Cristo invites the two young men to watch a public execution from his private windows. He admits to a fascination with executions. The three men engage in a discussion about the limits and shortcomings of human justice. At the execution, one of the two condemned, Peppino, is granted a reprieve. Monte Cristo watches impassively as the other is brutally executed. He appears to take great pleasure in watching vengeance play out.
During the three days of the carnival, Albert becomes engaged in an elaborate flirtation with a beautiful woman. He is eager to have several love affairs while in Rome and decides to devote all his energies to pursuing this opportunity.
The beautiful woman turns out to be Luigi Vampa’s mistress, Teresa, and the flirtation is actually a trap. The bandit chief kidnaps Albert, and Franz receives a ransom note. Unable to pay the ransom, he approaches Monte Cristo for help. Peppino, who delivered the ransom note, leads Franz and Monte Cristo to the bandits’ lair in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian. Vampa greets Monte Cristo warmly and sets Albert free with many apologies. Though Albert is surprisingly unfazed by the fact that he has so narrowly escaped a grisly end, he is nonetheless enormously grateful to Monte Cristo for saving him.
In return for saving his life, Monte Cristo asks Albert to introduce him to Parisian society when he visits the city in three months’ time. Albert is delighted. Franz, however, is wary, noting that Monte Cristo seems to shudder involuntarily when he is forced to shake hands with Albert. In an attempt to warn his friend away from Monte Cristo, Franz tells Albert about his experience on the isle of Monte Cristo and the conversation between Vampa and Monte Cristo he overheard in the Colosseum. This additional information leaves Albert only more enchanted with his savior.
Dumas was well known as a travel writer and dramatist before he became popular as a novelist, and we can see his talent for travel writing in this section of the novel. Travel writing was a very popular form of entertainment in the nineteenth century, and exotic locations were a particular public obsession. Generally, anywhere south of the country in which one resided counted as exotic; so, to French audiences, Italy certainly qualified. Dumas’s vibrant portrait of Italy depicts a place that is alluringly colorful, sensual, exciting—and, perhaps most important, different from France.
Italy, as Dumas describes it, is full of spectacles, including the execution and the carnival. In some respects, such as its gruesome public executions, Italy is portrayed as more primitive than other civilizations to the north. In other respects, such as the stylish and urbane behavior of its women, Italy is portrayed as more sophisticated than these northern countries. In addition to Italy, Dumas also taps into the French obsession with Greece by introducing the character of Haydée. Greece was of particular interest to French writers of Dumas’s era because of the Greek struggle for independence from Great Britain in the 1820s. By setting scenes of his novel in Greece, Italy, Constantinople, and even Marseilles—a city in the southernmost part of France—Dumas put his talent for travel writing to work and satisfied the public demand for exciting descriptions of exotic places.
Countess G—’s suspicion that Monte Cristo is a vampire connects the novel to yet another staple of Romanticism: a fascination with horror stories in general and vampires in particular. Countess G— repeatedly calls Monte Cristo by the name “Lord Ruthven,” referring to the main character in a popular 1816 story entitled “The Vampyre.” Though “The Vampyre” was actually written by Dr. John William Polidari, it was widely misattributed to the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron, which gave it enormous popularity. Charles Nodier wrote a drama based on the saga of Lord Ruthven, and Dumas wrote another Lord Ruthven play soon thereafter. The Romantic interest in vampires continued throughout the nineteenth century, culminating in the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Lord Ruthven was considered both terrifying and alluring, two traits Monte Cristo clearly embodies as well. In a later chapter, the character Lucien Debray gives a description of a vampire that, according to Albert, describes Monte Cristo precisely. Like a vampire, Monte Cristo is a man partly of this world and partly of another world, simultaneously appealing and terrifying.
The breakfast discussion among Monte Cristo, Franz, and Albert raises several interesting issues about the limits of human justice. Monte Cristo explains that his dissatisfaction with human justice stems not only from the fact that the system sometimes allows the guilty to fall through the cracks, going unpunished for heinous crimes, but also from the fact that modern means of punishment are insufficient. The worst punishment that the modern criminal justice system will impose is death, yet death is nothing compared to the agony that many victims of crime suffer. Monte Cristo wonders whether it is enough that a criminal “who has caused us years of moral sufferings undergoes a few moments of physical pain.” Monte Cristo’s remarks offer a deep psychological insight into his mind as an avenger. He cannot feel any satisfaction until his enemies undergo something as painful as that which they have inflicted upon him. We can surmise from Monte Cristo’s words that the revenge scheme he is planning is no simple murder plot—like the plot hatched by Piçaud, the real life model for Monte Cristo—but rather an attempt to destroy his enemies psychologically and emotionally.
Here, Dumas portrays Albert as a frivolous child who naïvely courts danger and adventure. When he first hears of the existence of the notorious Luigi Vampa, he wants to take off immediately to fight the bandit chief. Albert is also desperate to have numerous romantic adventures while in Italy. His silliness, though, is presented as a natural aspect of his youth, not an essential defect of character. In fact, Albert’s uninquiring gratitude toward Monte Cristo and his bravery in Vampa’s lair demonstrate that he has the makings of a noble adult. Aside from Monte Cristo, Albert is one of the few characters in the novel to undergo psychological development as the story progresses.