The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Chapters 40–46

Analysis: Chapters 40–46

Dumas’s roots as a playwright are apparent throughout The Count of Monte Cristo, perhaps most obviously in this section. Rather than merely present Bertuccio’s history through a narrator, Dumas gives Bertuccio a long monologue. This monologue gives Bertuccio the opportunity to reveal all that we need to know about his life and his connection to other major characters, namely Villefort and Caderousse. The context of the monologue is, admittedly, very forced: we know that Monte Cristo and Abbé Busoni are the same person, so we are aware that Monte Cristo already knows all the information he is forcing Bertuccio to reveal. The fact that Dumas resorts to such an awkward setup demonstrates the strength of his commitment to tell the story through dialogue. In fact, there is hardly a plot development or piece of internal history in the entire novel that does not unfold through dialogue. It is by means of the dialogue over breakfast in Chapters 40 and 41, for instance, that we learn about Maximilian’s bravery and Monte Cristo’s true connection to Luigi Vampa. Likewise, it is during the course of the conversation between Albert and Mercédès that we learn that Mercédès does in fact recognize Monte Cristo as Dantès. This heavy reliance on dialogue makes Dumas’s novels seem like an extension of his dramatic work.

The unexpected appearance of Maximilian Morrel at Albert’s house in Chapter 40 is a crucial plot twist. This twist prevents The Count of Monte Cristo from being merely a catalogue of rewards straightforwardly followed by punishments. For ten years Monte Cristo has been preparing himself to feel and act upon nothing but hatred and vengeance. The appearance of Maximilian calls up a set of different emotions for which Monte Cristo is not prepared. He is suddenly filled with gratitude and warmth—two sentiments that he has prepared to leave behind. Maximilian’s presence complicates Monte Cristo’s attempts to divide his life neatly into years devoted to rewarding and years spent punishing. As we later see, all such contact with the Morrel family throws Monte Cristo into uncertainty and discomfort. By inserting the Morrel family into this portion of the novel, Dumas forces Monte Cristo to grapple with unforeseen difficulty, which makes the story line more interesting.

The portrait of Mercédès looking mournfully out to sea hints that she has never forgotten, or ceased to love, Dantès. Her costume, that of a Catalan fisherwoman, symbolically connects Mercédès to Dantès, who was a sailor during the period when the two were engaged. As we learn in a later chapter, Mercédès has spent years under the mistaken impression that Dantès died at sea when he was thrown from the rocks in Abbé Faria’s shroud. In her sad gaze toward the sea, then, she is focused on what she believes to be Dantès’s grave. Even Fernand is obviously aware that the portrait signifies Mercédès’s enduring feelings for Dantès, since he has it banished from his house. Mercédès’s ability to recognize Dantès even through the changes of time and hardship also indicates the depth of her feeling for him. She has remained so thoroughly connected to him in her thoughts that she is immediately able to see through his new exterior. Mercédès’s ability to recognize Dantès confirms what the portrait suggests: despite her marriage to Fernand, she has always remained loyal to Dantès in her heart.