Monte Cristo now engages in a clever, complex ruse to win the good graces of the Danglars and Villefort families. He instructs Bertuccio to purchase Danglars’s two most beautiful horses for twice their asking price, knowing that these horses actually belong to Madame Danglars. With these two horses attached to his coach, Monte Cristo then visits Danglars at home in order to open an unlimited credit account with him, an act that astonishes and humbles Danglars.
While Monte Cristo is still at the Danglars residence, Madame Danglars is told that her horses have been sold, and she sees them attached to Monte Cristo’s carriage. She becomes enraged with her husband for selling them. Monte Cristo excuses himself from the scene, as does Madame Danglars’s lover, Lucien Debray. Later that evening, Monte Cristo, in a gallant gesture, returns the horses as a gift.
Knowing that Madame de Villefort will be borrowing these horses the next day, Monte Cristo arranges for the horses to become wild while they pass by his house. As the runaway horses go by, bearing the panic-stricken Madame de Villefort and her son, Edward, Ali, Monte Cristo’s servant, lassos them easily, saving mother and son. Edward passes out from fear, and Monte Cristo uses a special potent elixir to revive him.
I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.See Important Quotations Explained
Villefort visits Monte Cristo in order to thank him for saving his wife and son. Monte Cristo engages Villefort in a conversation in which they compare civilized criminal justice systems to natural justice. Villefort reveals that his father, Noirtier, once one of the most powerful Jacobins and senators in France, has been paralyzed by a stroke.
Monte Cristo goes to visit his beautiful Greek slave, Haydée, in her separate apartments, which are decorated in the most sumptuous Oriental style. He tells Haydée that she is free to do whatever she pleases and is free to leave him or stay with him. She pledges Monte Cristo her undying loyalty, but he reminds her that she is still only a child, twenty years old, and has the right to go off and live her own life whenever she chooses. The only thing Monte Cristo asks of Haydée is that she not reveal the “secret of her birth” to anyone in Paris.
Monte Cristo pays a visit to Maximilian Morrel, who is staying with his sister, Julie. Julie is now married to Emmanuel Herbaut, the young clerk who remains loyal to Julie’s father out of love for her. Their house is filled with a sense of bliss, love, and serenity that overwhelms Monte Cristo with emotion. When he comments on the uncommon happiness of this household, Emmanuel and Julie tell him of the angelic benefactor who once saved them. They show Monte Cristo the relics of this angel—the red silk purse and the diamond—and lament that they have never identified their benefactor.
Monte Cristo hazards a guess that the benefactor might have been an Englishman he once knew, a man named Lord Wilmore, who did not believe in true gratitude but performed many generous actions. Maximilian admits that his father has a more superstitious theory regarding their savior: he believes that their benefactor was Edmond Dantès, acting from beyond the grave. Monte Cristo is overwhelmed by this news, and he takes his leave abruptly and awkwardly.
At the gate of Villefort’s garden, Maximilian meets his secret love, Valentine de Villefort—Villefort’s daughter from his first marriage. Valentine laments her sad fate: her father neglects her, her stepmother despises her, and she has a fiancé she does not want to marry. Maximilian makes Valentine promise not to resign herself to marrying Franz d’Epinay, despite her father’s strong desire to see the union take place. As the two discuss their seemingly impossible hope to be together—Maximilian is far too poor to be an appropriate match for Valentine and Villefort seems to hate the entire Morrel family—the Count of Monte Cristo arrives at the Villefort home, and Valentine is called away.
Monte Cristo reminds Madame de Villefort that they have met once before, in Italy. She recalls the meeting and is struck by the fact that in Italy, Monte Cristo had been hailed as a great doctor because he had saved two lives. Madame de Villefort expresses interest in Monte Cristo’s knowledge of chemistry, particularly his knowledge of poisons. He describes to her the method he used to make himself immune to poison and also describes an excellent antispasmodic potion he has, which, as Madame de Villefort saw when Monte Cristo revived Edward, is effective in small doses. Monte Cristo’s potion is lethal in large doses, however, but kills the victim in such a way that he or she appears to die of natural causes. In response to Madame de Villefort’s hints, Monte Cristo offers to send her a vial of the potion the next day.
When Villefort is reintroduced in Chapter 49, he is portrayed as a rigid and inflexible “statue of the law,” exacting a form of justice that, according to Monte Cristo, is really no justice at all. Villefort is obsessed with laws and rules, and he lives for the prosecution of criminals. He cares little for human beings or for anything humanistic, such as art or entertainment; indeed, he is known as the “least curious man in Paris.” In Villefort we find an embodiment of all that is wrong with the state of societal justice at Dumas’s time. First, Villefort’s merciless application of the law parallels modern society’s own mercilessness to its citizens—particularly its poor citizens. In addition, Villefort is hypocritical, brazenly breaking the very laws he upholds, first by sentencing an innocent man to prison and then by attempting to kill his own newborn son. Villefort’s hypocrisy also has a strong parallel in modern society, which rewards immorality on the part of the wealthy and powerful. Danglars, for instance, is rewarded generously for his financial opportunism. According to Monte Cristo, modern societies are only thinly disguised tyrannies, oppressing the common man and refusing him his rights as an individual and his equal protection under the law. Villefort, then, is the living embodiment of—as well as the agent of—this tyranny.
The introduction of Haydée as a model of sumptuous, sensual Orientalism highlights Dumas’s Romantic perspective and contrasts sharply with the rigidity of other characters such as Villefort and Danglars. Haydée’s apartments, filled with silk cushions and diaphanous curtains, are decorated like something out of the collection of Eastern folktales known as The Arabian Nights. Haydée herself always dresses in her native Greek style, and even the food she eats is Oriental. The Romantic obsession with the exotic particularly favored such trappings of the Orient, a region considered incomparably mysterious. Romantics considered the women of the Orient far more desirable than European women, as well as more easily available. We see this Romantic notion of Oriental women in Dumas’s description of Haydée as reclining on the ground in a position that “though perfectly natural for an Eastern female, would have been deemed too full of coquettish straining after effect in a European.” The fact that Haydée can seem “perfectly natural” in a pose that would appear “strained” in a European emphasizes the degree to which the Romantics considered Oriental women more naturally alluring and sensual than European women. In addition, Haydée’s exotic nature rubs off on Monte Cristo, bolstering his own mystique. Not only does Monte Cristo boast Haydée as a member of his household, but his grotto on the island of Monte Cristo is decorated in Oriental style, and he often claims to consider himself more Oriental than Western. Indeed, most of Monte Cristo’s odd customs stem from the Orient. Haydée, with her dazzlingly unfamiliar beauty and her foreign way of life, typifies this Romantic notion of the exotic.
Chapters 50 and 51 demonstrate how perverse and almost inhuman Monte Cristo’s psychology has become. Positive emotions, rather than vengeance and hatred, rattle him in the way that negative emotions would rattle most people. For Monte Cristo, the possibility of good feelings bothers him most. Faced with the prospect of visiting the Morrel family, an experience he knows will be fraught with good feeling, he prepares himself by visiting Haydée. He reflects that he “require[s] a gradual succession of calm and gentle emotions to prepare his mind to receive full and perfect happiness, in the same manner as ordinary natures demand to be inured by degrees to the reception of strong or violent sensations.” This statement explicitly contrasts normal human psychology with Monte Cristo’s perverse emotional life. Indeed, just as Monte Cristo has predicted, when he is with the Morrels his perfect, almost frightening composure deserts him for the first time. Confronted with the depth of the Morrels’ gratitude, he becomes “pale as death, pressing one hand to his heart to still its throbbings.” In the face of true goodness, Monte Cristo experiences the strong physical reaction that most people experience upon encountering something particularly gruesome or dark. His obsession with vengeance has completely perverted his nature.
The Morrel family has an enormous influence on Monte Cristo’s estimation of humanity as a whole. Prior to meeting the Morrels, Monte Cristo believes that no human being is capable of feeling pure and true gratitude. He pessimistically announces to Franz and Albert that “man is an ungrateful and egotistical animal,” then disdainfully remarks to Peppino, whose life he has saved, “you have not then forgotten that I saved your life; that is strange, for it is a week ago.” Seeing the sincere and heartfelt thankfulness of the Morrels, however, Monte Cristo admits that Lord Wilmore would appreciate this gratitude and be “reconciled to mankind.” Lord Wilmore is, of course, just another of Monte Cristo’s aliases, and this statement is really an admission of Monte Cristo’s own change of heart. It is Monte Cristo who is “reconciled to mankind” after he sees the Morrels provide such incontrovertible proof of humankind’s capacity for gratitude.
Equally moving to Monte Cristo is the Morrels’ complete satisfaction with their lives. Though hardly wealthy, they consider themselves enormously rich and choose not to pursue any further wealth, as they know that doing so would require them to be apart more often. Monte Cristo is shocked to see people so perfectly content in their daily existence, and he takes the Morrels as proof that happiness is determined more by attitude than by absolute circumstances. In their gratitude and satisfaction, the Morrels demonstrate humanity’s capacity for goodness, which challenges Monte Cristo’s condemnation of mankind as an “ungrateful” and generally vile species.