Hello! I’m picking up again today with this series, but if you missed the first two parts, you can read those at the following links: Part 1, Part 2. For convenience sake I’ll put a summary and color code guide, but if you’re already up to speed, you can skip the next paragraph.
When we last left off, Edmond Dantes (aka the Count of Monte Cristo, Abbe Bussoni, Lord Wilmore, and Sinbad the Sailor) had moved to Paris and started meddling in the affairs of the other characters. He gets the default black color. His old love, Mercedes, who recognizes him but says nothing out of fear and her son Albert are pink. The Count met Albert in Italy and saved him from bandits. Mercedes’s husband, Fernand Mondego (aka The Count de Morcef), in red, accused Edmond of treason to get him out of the way but doesn’t recognize him as the count. He is now wealthy after a military career in Greece. The reader also meets the Count’s “slave” and friend – a Greek girl named Haydee who is traveling with him. The Morrel family are old friends of Edmond is green. Notably, Maximilian is in love with Valentine de Villefort, but their marriage is impossible due to a family grudge and her existing arranged engagement. Her grandfather, Noirtier loves her to death and does not get along with his son due to differing political views. He is disabled due to a stroke but communicates with her through blinking. Valentine’s mother hates her, dotes on her son, and takes an interest in poisons while ignoring her husband. Valentine’s father, the prosecutor Gerard Villefort, sentenced Edmond to prison, and tried to bury a baby in a box one time before he got stabbed by Bertuccio – a man with a vengance who took the child and raised him as his own. Their fun dysfunctional family is violet colored. The child, Benedetto, grew up to be a criminal and ran away from home at age 11. He’s not missing, and he gets Brown.. In the meantime, Bertuccio was also witness to Caderousse (the old cowardly and selfish neighbor) killing a jeweler to keep a diamond and large sum of cash. He was last seen on the run from the police, and is shown in yellow. The Count also makes an impression on Danglars, the greedy sailor who schemed to betray Edmond now turned banker, by taking out a huge line of credit. We also meet Madame Danglars, a scheming woman who doesn’t actually like her husband very much. Their daughter, Eugenie is engaged to Albert Morcef, and the family gets this blue color.
Connections, Continued… Chapters 54 – 57
Continuing the story, we learn that the connections between the characters are even more complex than what they seem on the surface, and this is the moment that I realized I’d need to break up this series into so many parts! At the opera, Haydee recognizes Fernand de Morcef as the man who betrayed her father in the war and sold her into slavery. It’s confirmed that the Count bought her to save her from a worse fate and he continues to give her agency and treat her like a princess, so she is loyal to him even in her anger at Fernand.
The next day, Albert and his friend Lucien Debray visit the Count to discuss Albert’s arranged marriage with Eugenie. Mercedes disaproves of this match, and Albert isn’t happy about it either, since he doesn’t love his betrothed and doesn’t want to hurt his mother, but he feels trapped because their fathers have set it up for money and he can’t seem to find a way out of it. For the record, Eugenie doesn’t want to be married either, preferring an independent life as an artist. Eventually the conversation drifts into finance, and Debray admits that he’s having an affair with Madame Danglars, and that he gives her insider information about the stocks so that she can gamble large sums of her husband’s money. The Count files this useful information away for future reference, and invites them to a dinner party before dismissing them to take a detour to a different conversation.
Two poor Italians arrive at his home under instructions from the Abbe Busoni, pretending to be a nobleman and his son, called Andrea Cavalcanti. He gives them both large allowances of money to service the disguise and invites them to a dinner party the following Saturday. This is passed off as a one-off event, but within the narrative, reads as setup for part of the Count’s larger plans.
These three seemingly disparate events don’t really fit together as an arc, but they do an important role in setting up other aspects of the story and showing how much careful thought and effort the Count has put into his plans. By going out of his way to get people and information, he works each new development into the bigger picture, and so does Dumas behind the page. This does slow down the pacing, but the important part of why this works is that we know Edmond is content with slow pacing – he bided his time for 14 years in prison, and for another 10 years after that. These events could be written off as tangents, or the eccentricities of a billionaire, but because they fit into the characterization and plot, they become important in hindsight. Reading normally, you don’t know what exactly the Count is planning yet, but it’s implied that this is important and that you should pay attention, so I’m trying to highlight that with the colors here so you can look ahead and try to make connections as well!
For the several sections, a lot of different aspects start to overlap in fast succession, so I’m going to try and summarize them as cohesively as possible. In a summary this reads as a little jarring, but in the prose, Dumas takes his time with each chapter so that the pace slowly picks up after a long slow setup, which works to effectively heighten the tension.
The Engagement, Chapters 58 – 60
The story bounces back to Maximilian and Valentine meeting in the garden again. She tearfully explains that she cannot persuade her father to cut off her engagement to Franz (Albert’s friend, mentioned in the last part), and that even if they could, her stepmother would rather her join a convent so that the inheritance can go to her son instead. In the meantime, her parents tell Noirtier about the engagement. He’s outraged, because he knows it will make Valentine unhappy and also because Franz’s father was a political opponent, but because of his disability, cannot communicate this to his son. Not that Villefort would listen to him anyhow. When Valentine visits him after her parents leave, Noirtier promises her that he will help her escape the engagement. They communicate by answering yes and no questions through blinks, and consulting a dictionary when they get stuck. He gets his servant to summon a notary, then amends his will so that if Valentine marries Franz, all of the inheritance will go to the poor, rather than her brother. This threat unfortunately doesn’t work and Villefort maintains the engagement.
The Danglars Disappointment, Chapters 61-62
The story takes a brief detour in the middle of the Villefort bit to show the Count going to visit a remote telegraph post that relays stock information. He quietly bribes the operator there to pass along a false report, and returns home. The scene cuts to Debray telling Madame Danglars about the sudden turn in the market, and they convince Danglars to sell all his Spanish bonds. His bank At first they celebrate narrowly avoiding disaster, but when the report is proven to be false, Danglars loses over a million francs on the transaction. He’s devastated by this – all he cares about is his reputation and his money, and when he loses that much, it’s a severe blow to his ego.
During these two sections, Monte Cristo interacts very little with the families himself, but the reader can see how he’s working in the background to start orchestrating the events that will lead to his revenge. The Villefort family is dysfunctional, but Valentine, Maximilian, and Noirtier don’t deserve that dynamic to rule their lives, and it’s only a matter of time before the next shoe drops. By sabotaging the telegraph report, The Count also kicks off Danglars’s slow financial downfall which will have repercussions down the line. He’s spent a lot of time in France working into the good graces of these families, and now he’s ready to push everything into motion – by hosting a dinner party.
The Dinner Party and Aftermath, Chapters 63-70
On the appointed night, the guests begin to arrive at The Count’s house, lavishly decorated except for the garden and the small bedroom with the stairs leading to the back. Present are Maximilian Morrel, the Danglars and Lucien Debray, the two Italian “noblemen” Major Bartolomeo and Andrea Cavalcanti, Villefort, and his wife. As they talk and eat, Danglars takes notice of Andrea (and his wealth), so the Count mentions that he came to Paris looking for a wife. Bertuccio, hiding in one of the servant’s rooms, recognizes Villefort and Andrea. He’s surprised Villefort is actually alive after he got stabbed, but he’d only been injured and (perhaps unfortunately) survived. He’s even more surprised to see his prodigal adopted son Benedetto dressed up and acting like a rich man.
After dinner, the Count offers to show them all around the house. They all gawk over the finery until they get to the one bare bedroom, and he starts telling them how he “just has a feeling” some terrible crime happened here. What if a woman gave birth but then the father took the baby down these stairs, out into the garden and buried the baby alive?? Wouldn’t that be so strange?! Well he found a skeleton of a baby in this exact spot, and that’s the only thing he can think of for how it might have got there. Oh well, it’ll just have to remain a mystery. Who wants dessert?
Villefort and Madame Danglars are losing their minds at this, just a little bit. They agree to meet the next day in private.
As the party wraps up, Andrea is leaving in his carriage when he’s stopped by Caderousse – an old acquaintance from his old life as a highwayman. It turns out that the murderer escaped from prison after the diamond incident, and has been scrimping to survive since then. He demands that Benedetto do him a favor and share his windfall by giving him an allowance of 200 francs a month. Benedetto is worried that Caderousse will rat him out if he doesn’t comply, so he agrees.
In the meantime, Madame Danglars and Debray have retreated to their rooms when her husband barges in and demands that Debray leave them alone. Danglars confronts her about stealing his money and losing the million francs on the Spanish bonds because of the faulty information from her lover. He doesn’t really care about the affairs, or that she bore Villefort’s child, not that she’s been particularly subtle about any of it, but he is mad that Debray isn’t helping him make back the money. They argue, and the next day Danglars goes to Monte Cristo to get more information about Andrea. It turns out he’s much richer than Albert and Danglars asks for the Count’s help in setting Andrea up with Eugenie instead of Albert, and the Count agrees, saying its for the better this way. After all, Fernand de Morcef isn’t really a proper noble, being a poor fisherman that only earned his fortune after a sketchy affair in Greece. He even suggests that Danglars should probably look into what happened, just to be safe, and to not take it on hearsay. Danglars appreciates his help, and the new wedding plans are set up.
The next day, Madame Danglars visits Villefort to figure out what to do about the situation at the party. It’s clear the Count knows about their affair which could incriminate them, and it’s impossible that he dug up a skeleton because Bertuccio stole the box with the not-dead child, which means their child is alive and out their somewhere. Villefort promises the hysterical Madame Danglars that he’ll investigate Monte Cristo and figure out why he knows so much about their past. In the process, he only talks to Edmond in his other disguises, and gets false information about the Count which just deflects the suspicions away from his real activities.
Finally after 62 chapters of waiting, the Count starts to really pull the strings. He has all the information he needs to ruin the lives of all his enemies, and their personal situations are precarious enough that it won’t take much stress for it all to come tumbling down. Danglars’s greed at the beginning that moved him to betray Edmond also led him to be a cruel banker, and he’s getting a taste of his own medicine. Villefort is a government prosecutor – he represents the law and mercilessly lays down sentences that ruin lives, all while hiding his own crimes to avoid the consequences. Caderousse’s lack of direction or conviction in anything leads him to wander from problem to problem and leech off others to survive. We know through Haydee that Fernand betrayed her father for his own selfish gains, just like how he betrayed Edmond to gain Mercedes’s hand in marriage, and while his downfall hasn’t begun, the information is available and ready.
Edmond isn’t just petty. It might almost be easier to expose himself, challenge each to a duel, and try to kill them (it would almost certainly be easier to write) but by posing their punishments with respect to their crimes, it becomes a matter of justice instead, with The Count acting as the judge and jury. It’s extremely satisfying to read, because after all of the setup and patience in the first 2/3 of the book, the payoff is dramatic and deserved. That being said, there are still innocent players in these families, the those two plot points come to a head in the next arcs:
The Morcef Ball, 71-72
Some time after the dinner party, Albert invites the Count to a party that his family is hosting. Monte Cristo is somewhat the center of attention, now capturing everyone’s interest or fear, but he tries to escape to the gardens to be alone. He doesn’t eat or drink anything while he’s there, and Mercedes notices this. She follows him out to the gardens and tries to offer him fruit as an olive branch but he refuses. She takes this as a refusal of friendship, and is understandably upset by this, but handles it with civility. They try to discuss their pasts, but neither acknowledge their relationship or their old love for each other. Edmond is really not ready to confront his feelings, and Mercedes isn’t sure what to think of him anymore.
Murders at the Villeforts, 73-76
The same night as the ball, Valentine’s grandmother (not Noirtier’s wife, her maternal grandmother) falls ill and says she will die soon, since she saw a white creature approach her bed and move the glass on her nightstand and takes that as an omen. Valentine is her only heir, so she wants to see Valentine married to Franz before she dies, and orders Villefort to have the contract signed the day he returns to France (He’s traveling somewhere but where and why isn’t important as he returns that afternoon for the sake of plot timing.) Valentine is terrified and resigned, but Maximilian convinces her to runaway with him because staying with her family will only lead to more heartbreak. They have all their plans set up when her grandmother dies suddenly, and time is running out. Maximilian is hiding in the garden, waiting for her, when he overhears Villefort and the doctor discussing the deaths. He suspects a poison called brucine. Noitier takes it in small doses for his paralysis, so it was in the house, but if given in large doses to a healthy person, it would kill them. More importantly, the murderer is still out there.
Maximilian is scared for Valentine’s safety and sneaks in to talk to her, but before he can tell her what he overheard, they’re nearly caught and he needs to escape again, down to her grandfather’s room where he can sneak back out into the gardens. She introduces him to her grandfather and explains everything before rushing back to the house. Maximilian begs for his blessing to take Valentine’s hand in marriage, and Noirtier vows to protect the two of them as much as it is in his power to do so. The next day, when Franz arrives to sign the marriage contract, they are all summoned to Noirtier’s room where he asks Valentine to take a sheaf of papers from a secret drawer in his desk and give them to Franz. They detail the story telling that Franz’s father was Noirtier’s political opponent and that after a lot of complicated dynamics, Noirtier killed him in a duel. Franz immediately calls off the engagement (not that he really loved Valentine but this gives them both a good reason to get out of it), Villefort runs away in shame, and Valentine is thrilled to have her wedding canceled.
This revelation damns Villefort in the eyes of the law. Even though he’s done his best to distance himself from his father and keep him quietly locked away in the house where he can’t cause problems, he goes even farther with the marriage arrangements to align his name with the royalists. He doesn’t care about his family’s feelings, and does all of this only for his ambition. But with the secret out, Monte Cristo knowing his past affair and attempted filicide, and now having a poisoner in their midst, his reputation is in a precarious position. The Count’s influence in this all is very subtle – he does his detective work so he has information to leverage, and he talks about poisoning with Madame Villefort, but Noirtier and Valentine and Maximilian all act of their own free will.
By giving the Villeforts such a large subplot, Dumas shows that the Count is not all powerful, and the family is undoing itself from the inside out. We also see how loose threads start being tied together – Franz seemed like a tangent or side character when we first meet him in Italy, but his name plays an important part here. The conversation about poison was a Chekhov’s Gun. Even when managing such a large cast of characters, Dumas makes sure that all the details tie back into the endgame somehow, which makes the payoff all the more satisfying as you’re able to think ahead, make connections the characters don’t, as you’re privy to all the same information as the Count, and revel in the dramatic irony of it all.
The story takes a detour for three chapters to confirm that Albert’s engagement to Eugenie Danglars was called off in favor of Andrea Cavalcanti, fixing that problem. While visiting the Count, Albert also meets Haydee, but he doesn’t put two and two together yet that his father killed her father. Fernand storms over to the Danglars to demand an answer for why he called off the engagement, but the banker doesn’t answer the true reason. The next morning, an article appears in the newspaper that a man named Fernand betrayed a Greek revolutionary to the Turks, and while there isn’t anything but the common name connecting the article and the Morcef family, Albert is convinced it’s fabricated slander against his father. Monte Cristo begs him to show an ounce of self restraint, but the lecture doesn’t stop him from storming down to the newspaper office and ordering his friend Beauchamp to redact the article or else duel him for honor. Beauchamp didn’t even write the article, and he asks for 3 weeks to do some more investigation. This is included so that the Morcef plotline stays relevant and isn’t completely forgotten in the meantime, and breaks up the heavy mood. Its a good pacing choice to keep the flow of the story from dropping subplots, but then it’s back to the Villefort’s drama.
Now that the engagement between Valentine and Franz is called off, Noirtier’s servant, Barrois is sent to bring Maximilian so they can discuss plans about the future, including amending the will so Valentine can have her inheritance again. While they’re talking, Barrois takes a drink of the lemonade left for Noirtier, instantly falls sick, and dies in the same way that the grandmother did. They call the doctor, and he confirms there was brucine poison in the drink, meant to kill Noirtier, but it didn’t because he’s built up a tolerance by taking the small amount every day. He also concludes that Valentine is the murderer because she’s the sole heiress of all the victims so far. And it’s on this accusation and cliffhanger that Dumas leaves you to switch suplots again. This faster switching helps build up a sense of tension and suspense as things start coming to a head – the pacing speeds up as we approach the climax.
Caderousse’s Downfall: 82-84
Caderousse has been suspiciously quiet since accosting Andrea for 200 francs, and now he appears again, asking for even more. Andrea refuses at first, but divulges that he’s getting 5000 francs a month from the Count. He suspects that Monte Cristo is really his biological father, which is why he’s been so generous, and convinces Caderousse to go break into one of the Count’s other houses and find information, or else steal what money has been left there for himself. He promises that once he’s married to Eugenie Danglars, and the Count is out of the way, they’ll have more money than they could ever want. They agree on a time to meet there, and part ways.
In the meantime, the Count gets a tip from one of his spies warning him about the robbery, so he takes precautions to confront the thieves. He watches in hiding as one man crawls the the window, and one of his servants – a man called Ali – reports another hiding outside. He waits to see who the thieves are, and when he realizes it’s Caderousse, he takes the opportunity and changes into his Abbe Busoni costume to confront him. Edmond thought he already dealt with him by rewarding the diamond, and knows through Berttucio’s story that he’d been imprisoned for killing the jeweler to keep the prize and the money, and demands to know the rest of the story. Caderousse explains that an Englishman named Lord Wilmore (one of the Count’s other benevolent personas) sent a metal file to Benedetto when the two of them were in prison together, which allowed them to escape. Busoni pretends to be surprised at this and threatens to tell everyone the secret of Andrea’s past.
Caderousse realizes that if the priest does this, he’ll be incriminated too. He tries to stab Busoni – but the Count was still wearing his armor under the disguise and that doesn’t work. Instead, he forces Caderousse to write a letter to Danglars about Andrea’s past, then lets him escape through the window… back to where Benedetto has been waiting to kill him all along. He’s stabbed and injured but not dead yet, and Benedetto runs away when Busoni brings Caderousse back into the house. Now, Caderousse enthusiastically signs a statement naming his murderer, betraying the one who betrayed him. He’s dying on the table, cursing justice, the priest, his bad luck, blaming everyone but himself for his bad decisions, saying he doesn’t believe in God, and raving that Benedetto will escape. Busoni promises that no, he will also be punished, but Caderousse doesn’t believe this, so in his dying moments, Busoni takes off the disguise, piece by piece, and he finally recognizes Edmond for who he really is – the innocent boy he hadn’t spoken to save. His own cowardliness and indecision killed Edmond’s spirit in the Chateau d’If, and now they’ve killed him too. His last words are begging God for mercy, and then he dies.
The finality of this moment is one of the most intense moments in the book so far and marks the shift into the falling action. After a life of apathy for anything but his own life, on his deathbed, Edmond makes Caderousse finally believe in something. Throughout the book, the Count talks as if Edmond died so that he could exist, and buries the pain and betrayal under a God complex where he thinks of himself as divine providence and justice – it’s his role to punish and pardon – so there’s a double meaning when Caderousse recognizes the Christian God who will judge him in the afterlife, but also the hurt man under the disguises. He was given so many chances for mercy – first the diamond, then being sent the file to escape from prison, then the allowance from Andrea. At any point, he could have turned his life around, but the same vices that we see in his first chapter lead him to this moment, begging for one final mercy when it’s almost too late. It’s a raw and powerful scene that had me pacing, and now that the signed documents exist, the Count has everything he needs to knock over the shaky block tower that is the lives of the rest of the cast.
And that’s what I’ll cover in the next post! If you’re reading this, thank you so much for your patience with this series! I know this is a really long article but I’ve really enjoyed writing it and I hope you can learn something interesting from the analysis. Let me know what you think, and which character’s downfall you were looking forward to seeing most in the comments. Until next week!