Welcome to the last part of this series and the thrilling conclusion of the book! If you happen to be reading this in the future and missed the first three parts, I’ll leave links to those here so you can catch up: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Obviously if you don’t want to see how the book ends, avoid this part for the sake of spoilers. I also wanted to put a trigger warning at the beginning of this one for suicide. It’s been mentioned before in the book, but one actually does occur in this part, so steer clear if that’ll be troubling for you. Stay safe, my friends!
When we last left off, the pieces were in place, the secrets known and ready for release, and the undoings begun! The coward Caderousse was murdered by Benedetto – Villefort and Madame Danglar’s illegitimate son, now masquerading as an Italian nobleman named Andrea Cavalcanti thanks to the Count’s patronage. Danglars is teetering on financial ruin after losing a million francs in the stock market, so he’s set up a marriage between his daughter Eugenie and Andrea to get his money. Noirtier’s Bonapartist political affiliations ruined an unwanted arranged marriage between Valentine and Franz, and potentially his son’s Royalist political career, but instead of now being free to marry her true love Maximilian Morrel, she’s been framed as a poisoner. Meanwhile, the Count still can’t figure out his feelings for Mercedes, and news about Fernand de Morcerf’s military scandal in Greece was leaked to a local newspaper. Though it was missing any connection to the family name, Albert was still concerned, and asked his friend Beauchamp to investigate.
The Morcef Mess, Chapters 85-93
This chapter opens with Beauchamp arriving at Albert’s home to tell him the bad news that he has solid proof of his father’s crimes in Greece. Because the original story didn’t have a direct link to the Morcerf family however, this news can still be suppressed, and Beauchamp promises no to release it because of his friendship with Albert. He thanks his friend and visits with the Count for a vacation at the beach. Three days later however, the story is published in a rival newspaper linking Morcerf with the whole scandal and Albert rushes back to Paris to do damage control and hear the whole story. Fernand belonged to the government Chamber, and after the news got out, they ordered a trial and extensive investigation into the betrayal. At the trial, Haydee appeared and testified to the murder, as well as how Fernand sold herself and her mother into slavery and presenting evidence in the form of the selling/buying contracts from Monte Cristo.
Albert realizes that the Count must have known this whole time while pretending to be their friend, so he rushes off to challenge Monte Cristo to a duel. He’s ashamed of his father’s actions, but he’s determined to protect his family’s honor. The Count has decided not to take any visitors today though, so Albert just has to wait until that night when he’ll be at the Opera. He asks Franz, Debray, and Maximilian to meet him at the opera and storms home where he asks his mother what the Count has against his father. Mercedes begs Albert not to pick a fight with Monte Cristo because he’s not their enemy, but he doesn’t listen. That night at the opera, he public ally insults the Count and challenges him to a duel the next morning at 8:00. The Count casually accepts, and asks Maximilian and Emmanuel (his brother-in-law) to be his seconds at the duel, which they agree even though they’re torn between their alliances.
Just as Maximilian and Emmanuel are conflicted over how to approach this duel, so is the reader and the Count at this point, despite his outward coolness. When he first met Albert in Italy, Edmond didn’t trust him because he was Fernand’s son, but over the course of the story, they’ve grown close. Albert is admirably loyal to his mother, a good friend, and overall noble man, so he shouldn’t be held accountable for his father’s wrongdoings, but he’s also trying to kill Edmond and get in the way of the justice that Fernand deserves. In the end, Edmond’s willing to kill him, though he pities Albert and feels bad about it. As a reader, we’ve grown to like, or at least have a begrudging respect for, both Albert and the Count. Neither is the villain here, and this duel is going to be tragic and messy no matter which way it goes.
And that’s when Mercedes takes action. She desperately confronts Monte Cristo and begs him not to kill her son. When he shows her the false accusation from all those years ago, he speaks as if killing Albert is just a matter-of-fact part of his plan. But then she calls Edmond by his true name. She declares that she’s always loved him, and thought him dead, and only married Fernand because she really had no other choice. She appeals that he only take out his revenge on the one who deserves it. She reaches past the 20+ years of pain and anger to the just and honest man he used to be, and pulls him out again. Edmond swears he will pardon Albert’s life, but since he still has to show up at the duel, he’ll let himself be killed instead. He’s prepared to die for Mercedes.
When he arrives at the duel the next day, Albert refuses to draw his pistol. He apologizes to Edmond, and explains that Mercedes told him the whole story last night after she returned from visiting the Count, and he understands everything now. They reconcile, and Albert returns home to his mother. Together, they pack up their things and leave Fernand, instead returning to Mercedes and Dantes old home in Marseilles where Edmond leaves them the money he’d intended to give her at their marriage. Monte Cristo goes home to Haydee, who’s thrilled to see him return alive and safe, and now that he’s put the past (mostly) behind him, he starts to recognize her affection and realize that he might love her too, one day.
Then, Fernand arrives, furious at Albert’s refusal to follow through on the duel. His career is ruined, he’s lost his family, and he demands to know who the Count really is with a dueling challenge of his own. The Count retreats to his rooms for a moment to “make preparations,” and returns wearing his old sailor’s uniform. That’s when Fernand finally recognizes Edmond, and realizes what he’s done. He flees back to his home, finds it empty, and in despair, commits suicide.
Mercedes cuts to the heart of the lies that Edmond has been telling himself the whole book. He believes that she became a greedy aristocrat just like the rest, but she’s the only one smart enough to see through his acts, and noble enough to forgive him for everything he’s done and persuade Albert to save his life in return. Mercedes never became the “Countess de Morcef.” She’s always been herself, and her son has always been innocent. Justice does triumph here, maybe not in the way the Count of Monte Cristo expected, but in the end, evil is punished and good is freed. That doesn’t mean the Count is done with the revenge though, and the next several chapters are split between the Villefort and Danglars stories, which at this point, have become so intertwined it’s somewhat impossible to separate…
The Last Days in Paris, Chapters 94-111
After the duel, Maximilian leaves to go see Valentine and Noitier. While he’s visiting, Valentine complains that she doesn’t feel good and that all the drinks taste bitter. Madame Danglars and Eugenie arrive to announce her marriage to Andrea Cavalcanti in one week, despite the bride’s obvious frustration with the arrangement. She’d much rather live as an independent artist and earn money by playing music with her good friend Louise. Valentine sympathizes, having just got out of an unwanted engagement herself, but in the span of the conversation Valentine starts to feel more sick and excuses herself. By the time she gets back to Maximilian and her grandfather, she goes unconscious.
Maximilian rushes to Monte Cristo’s home to beg for help, and while he’s indifferent to Valentine at first, he obliges to help because of his friendship with the Morrel family, and feeling sympathy for the pain of losing his love. The story jumps back over to the Villefort home where Noirtier confirms with the doctor that she was poisoned by brucine, just like the others, which means she couldn’t be the poisoner. The only reason she hasn’t died is because her grandfather was secretly slipping tiny amounts of it into her drinks to give her some degree of immunity to it, expecting she would be targeted next. As the doctor leaves Noirtier to go back to Valentine’s rooms, he passes Villefort talking to an Italian priest by the name of Abbe Busoni, who wants to rent the house next door to his home.
The next chapter shows us a scene from earlier that day, when Eugenie confronts her father and refuses to marry Andrea because she doesn’t love him and doesn’t want to be attached to a husband. He’s desperate for the three million francs that they’d get out of the marriage contract to restore his credit, and tells his daughter everything. She begrudgingly agrees to the arrangement under the agreement that her father only tout the money and not actually spend any of it, and Danglars doesn’t really care what it takes as long as she’s willing to sign the contract. Three days later, they’re throwing a huge part to celebrate the marriage when Monte Cristo arrives and gives Danglars the letters written and signed by Caderousse just before his death. Moments later, armed guards burst in to arrest the imposter Benedetto, only to find that “Andrea” ran away when he heard the accusation. The guests are scandalized and leave, and Danglars retreats to his rooms to do damage control.
Eugenie rushes to her rooms where Louise is waiting. They decide to take advantage of the chaos, so Eugenie cuts her hair and puts on men’s clothes to pretend to be Louise’s brother, then they pack up to run away to Italy together. They get out of Paris and rent a room in an inn overnight. Meanwhile, Benedetto had the same idea, but the next morning, the guards have tracked him to the hotel and surrounded it. he tries to escape through the chimney and go back down another to get out through a different room… only to run into the girls, who sound the alarm. Benedetto is arrested, and the girls get away again. Back in Paris, Madame Danglars realizes that her social standing is going to be ruined if the Cavalcanti case goes to court, so she goes to Villefort and begs him not to pursue the case as a favor to her. He refuses, since he’s the prosecutor and takes his job seriously, he isn’t one to do personal favors or dispense mercy.
At the Villefort home, Valentine has been sick in bed for four days. That night, she sees Monte Cristo in her room, and he tells her that he’s been changing out the poison in her glass for medicine the last four nights. He tells her to pretend to sleep and wait to see who the poisoner really is before hiding again, and when Madame Villefort comes in later, they both see her dumping the poison into the glass. Valentine is devastated and doesn’t understand why her step-mother hates them all so much, until the Count explains that she wants the inheritances to go to her own son, Edward. Valentine is honestly too emotionally spent over the last few weeks that she can’t be angry or betrayed, instead she’s mostly just sad that her little brother doesn’t understand that the crimes that are tearing their family apart are happening in his name. Monte Cristo gives her medicine and encouragement that he’ll find a way to denounce the murders.
While the setup of Benedetto as Andrea and Danglar’s financial demise were all carefully played parts of Monte Cristo’s plan, getting involved with saving Valentine really was not. Much like he’d been willing to punish Albert at first as part of his revenge for his father’s crimes, The Count didn’t care before if Valentine and Edmond were hurt in the undoing of the Villefort family. But now, he’s starting to understand that the children are innocent despite their parent’s crimes, and Maximilian’s love for Valentine acts very similar plot-wise to Mercedes’s intercession on Albert’s behalf. That parallel pushes Edmond to act again, this time using his powers of organizing justice to save someone who doesn’t deserve this pain.
While Benedetto is waiting in prison, Bertuccio visits his wayward adopted son. He’s baffled by Benedetto’s confidence and calm, and when he asks why, Benedetto explains that he’s sure the Count is his real biological father and that he’ll come around to save him. After all, why else would such a powerful rich man take interest in an arsonist murder child from backwater Italy? Bertuccio scoffs, and tells him the truth, but the chapter cuts off before we see Benedetto’s reaction to the news.
Villefort, trying to get some distance from the disaster that is his home life, throws himself into his work of putting together a case against Benedetto and his crimes. On his way to the trial, he confronts his wife, accuses her for the poisonings, and tells her that instead of shaming her house further, she should poison herself before he gets home. Otherwise, he’ll publicly expose her to the authorities and have her executed too. With that damning order, he storms off to the courthouse for the trial, which has become an event with all the fashionable Parisians interested in the scandal attending. There, Benedetto publicly testifies against Villefort for his affair and trying to murder his child. Faced with the skeletons in his own closet, he doesn’t even let the court ask for proof, realizes he’s a complete hypocrite for telling his wife to kill herself, pleads guilty on the spot, and rushes home to try and prevent disaster. But he’s too late. He was unwilling to spare mercy for the Danglars by not trying Benedetto, or spare mercy for his wife or spare mercy for the innocent Edmond Dantes, all for the sake of promoting his own career, and then when he’s confronted with his own crimes, there’s no mercy for him. He arrives to find his wife and innocent son dead.
Uable to bear the loss, he runs to find Noirtier, who he finds with Abbe Busoni. Villefort starts to interrogate the priest, about what he’s doing in the house, but Edmond takes of the disguise and triumphantly reveals himself as the one behind it all. Villefort, enraged and horrified, drags him back to little Edward’s corpse, asking, “see, are you well avenged?”
Edmond is horrified. He never meant for the boy to die. Maximilian and Valentine were innocents and he saved them, but he never expected Edward’s own mother to poison him after killing everyone else for his sake. He tries to revive the boy with his elixir, but he’s too late. He tries to go back to Villefort to comfort him and explain that at least Valentine is not dead, but he’s gone insane. Edmond finds the distinguished prosecutor, shovel in hand, kneeling in the garden, frantically tearing up chunks of grass trying to find the box he’d buried with his first son – Benedetto. Now, unable to do anything else, Edmond sends word to Maximilian to tell him they’re leaving Paris tomorrow.
Because saving Valentine and Maximilian wasn’t part of his plan at first, Edmond was rushing to collect information and trying to act quickly without having everything in place beforehand. The Count planned everything else over 10 years in advance, and these events happened in a few days by comparison. It’s suspenseful and dramatic, a twist that the readers saw coming as the story got more twisted, but that even the seemingly all-knowing Edmond Dantes didn’t see because he wasn’t privy to a 3rd person POV this whole time. Even for all his wealth and power, Edmond is still just human. He’s allowed to mess up and to try to fix his mistakes. His actions hurt the wrong people, and he’s forced to re-evaluate his position in the story. Up until now he’s been acting as “justice” – the hand of God – but what just happened isn’t justice. So now where does he go from here? Dumas really shows his mastermind here, and this is why I think the plotting in this book is so impressive. Not only is the writing leading up to this point incredible, it’s also genuinely heartbreaking. I had to put the phone down and take a few paces around the lab when I first read this.
Marseilles and the Isle of Monte Cristo
At this point, the Count hasn’t told Maximilian that Valentine is actually alive. With all of the Villeforts’ drama, he never got the full story either. He’s deeply depressed and says to goodbye to his sister Julie and her husband Emmanuel, who ask The Count to resrore him to happiness. Then, Maximilian then leaves for Marseilles with Edmond. There, they see Albert leaving to join the military and go make a name for the Morcefs with honor. Maximilian goes to visit his father’s grave and Monte Cristo visits Mercedes, who’s distraught over Albert leaving. Edmond promises that he will help Albert in any way he can, but they’re not the young lovers they were anymore, and too much pain lies between them to be together now. Merecedes makes him swear though, that they will be together in heaven – begging the Count to save his soul – and he promises.
Next, the Count visits the Chateau d’If where he’d been imprisoned, and bribes a guard to show him his old cell. The guard gives him the last of the possessions owned by his old friend, Abbe Faria, and with that closure, he leaves to find Maximilian. He’s still at the graveyard – grieving his father, and Valentine, without any reason to go forward with life. Edmond tries to reassure him that there is still hope from his own experience, but Maximilian is too upset. He plans to take his life, but Edmond begs him to wait for one month, and on the 5th of October, if no hope can be found, then he’ll help Maximilian have an easy death. He tells Max to meet him on the island of Monte Cristo while he takes care of some business in Italy.
The biggest question here is why the Count doesn’t just tell Maximilian that Valentine is ok right there, which could avoid a Romeo and Juliet tragic situation. This isn’t answered for some time in the book but there are a few implications in the subtext. The Count is doing his best to help both of them, but he still doesn’t know if he can pull off all his schemes after what happened to Edward, so he’s creating somewhat of a safety net by not revealing everything yet. He’s not actively suppressing the authentic Edmond anymore, but he’s still the scheming Count who wants to be sure everything goes according to plan. The scene with the prison also takes us back to when Edmond was suicidal in prison, only a few days from starvation when his friend saved him by bringing new hope. He understands what Maximilian is going through, and instead of being falsely positive and telling him to cheer up, Edmond lets him grieve and process, and buys him time. With that promise to hold on for another month secured, he’s free to go finish his own work.
We haven’t seen Danglars since the Benedetto crisis at his party, and now we check in on him again. His bank is ruined, he has no credit, his name is discredited, his wife and daughter are gone, and all the money he has left is the note from the Count for five million francs at the firm of Thomas and French. So he runs away, with plans to get his life back together in Italy, instead of paying off his debts. He’s traveling through Rome by carriage when he’s attacked by bandits, who were tipped off by a man named Peppino about the large sum of money he’d be carrying. It turns out to be the same band of bandits who kidnapped Albert and swear allegiance to the Count, led by Luigi Vampa. They put him in a cell for ransom, but Danglars remembers the stories and figures that they couldn’t possibly charge more than five million francs for him. He goes to sleep, reasonably assured of himself that this will all work out just fine, but the next day, no one comes for him.
Danglars is starving at this point, and asks for some food, at which point Vampa helpfully informs him that he can order whatever he wants at a price of 100,000 francs per meal or drink. Danglars is outraged at the idea of giving up so much money, but he needs to eat, so he pays. This goes on for a couple of weeks, until he’s desperate and almost out of money, and he begs for mercy. A voice from outside his cell asks him if he repents. The cell is opened, and Edmond Dantes forgives him. He orders Vampa to give Danglars however much food he wants, and leaves him with the 50,000 of the 5,000,000 francs to continue living, having hopefully learned his lesson.
Of all the conspirators at the beginning, Danglars might take the most blame for all of Edmond’s suffering. Without the accusation he wrote, Fernand would never have thought to denounce him, Caderousse would be too conflict-adverse to do much more than complain, Villefort would never sentence him to prison. He was cruel to his wife and daughter, stole from the needy, and tried to take advantage of Andrea for his own gain. He deserves to be punished as much as the others, but for the first time, moved by the disaster with the Villefort family and the pain it’s causing Maximilian, the Count shows mercy. He forgives, because he hopes to be forgiven. Justice requires that Danglars learn a lesson, but hope means that he is spared.
On top of masterfully wrapping up that character arc, Dumas brings the bandits back! I was not expecting that when I first read this book – I’m used to the 19th century trend of long irrelevant tangents, but he worked in even that loose plot thread from over 50 chapters ago. That’s some truly impressive organization. With that baggage nicely tied up behind him, Edmond leaves Italy and Danglars behind him to return to the island of Monte Cristo.
On October 5th, Monte Cristo makes it back to his home where he finds Maximilian waiting for him. He tries to talk his friend out of suicide again, showing him the wonders of his palace carved out of the mountain, telling him about all the wonderful things there are left to see in the world, and offering all of his riches. Maximilian refuses since he does not know what to do without his love. . Edmond says he will honor his promise, and gives him a vial of green liquid, which he takes, assuming it’s a fast acting poison. In reality, it is a sleeping potion. Edmond brings Valentine into the room so that she’ll be there when he wakes up.
Before he leaves, he asks her to take care of Haydee because she’ll be alone. Haydee, who’d been keeping Valentine company in the meantime, is upset and asks what he means. Edmond explains his plan to restore her to being a princess in Greece, then to leave so she can be happy without being tied up in his mess, but she declares that she’d rather die than be alone without him. He’s surprised by this, but also touched and happy to have a fresh start, so he hugs her and promises to bring her with him on their new adventures. Together, they sail off into the sunset, leaving the couple with all the riches they could want as a wedding present. In his letter, he explains everything, including why he didn’t tell Maximilian the truth, and leaves them with a last piece of advice. He writes…
There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living. “Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words,—‘Wait and hope.’
With that moral, Dumas finishes this epic. After fourteen years of prison, ten years of waiting, and the last year of reckoning, Edmond Dantes stops playing God and is finally able to put the past behind him and move onto a new life where he will be happy. All the loose plot threads are tied in, each being used for more than one purpose by the end of the story, and while it’s not necessarily a happy ending, it is a satisfying, bittersweet, hopeful one that leaves you thinking past the last page.
If you made it to the end of this series you have my undying respect and appreciation. Since I chose a STEM major, I don’t often have the chance to analyze my favorite books – the reading recommendations are self-indulgent enough as is, without making a stand alone book take over a month to complete. I promise I won’t be so long winded next time, and I hope you enjoyed this while it lasted! I learned a lot from reading this book, and more from analyzing it, so I hope I’ve effectively combined those two experiences into something digestible and useful for my readers. Please let me know what you think in the comments! Next week I’ll be moving back to my own writing with a new WIP introduction! If you want to hear about Runaways, stick around for that. Thank you again as always for reading, and take care!