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 toa 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…
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 impossibledue 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 toget 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 for14 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.
Welcome back to the summary! If you missed the last entry in this series, I’d recommend reading that first to catch up on the story. To recap the color coding, our protagonist, Edmond Dantes (aka the Count, Monte Cristo, Abbe Bussoni, Lord Wilmore, and Sinbad the Sailor) gets the default black color. His old love and fiancee, Mercedes, is pink. Her current husband, Fernand Mondego (aka The Count de Morcef), in red, accused Edmond of treason to get him out of the way, and is now wealthy after a military career in Greece. Edmond’s kindly employer and true friend, Monsieur Morrel, and the rest of the Morrel family including Maximilian and Julie are green. The greedy sailor who schemed to betray Edmond, now the rich banker Baron Danglars and his family members are blue. The cowardly and selfish neighbor who said nothing during the betrayal, Caderousse, gets yellow. And finally, Villefort, the prosecutor who sentenced Edmond to life in prison for his own political gain, as well as his family, get violet.
Hopefully that paragraph doesn’t hurt your eyes too much to read. Any new characters or plot elements will also fit into one of those colors to indicate a connection to the main ones. Also, I’ve figured out how to embed the original illustrations, so this should be a little more visually interesting than a wall of text this time. Let me know what you think!
Italy, Chapters 31 – 39
This section starts 10 years after the last events covered in part one, and in a completely different part of the Mediterranean with a completely different character: a young Parisian nobleman named Franz who lands on the island of Monte Cristo to go boar hunting. It’s supposed to be an abandoned scrap of rock, but instead, he finds there the crew of Sinbad the Sailor. Franz is blindfolded and taken to have dinner with Sinbad, who shows him an incredible display of wealth before drugging him and sending him on his way to Rome to meet up with his friend, Albert de Morcef – son of Fernand Mondego (aka the Count de Morcef) and Mercedes.
These two young men have arrived in Rome to celebrate Carnival and begin making their grand plans for adventure and fun. The hotel owner warns them about bandits in a long tangent telling the story of famous highwayman Luigi Vampa and his wife Teresa, but they don’t take him seriously and go to explore the Colosseum after dark. While there, in an incredible act of timing (or perhaps plot device), Franz overhears a conversation between the Count and Vampa arranging for one of their friends, a shepherd who helped the bandits, to be pardoned from execution. Vampa pledges his loyalty to the Count and makes his escape before anyone else notices, but Franz fails to mention any of this to Albert.
Later they’re attending the opera and Franz recognizes the Count again, accompanied by a lovely Greek woman, who we later learn is named Haydee. They gossip about him for a bit with a friend, joking that he might be a vampire, then go to make his acquaintance properly. The Count is generous to the boys, offering them a coach to attend the carnival in high society and inviting them to a public execution the next day. (though.. you could argue the “generosity” of that invitation.) There, they discuss justice, the Count is apathetic as the other criminal there is killed, and watch casually as the shepherd is pardoned.
Franz and Albert are just a little traumatized, but it doesn’t stop them from having a good time at Carnival! Albert spends three days flirting with a pretty girl in costume, who turns out to be Luigi Vampa’s girlfriend. (Oops.) He’s captured and a ransom is sent to Franz, who takes it to the Count to beg for help. the Count agrees and easily frees Albert, appealing to Vampa’s alliance and asking him not to murder his friend. Albert is overwhelmingly grateful and promises to introduce the Count to his high society connections in France.
This is the reader’s first “formal” introduction to The Count, not through any POV or introspection on his part, or through any of the other established characters, but through an impartial stranger who’s largely incidental to the main plot. Franz serves an important role of separately showing us the different adopted personas Edmond uses – Sinbad the Sailor when he’s acting eccentric or dealing with his smuggler and bandit friends, and The Count for when he needs to act in high society which is his main disguise for the next part of the book. Through this, we get the impression that he’s oddly interesting and equally terrifying with a deep dissatisfaction in human justice systems. There’s some very unsubtle discussion of revenge and the fact that the Count has a lot of connections and a lot of power and money to throw around to suit his needs. We start to understand just what kind of a threat he can be, before any of the characters who are going to be threatened are privy to this, and that builds a sense of dramatic irony, especially contrasted to Franz’s silliness and frivolity. This comes into full forefront in the next arc:
France, Twisted Backstory, 40 – 46
Next Dumas time skips to the day the Count is due to arrive at Albert’s house, and the scene opens on breakfast with guests. We’re introduced to a few of Albert’s friends: Lucien Debray, Beauchamp, Chateau Renauld, and Maximilian Morrel. When the Count arrives they share stories, including the bandit kidnapping misadventure and that Max once shaved Chaeau Renauld’s life on the anniversary of the day his father was saved from financial ruin. The Count attempts to appear standoffish and somber, as is his usual persona, but he can’t help but be fond of Max because of his humility, bravery, and loyalty to Monsieur Morrel.
After the other guests leave, Albert presents the Count to his mother and father as “the man who saved his life from bandits in Rome.” Fernand does not recognize Edmond and takes a liking to The Count of Monte Cristo. Mercedes instantly recognizes him and is conflicted – she’s terrified at what he’s become, but he also saved the life of her son, and doesn’t know what his return twenty-four years later means for her and her family. She doesn’t say anything, except for to warn Albert to be careful.
The Count has come to Paris to start punishing the people who hurt him, but his old love for Mercedes and the friendship with Maximilian Morrel make this situation much less straightforward. Will his old love for Mercedes spare her, or will he be more angry that she married Fernand, and take out his anger on the whole Morcef family? If he only targets Fernand, will that still indirectly hurt Albert and Mercedes and their friend Maximilian? He’s still pulling the strings, but you start to see just how twisted they are as you learn more about the families.
The next part gets messy. We then follow the Count as he buys a house that previously was owned by Villefort’s late first wife. He goes to visit it with one of his servants and friends, a man named Bertuccio, who’s frantic as they walk through the place. When asked for an explanation, Bertuccio explains that years ago, Villefort had condemned his brother to death, and he swore an oath of vengeance on the prosecutor. He waited around the house waiting for the perfect opportunity. One night, when Villefort left the house carrying a wooden box and a spade, Bertuccio jumped him from behind the trees, stabbed him, and stole the box, thinking it held treasure. It actually held a half smothered baby boy who he brings back to his sister-in-law to raise as her own. They name the child Benedetto, but he grows up cruel and sadistic, and at the age of 11 kills her and runs away from home.
In the meantime, Bertuccio needed money and turned to smuggling. On the run from authorities, he hid in a a loft behind an inn – the same inn owned by Caderousse and his wife. He witnessed the scene as they invited a jeweler to buy the diamond that Abbe Busoni gave them, and received a large sum of gold. A storm forced the jeweler to stay at the inn overnight, and seeing an opportunity, Caderousse kills the jeweler to keep the diamond and the gold, and murders his wife because she would turn him in, then fled with the treasures. Bertuccio was arrested, but the Abbe Busoni (who he did not know to be Edmond’s other disguise) freed him with instructions to find Monte Cristo, and he’s been in the Count’s service ever since.
By finding out the Count knows all of this anyhow because of the alternate persona playing a role in the story, it shows a really interesting aspectof Dumas’s writing. All of the exposition and twists are told through dialogue and monologues – we never get a long bit of introspection from Edmond’s point of view, but instead we see the dynamics he has with other characters he’s manipulating. Dumas was a playwright before writing TCOMC, and so the dialogue-heavy style of narration might be a holdover from that experience, and he uses this really effectivelyin the narrative so that exposition is delivered chapter by chapter to slowly tangle the story even further. Now we, the audience, knowthat somewhere out there is Villefort’s not-dead son, and that Caderousse is a murderer and thief on the runwhich are two potentially very valuable pieces of information. Keep an eye on that.
France, Setup and connections, Chapters 47-53
Once Monte Cristo has some helpful exposition and a house, it’s time to do what any self respecting nobleman would do and show off how STUPID rich he is, specifically to earn his way into the good graces of the Danglars family. First, he opens an unlimited line of credit with Dangars’s bank, then comes up with an elaborate scheme involving Madame Danglars’s panicky horses and saving the lives of Madame de Villefort, and her son Edward when they runaway. He revives the boy with a potent elixir, which catches his mother’s attention and admiration. Villefort himself visits Monte Cristo to thank him for the heroic act, and they discuss criminal justice and natural law. During this conversation, the Count says, “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.”
The theme here comes in a little heavy handed, but since none of the characters at this point recognize Edmond, it reads as the eccentric beliefs of an exotic nobleman. We see into the psychology of The Count of Monte Cristothrough his own exposition and actions. He orchestrates everything, from putting the Villefort’s lives in danger to saving them, for his own machinations and political gain, in a combination of a hero and god complex, where he believes himself to be above the law. This is disturbing to Villefort, who embodies the law in his role as public prosecutor but bends it for his own gain in the case of condemning Edmond to prison all those years ago. This immediately sets up a direct foil between old, honest Edmond, the manipulative Count he now is, and Villefort, who’s public role contrasts to his personal failings – in trying to kill and hide the child.
In the next chapter, Monte Cristo goes to visit his Greek slave, Haydee – who has 3 maids of her own and is treated like a queen in his household. He tells her she is free, to leave or to stay with him, and to do as she pleases, but she chooses to stay with him out of loyalty, since he saved her life once. The Count thanks her, and asks only that she not reveal her past to anyone in Paris. (for some reason, the book continues to refer to her as a slave after this, though it’s clear she has autonomy, so I’m not sure what Dumas’s reasoning was for this diction choice…).
Next stop is the Morrel family. Their house is happy, and they tell the Count about the red silk purse and the mysterious benefactor they never identified. He acts skeptical, suggesting the name of the English banker, but Maximilian says his father had a superstitious theory that it was Edmond’s ghost acting from beyond the grave all along. The Count is so touched by this that he leaves immediately. It’s the first time he shows any real emotion other than various intensities of anger since before his imprisonment and he can’t stand to be seen like this.
Maximilian shrugs off the odd behavior and goes to meet his secret love, Valentine de Villefort – the daughter of the prosecutor. She’s miserable because her father is distant and wants her to be married off to Franz, and her step-mother hates her. The only person who really understands the dysfunctional family dynamic is her grandfather, the old Bonaparte agitator Noirtier (we met him at the very beginning when Villefort first decided to condemn Edmond to prison to hide his ties to his father). He’s had a stroke, and can only communicate through blinking, and Valentine wants to run away with Max but can’t bear to leave him alone. Besides, Maximilian is too poor to be a good match for her and Villefort seems to hate the Morrel family (for their loyalty to Edmond).
The Count arrives soon after, which pulls Valentine away from their conversation in the gardens. Following her, the reader gets to see the ensuing conversation between the Count and Madame Villefort. They talk about toxicology of all things, as he reminds her that they’ve met before, once in Italy. Madame Villefort remembers that he had a reputation for being a great doctor, and peppers him with questions about different poisons and how he’s developed immunity to many of them (Iocane powder, perhaps?) He benevolently offers to send her a vial of the elixir he used to save her son after the runaway horse incident before taking his leave.
Besides the obligatory Princess Bride references, this series of scenes is interesting because it shows how differently the Count acts with his few trusted friends, like his servants, Haydee, and the Morells compared to the others. He tries to maintain an air of callous indifference in public, but he has a soft spot, and intends to protect the ones he cares about. We also have another tangle threaded into the situation of “who deserves revenge?” Dumas writes in the forbidden-love subplot with Maximilian and Valentine to add collateral damage. Much like the situation with Mercedes and Albert, as The Count tries to exact his revenge on Villefort, he runs the risk of hurting the innocents connected to the family. They challenge the Count’s dark worldview that humans are self-centered, and force him to change his plans to avoid letting them be caught in the crossfire. And even so, he’s only loading the traps, and the actual revenge is still long in coming. The building irony and suspense means that you keep turning pages, even as the chapters stretch on, because you want to know how this is all going to come full circle.
And that’s where I’ll leave off for this week. What do you think, and what have you learned so far? Let me know in the comments how you’re enjoying this.
Welcome to February and March’s reading reccomendation! In keeping with the outlining theme of the month, today I’m sharing a book with one of the most complex and interesting plots I’ve ever read. I listened to The Count of Monte Cristo audiobook last summer and it is now one of my favorite classics. There are several movie and TV adaptations that I haven’t seen, but I want to focus on the book to demonstrate how Alexandre Dumas handles a story that spans several decades and dozens of inter-character relationships. Its the sort of story that works really well because of the slow pacing of a book, rather than being constrained by an arbitrary time limit, and hopefully by dissecting it, we can learn a few things about how to do this sort of plot as well.
This book is 1243 pages, 117 chapters, and over 375K words long, so I’m splitting this post up into four parts and stretching it out over the next month. I wanted to make sure I had enough page time to give enough context and that’s the winning option from my polls. That being said, I think there’s a statue of limitations when it comes to spoilers in 177 year old books, so I’m going to prioritize the “what can writers learn” aspect of the analysis in this article. If you’d like to read more, SparkNotes has a great study guide, and the whole work is available for free download on Project Gutenburg. True to form, I’m also color coding this! Try to spot the themes as I explain the twisty plot points!
The Creation of the Count, Chapters 1-30
The story follows the life of Edmond Dantes, a young sailor who finds himself in command of his ship after the captain dies at sea with the mission to take a message from the island of Elba to Paris. He comes home to Marseille, France, where he has everthing a 19-year-old in 1815 could possibily want – a loving father, his beautiful and faithful fiancee Mercedes, and the promise of a promotion from the owner of the company, Monsieur Morrel.
Unfortunetly, he’s also got three jealous enemies who have alcohol aplenty and motive enough to make ruining Edomond’s life sound like a really great idea. Danglars is another sailor who wants to be captain, and he writes an anonymous tip with his left hand suspecting that Edmond is a traitor to the crown. For context, at this point in history, Napoleon Bonapart was the former emperor of France, but he had been overthrown and banished to Elba – the island Edmond stopped at on behalf of the late captain. Now, Edmond is going to Paris to deliver a message he knows nothing about, but chances are good it could contain Bonapartist sympathies and get him in a lot of trouble with the current monarchical government. It’s just plausible enough to land Edmond in jail, or at least, get him out of the way long enough for Danglars to sweep in and snatch the promotion to captain.
The second member of the conspiracy is Edmond’s greedy and selfish neighbor, Caderousse. He doesn’t paticularly like Edmond, but he also doesn’t want the poor kid to get killed either. At this point in the dinner, he’s too drunk to help with the scheme, and too drunk to properly protest it either. To keep him quiet, Danglars promises that he was “only joking”, mashes up the letter, and throws it into a corner – getting rid of the ploy but not actually destroying it.
That intentional choice allows the third member of the conspiracy, Fernand, to later pick up the letter and mail it to the guards. He’s in love with Mercedes, but she turned him down in favor of Edmond. He’s also her cousin (blegh) and can’t take no for an answer. He would just kill his competition and marry her anyway, but Mercedes promised to kill herself if he did anything to hurt her finace. Danglar’s scheming gives Fernand the perfect opportunity to get Edmond out of the way for his own gain too.
It’s worth noting that Edmond has only ever been polite to these three men . He’s not stupid, and knows they don’t like him, but he does his best to work with them and even give them gifts as a sign of peace. But the letter is sent anyhow and the poor guy is dragged off to Paris for trial by the royal guards in the middle of his betrothal feast. Caderousse says nothing in his defense, Danglars convinces Morrel to give him the position as captain, and Fernand goes to comfort and woo Mercedes, exploiting her pain for his gain.
Meanwhile in Paris, Edmond meets the prosecuter Gerard de Villefort, who is responsible for deciding his fate. At first, everything seems to be going well and Edmond is hoping for an aquittal, until Villefort learns that the letter he’s carrying is adressed a man namedNoirtier, his father, and a leader of the Bonapartist party. Afraid that the affiliation with a traitor could damage his own ambitious career, he sentences Edmond to a life sentence in the dungeon of the Chateau d’If and tells the king about the plot, earning a promotion for himself in the process.
In introducing the first of a very large cast of characters, Dumas helps make the important ones easily identifiable and memorable by giving them distinct motivations and personality traits. This helps avoid the writing equivelant of “same face syndrome” in art – even though we’re introduced to a dozen different players. This also sets up arcs for each character and their relationships as the story continues, with each character’s primary goal becoming an element of their downfall.
Jumping ahead.. some politicking happens, nobody tells poor Edmond what in the world is going on, and he nearly starves himself out of desperation and depression. Just before he actually dies, he makes a friend in prison who gives him hope and instructions on where to find buried treasure, and escapes 14 years later. Upon finding his wealth on the island of Monte Cristo, he creates a new persona for himself as The Count, befriends some smugglers with a few lies about his identity, and starts out to get some answers.
First, he disguises himself as an Italian priest called Abbe Busoni and finds the now impovershed Caderousse. He pretends that Edmond Dantes was bequeathed a large diamond while in prison, but died in his cell and wanted to have it divided amongst his “friends”. As the executor of the “will”, the Abbe says he wants to find the others: his father, Danglars, Fernand, and Mercedes. Caderousse feeling partially guilty and mostly greedy, tells of the whole plot to have Edmond imprisoned, and the Abbe gives him the whole diamond to keep as reward for his friendship. He also learns what happened to the others. Edmond’s father starved himself to death out of grief, cared for until the end by Mercedes and Morrel, who gave him a red silk purse of money, but is now on the verge of banktrupcy after several ships sunk. He’s now waiting for Edmond’s old ship to come into port, hoping it’ll be enough to save his family. In the meantime, Danglars resigned from his position as captian and began chasing money, becoming a wealthy banker and a baron. Fernand spent a tour in the military, fighting in Greece and earning a high rank before returning with a new (somewhat mysterious) fortune. After 18 months, Mercedes accepted that Edmond was probably dead, and gave into marrying Fernand.
Caderousse reflects that it seems the good are always punished, when the evil are rewarded – ironic considering his wishy-washy position between the two. Edmond, a good person who “died” to give way to the vengeful Count, intends to bring justice to the people who hurt him and to reward his friends. The other characters quickly start to fall into one of those two categories. But instead of diving off into parallel plots dealing with each friend or foe individually, their stories quickly intertwine, and add a new layer of complexity to the Count’s relationships with each family. Because I’m running out of colors, each family is going to get one color though.
After talking with Caderousse, Edmond goes to his home of Marsilles in a new disguise – pretending to be an Englishman named Lord Wilmore that has connections to Morrel’s bank. He visits the mayor to get information, buy up most of the shares in the shipping company (so now he owns Morrel’s debts), and in the process, learns how Villefort ordered him to be locked away for life, and confirms Caderousse’s story. He files this information away for later before going to visit Morrel, who is devastated after learning that his last ship has sunk. Lord Wilmore explains how he now holds the debts, gives the family another three months to pay them back, and as he leaves, pulls aside Morrel’s daughter, Julie, and makes her promsie to follow any instructions she receives from someone named “Sinbad the Sailor.”
Three months pass, and the family is still unable to pay back the debts. Morrel knows that if he cannot pay his debts, his children will be discredited both financially and dishonored, so he tells his son, Maximilian, that he plans to commit suicide on the day they are due, and let the insurance take care of the rest. Max tries to stop his father but ultimetly can’t do anything to change his mind. At the last moment, Julie recieves the lettter from Sinbad the Sailor with instructions to find a red silk purse – the same one Morrel gave to Edmond’s father all those years ago. It is filled with the debt notes, which have been paid, and a diamond for her dowry. Immedietly after, they get news that the ship, though sunk, has been exactly replaced with a new one, loaded with the same cargo, and sent back to Marseilles – saving the business, and Morrel. They rejoice over this anonymous benefactor, and Edmond quietly leaves Marseilles without revealing himself.
By completeing the setup of the story, we learn about Edmond’s new mindset and priorities in rewarding the people who were kind to him. His use of several different fake personas differentiates the benevolent Edmond from the vengeful Count of Monte Cristo, but the layers of secrecy obscure his true motivations from the people around him. We learn from the dialouge (especially in the Abbe persona) that he veiws himself as an agent of God’s justice, and how he will make sure everyone gets what’s coming to them eventually. At this point, the story takes a 10 year time jump, and the next arc focuses on the Count’s activities in Italy while on tour, so I will save that for the next post.
Thank you for your patience with this long analysis! It’s one I’ve wanted to do for a while and I hope you find it informative or at least interesting enough to keep reading. We’ll be back to the usual schedule for April. Have you read TCOMC before? What’s your best reccomendation for a story with a complex plot? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll see you next week!