Reading Rec: The Count of Monte Cristo Part 2

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.

*vine with the dog voice* MAY THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPEL YOU

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.

pensive and pretty

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.

This was too epic of an illustration to pass up, just LOOK at that dramatic lighting

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 aspect of 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 effectively in the narrative so that exposition is delivered chapter by chapter to slowly tangle the story even further. Now we, the audience, know that somewhere out there is Villefort’s not-dead son, and that Caderousse is a murderer and thief on the run which 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 Cristo through 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 face of a stressed out 19 year old has not changed in 200 years.

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.