Skip to Content

The Counte of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Edmond Dantès, a dashing 19-year-old sailor aboard the ship Pharaon, returns home to Marseille. He is excited to be reunited with his family and friends, and eager to marry his fiancée, the Catalan beauty Mercédès. He is also proud of his recent promotion to captain. At the same time, he is saddened by the recent death of his friend Captain Leclère, his predecessor. Captain Leclére, a supporter of the now exiled Napoléon, had charged Dantès on his deathbed to deliver a package to former Grand Marshal Maréchal Bertrand, who had been exiled to the isle of Elba. During the Pharaon's stop at Elba, Dantès spoke to Napoléon himself, who asked the sailor to deliver a confidential letter to a man in Paris. Edmond's good fortune inspires jealousy in those close to him. His promotion to captain offends the ship's purser, Danglars; his windfall stuns his neighbour, the impoverished tailor Caderousse; his relationship with Mercédès inspires the jealousy of her cousin Fernand Mondego, who wants Mercédès for his own. Danglars writes an anonymous letter to the crown prosecutor accusing Dantès of being a Bonapartist, that is, a traitor to the Royalists who are in power. Inflaming his jealousy, he instigates Fernand to send the letter, while Caderousse looks on in a drunken stupor, his slurred words goading on the others and revealing his true feelings of jealousy. Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor in Marseille, assumes the duty of investigating the matter on Dantès' wedding day and on the day of his own betrothal to Renee de Saint-Meran; he indeed finds an incriminating letter. Dantès knows nothing of its contents, only that he was asked to deliver it. Although at first sympathetic to Dantès' case, when Villefort questions Dantès as to where and to whom the letter was to be delivered, he discovers to his horror that it is addressed to his own father, Noirtier de Villefort, a well known Bonapartist. Due to the political climate created by the restoration of King Louis XVIII, Villefort wants to distance himself from his Bonapartist father. The deputy crown prosecutor burns the letter, which has the potential to fatally hinder his success. Although Villefort would rather not imprison an innocent man, he ultimately chooses to save his political career rather than properly exercise justice and condemns Dantès to life imprisonment in the island prison of the Château d'If, using his knowledge of the letter's contents to advance himself and his career at the court of Louis XVIII.

Escape to riches
While in prison, Edmond slowly sinks into despair and finally looks to God for salvation. After years of solitary confinement in a small, fetid dungeon, Dantès loses all hope and contemplates suicide by means of starving himself. His will to live is restored, however, by faint sounds of digging. Dantès soon begins his own tunnel to reach that of his fellow prisoner, the Abbé Faria, an Italian priest whose escape tunnel has strayed in the wrong direction. The two prisoners eventually connect and quickly become inseparable friends. The old man, a gifted scholar as well as a priest, provides Edmond with a comprehensive education in subjects including languages, history, economics, philosophy, and mathematics. Edmond also learns the manners of polite society, growing in confidence and sophistication. Aside from the lessons, the two discuss Edmond's betrayal and piece together the events that placed the young man in his brutal predicament. Both men continue to work assiduously on their tunnel, but the elderly and infirm Faria does not survive to see its completion. Knowing that he would soon die, Faria confides in Dantès the location of a great cache of treasure on the Italian islet of Monte Cristo. After his mentor dies, Dantès uses the opportunity to escape. He moves Faria's body into his own cell and then slips into Faria's body bag. To Dantès surprise, instead of carrying him to the burial ground, as he had expected, the prison guards attach a cannonball to Edmond's feet and throw him into the sea. Edmond plummets from the cliff side, crashing into the cold Mediterranean Sea. Remarkably, and with the help of a sailor's training, Dantès frees himself and swims toward a nearby island. A great storm rages, and Edmond is nearly drowned. The next day, Edmond discovers a shipwreck from the previous evening's storm. Cleverly, Dantès flags down a passing ship and pretends to be its sole survivor. He boards the new vessel and quickly realizes that his comrades are actually a group of smugglers. After months of gaining their trust and respect, Edmond suggests the isle of Monte Cristo as an ideal location to trade smuggled goods. Once on the islet, Edmond feigns an injury, asking to be left behind until the crew can return to pick him up. Although reluctant to leave Edmond, the crew departs. Dantès, alone on the island, is free to search for his hidden treasure. Edmond's sufferings have had a profound effect on him and even changed his physical appearance—to the extent that even his closest friends and former associates would not recognize him. Intellectually, his studies with the Abbé give him a much greater depth and breadth of knowledge, and his wealth grants him access to the highest levels of society. Perhaps the greatest change to Dantès is psychological. His betrayal by men whom he had trusted removes the naiveté of his idealistic youth and replaces it with the cynicism of bitter experience.

Nine years after his return to Marseille, Dantès puts into action his plan for revenge. He reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, a mysterious, fabulously rich aristocrat. He surfaces first in Rome, where he becomes acquainted with Franz d'Epinay, a young aristocrat, and Albert de Morcerf, Mercédès's and Mondego's son. He subsequently moves to Paris, where he becomes the sensation of the city. Due to his knowledge and rhetorical power, even his enemies find him charming, and because of his status, they all want to be his friend. Traveling in disguise under the alias of the Abbe Busoni, Monte Cristo first meets Caderousse, now living in poverty, supposedly being punished by God for his jealousy and cowardice in not acting to save Dantès. Playing on Caderousse's greed, Monte Cristo learns about what has happened since his arrest, and how his other enemies have all become wealthy and prosperous. Since Caderousse has already been punished to some extent, Monte Cristo gives him a diamond that can be either a chance to redeem himself, or a trap that will lead his greed to ruin him. Caderousse's greed leads him into murder, until Monte Cristo frees him and gives him another chance at redemption. He does not take it, and becomes a career criminal. Caderousse's greed is the death of him when he is murdered by a confederate—actually the illegitimate son of Villefort (see below) —while trying to rob Monte Cristo's house. Caderousse begs for Monte Cristo to give him another chance, but the Count refuses, grimly noting that the last two times he did so, Caderousse did not change his behavior. Monte Cristo then meets Danglars, who has become a banker. Monte Cristo dazzles him with his seemingly endless wealth, eventually persuades him to extend him 6,000,000 francs credit, and withdraws nine hundred thousand. Under the terms of the arrangement, Monte Cristo can demand access to the remainder of the six million francs (5,100,000 francs) at any time. The Count manipulates the bond market and quickly destroys a large portion of Danglars' fortune, and the rest of it begins to rapidly disappear. Monte Cristo owns a Greek slave, Haydée. Her noble father, Ali Pasha, the ruler of Janina, had implicitly trusted Fernand, only to be betrayed by him in a war. After his death, she and her mother were sold into slavery. The Count manipulates Danglars into researching the event, which is published in a newspaper. As a result, Fernand is brought to trial for his crimes. Haydée testifies against him, and Fernand is disgraced.

Mercédès had married Fernand and borne him a son, Albert. She alone recognizes Monte Cristo. When Albert blames Monte Cristo for his father's downfall and publicly challenges him to a duel, she goes secretly to Monte Cristo and begs him to spare her son. During this interview, she learns the entire truth about why Edmond Dantès had been arrested and imprisoned, and later to save both Monte Cristo and Albert reveals the truth to Albert, which causes Albert to make a public apology to Monte Cristo. Albert and Mercédès disown Fernand, who subsequently commits suicide. The mother and son depart to build a new life free of disgrace, he to Africa as a soldier to rebuild his life and honor under a new family name Herrera given to him by his mother, and she to a solitary life back in Marseille. Last to feel Monte Cristo's vengeance is Villefort. Villefort's family is divided. Valentine, his daughter by his first wife, stands to inherit the entire fortune of her grandfather and of her mother's parents (the Saint-Mérans), while his second wife, Héloïse, seeks the fortune for her small son Edward. Monte Cristo is aware of Héloïse's intentions, and "innocently" introduces her to the technique of poison. Héloïse fatally poisons the Saint-Mérans, so that Valentine gets their inheritance. Then she attempts to murder Valentine's grandfather, Nortier, but his servant accidentally drinks the poisonous draught and dies. Nortier is coincidentally saved from a second attempt when he disinherits Valentine as a ploy to stop Villefort from forcing Valentine to marry Franz d'Epinay. Héloïse then targets Valentine, so that Edward would get her fortune. Meanwhile, Monte Cristo haunts Villefort with his past affair with Danglars' wife and the son they had. Years before, Mme. Danglars bore a child by Villefort, at a house in Auteuil. Villefort had buried the child, thinking it was stillborn. However, the boy was rescued from his grave and raised by Bertuccio, an enemy of Villefort who attempted to kill the judge on the night of his child's birth. Monte Cristo, whom Bertuccio now serves as a paid servant and who now owns the house in Auteuil, is able to use them against Villefort. As a grown man, the son enters Paris in disguise as Prince Andrea Cavalcanti (sponsored by the Count) and cons Danglars into betrothing his daughter. Caderousse blackmails Andrea, threatening to reveal his past, and Andrea murders Caderousse. Andrea is arrested and about to be prosecuted by Villefort.

After Monte Cristo learns that his old friend Morrel's son is in love with Valentine, he saves her by making it appear as though Héloïse's plan to poison Valentine has succeeded and that Valentine is dead (although actually in a drugged sleep caused by a mixture of hashish and opium prepared by Monte Cristo). Villefort learns from Noirtier that Héloïse is a murderer. Villefort confronts Héloïse, giving her the choice of a public execution or committing suicide by poison. Then he goes off to Andrea's trial. There, Andrea reveals that he is Villefort's son, and rescued after Villefort buried him alive. Villefort admits his guilt and flees the court. He feels he is as guilty as his wife, and rushes home to stop her suicide. He finds she has poisoned herself and "taken her son with her." Dantès confronts Villefort. Villefort shows Dantès his dead wife and son, and becomes insane. Dantès tries to resuscitate Edward, fails, and is remorseful that his revenge has gone too far.

Matters, however, are more complicated than Dantès had anticipated. His efforts to destroy his enemies and reward the few who had stood by him become horribly intertwined. Not having foreseen the child's death, Dantès begins to question his role as an agent of a vengeful God. This temporarily deters him from his course of action. During this period of doubt, he questions himself. Dantès comes to terms with his own humanity and is finally able to forgive both his enemies and himself. It is only when he is sure that his cause is just and his conscience is clear, that he can fulfill his plan. It is thus that Dantes shows some mercy to Danglars, his final victim and the instigator of the plot that had him imprisoned to begin with. Several months after the Count's manipulation of the bond market, all Danglars is left with is a good reputation and some five million francs. The Count asks for the five million to fulfill their credit agreement. Danglars is forced to pay the money, but he then proceeds to embezzle five million francs from the hospitals, and flees to Rome to live in anonymous prosperity. On the way, he is kidnapped by the Count's agent, the celebrated bandit Luigi Vampa. There, in an ironic twist, Danglars is imprisoned the same way that Monte Cristo once was, and experiences for himself the horrors of imprisonment. Told that he will not be fed unless he is paid, the miserly Danglars is starved into giving up all but 50,000 francs, which Monte Cristo has returned to the hospitals. Nearly driven mad by his ordeal, Danglars finally repents his crimes to Monte Cristo. His vengeance now tempered by mercy, Monte Cristo forgives Danglars, and allows him to leave with his freedom and the 50,000 francs he has left. Maximilien Morrel is distraught because he believes his true love, Valentine, to be dead. He contemplates suicide after witnessing her funeral. Monte Cristo reveals himself to be the person who rescued Mr. Morrel from suicide years earlier. Maximilien is grateful and is persuaded by Monte Cristo to delay his suicide for a month. A month later, on the island of Monte Cristo, the count presents Valentine to Maximilien and reveals that he saved her from the poison attempt. Monte Cristo then leaves the island and sends his friend Jacopo to deliver a letter to them which reveals that he has bequeathed the Monte Cristo island and his Paris mansions to Maximilien. Haydée offers Edmond (Monte Cristo) a new love and life.


The complete text is available here.

book | by Dr. Radut