Alexandre Dumas was born in 1802 in the village of Villers-Cotterets, fifty miles northeast of Paris. His father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, had been a general under Napoleon, though in 1799 the two men had a falling out and never reconciled. Thomas-Alexandre never received the pay due to him as a former officer, so his family was left poor. In 1806 the elder Dumas died, and his wife and two children struggled to keep afloat. Despite the problems that Napoleon caused to the Dumas family, Alexandre remained a lifelong admirer of the former emperor.
Indeed, there are strong democratic leanings evident in Dumas’s literary works. The younger Dumas was not a good student, but he had excellent handwriting. When he moved to Paris in 1823, hoping to make his fortune as an author, his lovely handwriting earned him a job as a minor clerk. Dumas spent six years as a clerk, during which time he wrote plays, conducted torrid love affairs, and lived beyond his means, until, in 1829, he had his first dramatic success, with Henry III and His Court.
This play thrust Dumas into the limelight as one of the forerunners of the emergent French Romantic movement, which emphasized excitement, adventure, and high emotion in an attempt to rebel against the conservative climate of the Restoration period that followed the French Revolution. Like his Romantic colleagues, Dumas believed in the principles of social equality and individual rights, and he tried to infuse his dramatic works with these principles. Dumas went further than writing about his beliefs, however.
He took an active role in the Revolution of 1830, helping to capture a powder magazine at Soissons, and he was appointed organizer of the National Guard at Vendee. Encountering strong local opposition, Dumas gave up the position, refusing to act against the wishes of the majority. Returning to the literary community of Paris, Dumas continued to write popular plays, sticking to historical works that he filled with melodrama. He also began to write travel literature, which led to a walking tour of southern France in 1834 (a tour that would later be put to use in The Count of Monte Cristo).
In the late 1830s, Dumas began writing novels, as much for financial gain as for artistic reasons. It had become common for cheap newspapers to run novels in serial form, and if a writer was adept at writing quickly and melodramatically, as Dumas was, the financial incentives were enormous. Dumas was so good at this sort of writing that he sometimes had three or four serial novels running simultaneously. His writing soon made him the most famous Frenchman of his day, and he gained renown throughout the Western world.
In 1844, the same year he published The Three Musketeers, Dumas began the serialization of The Count of Monte Cristo. He continued writing prolifically for most of his life, publishing his last novel, The Prussian Terror, in 1867, three years before his death. Dumas also found the time to live like one of his dashing, dramatic, reckless heroes. He was constantly engaged in love affairs, foreign adventures, and exorbitant spending. He was also a generous man, granting money and gifts to virtually anyone who asked. Dumas’s self-indulgent lifestyle and excessive generosity eventually took a toll on his finances.
By the time he suffered a stroke in 1870, he was far from a rich man, despite the fact that he had earned millions of dollars in his lifetime. He died in December 1870 at the home of his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas the younger. 2. FORM/STRUCTURE, PLOT: A t the age of nineteen, Edmond Dantes seems to have the perfect life. He is about to become the captain of a ship, he is engaged to a beautiful and kind young woman, Mercedes, and he is well liked by almost everyone who knows him. This perfect life, however, stirs up dangerous jealousy among some of Dantes’s so-called friends.
Danglars, the treasurer of Dantes’s ship, envies Dantes’s early career success; Fernand Mondego is in love with Dantes’s fiancee and so covets his amorous success; his neighbor Caderousse is simply envious that Dantes is so much luckier in life than he is. Together, these three men draft a letter accusing Dantes of treason. There is some truth to their accusations: as a favor to his recently deceased captain, Dantes is carrying a letter from Napoleon to a group of Bonapartist sympathizers in Paris. Though Dantes himself has no political leanings, the undertaking is enough to implicate him for treason.
On the day of his wedding, Dantes is arrested for his alleged crimes. The deputy public prosecutor, Villefort, sees through the plot to frame Dantes and is prepared to set him free. At the last moment, though, Dantes jeopardizes his freedom by revealing the name of the man to whom he is supposed to deliver Napoleon’s letter. The man, Noirtier, is Villefort’s father. Terrified that any public knowledge of his father’s treasonous activities will thwart his own ambitions, Villefort decides to send Dantes to prison for life.
Despite the entreaties of Monsieur Morrel, Dantes’s kind and honest boss, Dantes is sent to the infamous Chateau d’If, where the most dangerous political prisoners are kept. While in prison, Dantes meets Abbe Faria, an Italian priest and intellectual, who has been jailed for his political views. Faria teaches Dantes history, science, philosophy, and languages, turning him into a well-educated man. Faria also bequeaths to Dantes a large treasure hidden on the island of Monte Cristo, and he tells him how to find it should he ever escape.
When Faria dies, Dantes hides himself in the abbe’s shroud, thinking that he will be buried and then dig his way out. Instead, Dantes is thrown into the sea, and is able to cut himself loose and swim to freedom. Dantes travels to Monte Cristo and finds Faria’s enormous treasure. He considers his fortune a gift from God, given to him for the sole purpose of rewarding those who have tried to help him and, more important, punishing those who have hurt him. Disguising himself as an Italian priest who answers to the name of Abbe Busoni, he travels back to Marseilles and visits Caderousse, who is now struggling to make a living as an innkeeper.
From Caderousse he learns the details of the plot to frame him. In addition, Dantes learns that his father has died of grief in his absence and that Mercedes has married Fernand Mondego. Most frustrating, he learns that both Danglars and Mondego have become rich and powerful and are living happily in Paris. As a reward for this information, and for Caderousse’s apparent regret over the part he played in Dantes’s downfall, Dantes gives Caderousse a valuable diamond. Before leaving Marseilles, Dantes anonymously saves Morrel from financial ruin. Ten years later, Dantes emerges in Rome, calling himself the Count of Monte Cristo.
He seems to be all knowing and unstoppable. In Rome Dantes ingratiates himself to Albert de Morcerf, son of Fernand Mondego and Mercedes, by saving him from bandits. In return for the favor, Albert introduces Dantes to Parisian society. None of his old cohorts recognize the mysterious count as Edmond Dantes, though Mercedes does. Dantes is thus able to insinuate himself effortlessly into the lives of Danglars, Mondego, and Villefort. Armed with damning knowledge about each of them that he has gathered over the past decade, Dantes sets an elaborate scheme of revenge into motion.
Mondego, now known as the Count de Morcerf, is the first to be punished. Dantes exposes Morcerf’s darkest secret: Morcerf made his fortune by betraying his former patron, the Greek vizier Ali Pacha, and he then sold Ali Pacha’s wife and daughter into slavery. Ali Pacha’s daughter, Haydee, who has lived with Dantes ever since he bought her freedom seven years earlier, testifies against Morcerf in front of the senate, irreversibly ruining his good name. Ashamed by Morcerf’s treachery, Albert and Mercedes flee, leaving their tainted fortune behind. Morcerf commits suicide.
Villefort’s punishment comes slowly and in several stages. Dantes first takes advantage of Madame de Villefort’s murderous intent, subtly tutoring her in the uses of poison. As Madame de Villefort wreaks her havoc, killing off each member of the household in turn, Dantes plants the seeds for yet another public expose. In court, it is revealed that Villefort is guilty of attempted infanticide, as he tried to bury his illegitimate baby while it was still alive. Believing that everyone he loves is dead and knowing that he will soon have to answer severe criminal charges, Villefort goes insane.
For his revenge on Danglars, Dantes simply plays upon his enemy’s greed. He opens various false credit accounts with Danglars that cost him vast amounts of money. He also manipulates Danglars’s unfaithful and dishonest wife, costing Danglars more money, and helps Danglars’s daughter, Eugenie, run away with her female companion. Finally, when Danglars is nearly broke and about to flee without paying any of his creditors, Dantes has the Italian bandit Luigi Vampa kidnap him and relieve him of his remaining money. Dantes spares Danglars’s life, but leaves him penniless. Meanwhile, as these acts of vengeance play ut, Dantes also tries to complete one more act of goodness. Dantes wishes to help the brave and honorable Maximilian Morrel, the son of the kind shipowner, so he hatches an elaborate plot to save Maximilian’s fiancee, Valentine Villefort, from her murderous stepmother, to ensure that the couple will be truly happy forever. Dantes gives Valentine a pill that makes her appear dead and then carries her off to the island of Monte Cristo. For a month Dantes allows Maximilian to believe that Valentine is dead, which causes Maximilian to long for death himself. Dantes then reveals that Valentine is alive.
Having known the depths of despair, Maximilian is now able to experience the heights of ecstasy. Dantes too ultimately finds happiness, when he allows himself to fall in love with the adoring and beautiful Haydee. 3. POINT OF VIEW/PERSPECTIVE: The Count of Monte Cristo is a novel set firmly in history, with many key plot points based on external political events. The key figure in French politics during the first quarter of the nineteenth century was Napoleon Bonaparte, who, though he does not appear in the novel, plays such a significant role that he can almost be counted as one of the major characters.
Napoleon was a general who rose to prominence during the French Revolution, which occurred in 1789. He saved the revolutionary government from an angry mob and led the French army to victories over Austria, Italy, and Egypt, claiming all of these lands for France. In 1799, Napoleon led a coup against the existing government of France and formed a consulate, installing himself as its dictatorial leader. In 1804, Napoleon revised the constitution he had written several years earlier, and the French senate voted him emperor of all of the vast lands he had conquered.
Napoleon remained widely beloved by the people, largely because in all the lands he conquered, he abolished serfdom and feudalism and guaranteed basic human rights. He simplified the court system, took steps to make education universally available, and standardized national codes of law to ensure that the rights and liberties won during the French Revolution—equality before the law and freedom of religion—could not be taken away. In 1814, dogged by an increasing number of enemies and looming military defeat, Napoleon was forced to abdicate his throne.
He was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, where Edmond Dantes finds him at the beginning of The Count of Monte Cristo. In March 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba, secretly sailed to France, and marched on Paris, defeating the royal troops. It is information about this return to power that is contained in the letter Dantes is caught conveying to Paris. 4. CHARACTER: Edmond Dantes – The protagonist of the novel. Dantes is an intelligent, honest, and loving man who turns bitter and vengeful after he is framed for a crime he does not commit.
When Dantes finds himself free and enormously wealthy, he takes it upon himself to act as the agent of Providence, rewarding those who have helped him in his plight and punishing those responsible for his years of agony. The Count of Monte Cristo – The identity Dantes assumes when he emerges from prison and inherits his vast fortune. As a result, the Count of Monte Cristo is usually associated with a coldness and bitterness that comes from an existence based solely on vengeance. Lord Wilmore – The identity of an eccentric English nobleman that Dantes assumes when committing acts of random generosity.
Lord Wilmore contrasts sharply with Monte Cristo, who is associated with Dantes’s acts of bitterness and cruelty. Appropriately, Monte Cristo cites Lord Wilmore as one of his enemies. Abbe Busoni – Another of Dantes’s false personas. The disguise of Abbe Busoni, an Italian priest, helps Dantes gain the trust of the people whom the count wants to manipulate because the name connotes religious authority. Sinbad the Sailor – The name Dantes uses as the signature for his anonymous gift to Morrel. Sinbad the Sailor is also the persona Dantes adopts during his time in Italy.
Mercedes – Dantes’s beautiful and good fiancee. Though Mercedes marries another man, Fernand Mondego, while Dantes is in prison, she never stops loving Dantes. Mercedes is one of the few whom Dantes both punishes (for her disloyalty) and rewards (for her enduring love and underlying goodness). Abbe Faria – A priest and brilliant thinker whom Dantes meets in prison. Abbe Faria becomes Dantes’s intellectual father: during their many years as prisoners, he teaches Dantes history, science, art, and many languages. He then bequeaths to Dantes his vast hidden ortune. Abbe Faria is the most important catalyst in Dantes’s transformation into the vengeful Count of Monte Cristo. Fernand Mondego – Dantes’s rival for Mercedes’s affections. Mondego helps in framing Dantes for treason and then marries Mercedes himself when Dantes is imprisoned. Through acts of treachery Mondego becomes a wealthy and powerful man and takes on the name of the Count de Morcerf. He is the first victim of Dantes’s vengeance. Baron Danglars – A greedy, envious cohort of Mondego. Danglars hatches the plot to frame Dantes for treason.
Like Mondego, he becomes wealthy and powerful, but loses everything when Monte Cristo takes his revenge. Danglars’s obsession with the accumulation of wealth makes him an easy target for Monte Cristo, who has seemingly limitless wealth on hand to exact his revenge. 5: SETTING: In the port of Marseilles, France, an eager crowd watches as a ship called the Pharaon pulls into dock. The ship’s owner, Monsieur Morrel, is greeted with sad news: the ship’s captain has died at sea. The nineteen-year-old first mate, Edmond Dantes, reassures Morrel that despite the loss of the captain, the trip went smoothly and all the cargo arrived safely.
Morrel is impressed with the young man’s performance as temporary captain. 6. THEME: The Limits of Human Justice Edmond Dantes takes justice into his own hands because he is dismayed by the limitations of society’s criminal justice system. Societal justice has allowed his enemies to slip through the cracks, going unpunished for the heinous crimes they have committed against him. Moreover, even if his enemies’ crimes were uncovered, Dantes does not believe that their punishment would be true justice.
Though his enemies have caused him years of emotional anguish, the most that they themselves would be forced to suffer would be a few seconds of pain, followed by death. Considering himself an agent of Providence, Dantes aims to carry out divine justice where he feels human justice has failed. He sets out to punish his enemies as he believes they should be punished: by destroying all that is dear to them, just as they have done to him. Yet what Dantes ultimately learns, as he sometimes wreaks havoc in the lives of the innocent as well as the guilty, is that justice arried out by human beings is inherently limited. The limits of such justice lie in the limits of human beings themselves. Lacking God’s omniscience and omnipotence, human beings are simply not capable of—or justified in—carrying out the work of Providence. Dumas’s final message in this epic work of crime and punishment is that human beings must simply resign themselves to allowing God to reward and punish—when and how God sees fit. Relative Versus Absolute Happiness A great deal separates the sympathetic from the unsympathetic characters in The Count of Monte Cristo.
The trait that is most consistently found among the sympathetic characters and lacking among the unsympathetic is the ability to assess one’s circumstances in such a way as to feel satisfaction and happiness with one’s life. In his parting message to Maximilian, Dantes claims that “[t]here is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. ” In simpler terms, what separates the good from the bad in The Count of Monte Cristo is that the good appreciate the good things they have, however small, while the bad focus on what they lack.
Dantes’s enemies betray him out of an envy that arises from just this problem: despite the blessings these men have in their own lives, Dantes’s relatively superior position sends them into a rage of dissatisfaction. Caderousse exemplifies this psychological deficiency, finding fault in virtually every positive circumstance that life throws his way. Caderousse could easily be a happy man, as he is healthy, clever, and reasonably well off, yet he is unable to view his circumstances in such a way as to feel happy.
At the other end of the spectrum are Julie and Emmanuel Herbaut—they are fully capable of feeling happiness, even in the face of pressing poverty and other hardships. The Dantes of the early chapters, perfectly thrilled with the small happiness that God has granted him, provides another example of the good and easily satisfied man, while the Dantes of later chapters, who has emerged from prison unable to find happiness unless he exacts his complicated revenge, provides an example of the bad and unsatisfiable man. 8. DICTION:
Names-The constant changing of characters’ names in The Count of Monte Cristo signifies deeper changes within the characters themselves. Like the God of the Old Testament, Dantes assumes a host of different names, each associated with a different role in his schemes as the agent of Providence. He calls himself Abbe Busoni when standing in judgment, Lord Wilmore when engaging in acts of excessive generosity, and Monte Cristo when assuming the role of avenging angel. That Dantes possesses so many identities suggests that he lacks a true center.
Villefort also changes his name, though for different reasons: he refuses to adopt his father’s title of Noirtier, a name closely associated with the despised Bonapartist party. Villefort’s choice of names signifies both his political opportunism and his willingness to sacrifice ruthlessly those close to him for his own personal gain. Fernand Mondego’s change of name to Count de Morcerf is, on one level, merely a sign of his ascent into the realm of power and prestige. Yet, since Mondego pretends that Morcerf is an old family name rather than merely a title he has purchased, the name-change is also a symbol of his fundamental dishonesty.
Mercedes also undergoes a change of name, becoming Countess de Morcerf. This change in name, however, as we learn when Mercedes proves her enduring goodness, does not accompany a fundamental change in character. Instead, her name-change merely emphasizes her connection to her husband, Dantes’s rival, and, by association, her disloyalty to Dantes. Only Benedetto’s change of name, to Andrea Cavalcanti, seems to signify nothing deeper than the fact that he is assuming a false identity. All of the other name changes in the novel are external signals of internal changes of character or role.
Suicide Many characters in The Count of Monte Cristo—Dantes, Monsieur Morrel, Maximilian Morrel, Haydee, Fernand Mondego, Madame d’Villefort, and Albert de Morcerf—contemplate or even carry out suicide during the course of the novel. Dumas presents the act of suicide as an honorable and reasonable response to any devastating situation. As in much Romantic literature, suicide in The Count of Monte Cristo is most closely linked with failed romantic relationships. In fact, eagerness to take one’s own life for the sake of a beloved is held up as one of the only sure signs of absolute devotion.
Monte Cristo is convinced that Maximilian loves Valentine, for instance, only when he sees that Maximilian sincerely wants to die when confronted with her loss. Likewise, Monte Cristo believes that Haydee loves him only when she swears that she would take her life if he abandoned her. The frequency with which suicide is mentioned or contemplated by characters might seem to reflect a cavalier attitude toward this most serious of acts. However, suicide is clearly regarded as a serious action: Dantes gravely warns Maximilian not to take his life if there is anything in the world that he regrets leaving.
The characters in the novel are not arrogant about life—they simply live it melodramatically, finding the world devoid of hope and meaning on a fairly regular basis. 9. SYNTAX: Monte Cristo makes this surprisingly frank admission to Villefort in Chapter 49, during their initial reunion. Monte Cristo’s obsession with reward and punishment, which he here confesses, is the driving force of the last two-thirds of the novel, and this statement provides excellent insight into Monte Cristo’s own concept of his mission.
What is particularly striking about this passage is its demonstration that Monte Cristo associates his mission of vengeance not only with God but also with the devil. His characterization of his mission as both godlike and satanic is likely an attempt to frighten and unnerve Villefort. Yet this characterization foreshadows Monte Cristo’s later realization that there is in fact something slightly evil to his mission as well as something holy. Ultimately, Monte Cristo acknowledges that only God has the right to act in the name of Providence, and that, like the devil, he himself has overstepped his bounds by trying to act in God’s domain. 0. SYMBOLISM: The Sea-When Dantes escapes from prison, he plunges into the ocean, experiencing a second baptism and a renewed dedication of his soul to God. He has suffered a metaphorical death while in prison: the death of his innocent, loving self. Dantes emerges as a bitter and hateful man, bent on carrying out revenge on his enemies. He is washed in the waters that lead him to freedom, and his rebirth as a man transformed is complete. The sea continues to figure prominently in the novel even after this symbolic baptism.
Considering himself a citizen of no land, Dantes spends much of his time on the ocean, traveling the world in his yacht. The sea seems to beckon constantly to Dantes, a skilled sailor, offering him perpetual escape and solitude. The Red Silk Purse-First used by Monsieur Morrel in his attempt to save the life of Dantes’s father, Dantes later uses the red silk purse when he is saving Morrel’s life. The red purse becomes the physical symbol of the connection between good deed and reward.
Morrel recognizes the purse and deduces the connection between the good deed performed on his behalf and the good deed he once performed himself. Morrel concludes that Dantes must be his savior, surmising that he is working from beyond the grave. Morrel’s daughter, Julie, then emphasizes the symbolic power of the purse by keeping it constantly on display as a relic of her father’s miraculous salvation. The Elixir-Dantes’s potent potion seems to have the power both to kill and to bring to life, a power that Dantes comes to believe in too strongly.
His overestimation of the elixir’s power reflects his overestimation of his own power, his delusion that he is almost godlike, and his assertion that he has the right and capacity to act as the agent of Providence. It is significant that, when faced with Edward’s corpse, Dantes thinks first to use his elixir to bring the boy to life. Of course, the elixir is not powerful enough to bring the dead to life, just as Dantes himself is not capable of accomplishing divine feats. The power to grant life—like the power to carry out ultimate retribution and justice—lies solely in God’s province.
It is when Dantes acknowledges the limits of his elixir that he realizes his own limitations as a human being. 11. TONE: Rising action · In prison, Dantes meets Abbe Faria, who unravels the mystery of Dantes’s downfall; Dantes vows to spend his fortune on an obsessive quest to reward those who have been kind to him and to punish those who have harmed him; Dantes visits Caderousse and confirms the details of the events leading up to his incarceration; Dantes eases himself into the lives of those responsible for his time in prison. climax · Dantes slowly brings complete devastation upon Caderousse, Fernand, Villefort, and Danglars. alling action · Dantes enables the blissful union of Maximilian Morrel and Val-entine Villefort; Dantes finally opens himself to emotions other than gratitude and vengeance and admits his love for Haydee. themes · The limits of human justice; relative versus absolute happiness; love versus alienation motifs · Names; suicide; politicssymbols · The sea; the red silk purse; the elixir foreshadowing · Abbe Faria’s apology to Dantes; the painting of Mercedes looking out to sea suggests her undying love for Dantes. 12. TITLE: Politics-The Count of Monte Cristo is a historical novel, with key plot elements drawn from real historic events.
Politics, therefore, play a significant role in the novel, particularly in branding certain characters good or bad. All of the major sympathetic characters are somehow connected to the democratic ideals of the Bonapartist party, from Morrel and Noirtier, who were once ardent fighters in the Bonapartist cause, to Dantes, who emerges as a champion for individual rights. Likewise, in his wooing of Valentine, Maximilian fights for social equality, another Bonapartist ideal. Many of the major unsympathetic characters, by contrast, are overwhelmingly associated with the oppressive, aristocratic royalists, such as Morcerf and Villefort.
Others are simply self-serving capitalist opportunists, such as Danglars, responsible for ushering in the soul-deadening age of the Industrial Revolution. In this sense, Dumas does not assign political allegiances arbitrarily, but uses them as windows into the souls of his characters. 13. MEMORABLE QUOTE: “There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. ” This passage appears in the parting letter that Monte Cristo leaves for Maximilian in Chapter 117.
Monte Cristo offers this analysis of happiness as an explanation for his allowing Maximilian to spend an entire month under the false impression that his beloved, Valentine, is dead. Monte Cristo believes that in order to experience ultimate happiness, Maximilian first has to experience absolute despair, just as Monte Cristo himself has. Monte Cristo suggests that only now that Maximilian has demonstrated a willingness to die in order to be reunited with Valentine can he truly appreciate living alongside her.
It is clear that this swing from ultimate despair to ultimate bliss not only pertains to Maximilian but also to Monte Cristo, who has finally found ultimate happiness in Haydee’s love, decades after the ultimate despair of his days in prison. The notion Monte Cristo expresses here—that of the necessary connection between ultimate misery and ultimate joy—recalls one of the main ideas in The Count of Monte Cristo, the assertion that happiness and unhappiness depend more on one’s internal state of mind than on one’s external circumstances.
I enjoyed that the novel left me so suspensfu l and on the dge of my seat the whole time. I didn’t like that the novel was so long. I am not eager to read another novel by this author because the way he writes is sometimes very confusing. I would highly recommend this specific novel to a friend. I do not think this should be apart of the course because it is too big of a stress on a senior at such a harsh time of the school year as well. I just really do not think it is a good idea.