The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo

Wonderful wonderful wonderful book with gloriously complicated plotting and amazing story-telling and surprising coincidences and shocking revelations and several multi-identities, all which have been thought out and planned in admirable detail. This is a true master storyteller at work, and is one of the best books ever written and definitely one of my favourites, I am just lost in admiration at the deviousness and the complexity of it all! It did make my head ache a little trying to keep track of the intricacy of it all, but it is fully worth it to see it all so beautifully tied up in the end. This is a genius writer.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas available on Amazon
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Wonderful wonderful wonderful book with gloriously complicated plotting and amazing story-telling and surprising coincidences and shocking revelations and several multi-identities, all which have been thought out and planned in admirable detail. This is a true master storyteller at work, and is one of the best books ever written and definitely one of my favourites, I am just lost in admiration at the deviousness and the complexity of it all! It did make my head ache a little trying to keep track of the intricacy of it all, but it is fully worth it to see it all so beautifully tied up in the end. This is a genius writer.

Edmond Dantes arrives in Marseilles in 1815, he is part of a ship’s crew, the ship is owned by Morrel, and another member of the crew is Danglars. The captain of the ship, Leclere, died on the way home so Dantes became the temporary captain of the ship. Leclere had asked Dantes, as a dying wish, to stop at Elba, where Napoleon is banished, to drop off a parcel and collect a letter from there, which Dantes did with no further knowledge of the parcel’s or letter’s contents. When they arrive at Marseilles, Morrel strongly hints he’d be happy for Dantes to stay as captain, which makes Danglars very jealous and vindictive. Also on arrival at Marseilles, Dantes arranges to marry his fiance, Mercedes, which makes her cousin, Fernand, very jealous and vindictive as he was hoping to marry her. (There’s a lot of jealousy and vindictiveness very early on in the book, and I feel this doesn’t bode well for Dantes!). Fernand and Danglars meet up and discuss their mutual hatred of Dantes, another man, Caderousse, is at the table with them but not part of their plan, he is heavily drunk but does witness what they do. They write an anonymous letter to the authorities saying Dantes suspiciously stopped at Elba and collected a letter from Napoleon. Dantes is arrested on the day of his wedding. The person investigating him, Villefort, firstly feels Dantes should be freed, but then reads the letter that Dantes had brought back from Napoleon and realises that this letter implicates his father, Noirtier, who is a known sympathiser of Napoleon, so Villefort is worried this will damage his own reputation and he therefore destroys the letter and commits Dantes to prison, altering his record to show him as a Napoleon sympathiser and that he’s dangerous and needs to be kept in solitary confinement. (Oooh, the complicated scheming and plotting is delicious to read, but poor Dantes suffers for it while being totally innocent and powerless to protect himself).  Dantes is in prison for 14 years, nearly losing his mind and contemplating suicide. He then makes contact with another prisoner, Abbe Faria, and this friendship enlivens and saves Dantes, he is educated by Faria and they plan an escape but Faria then falls sick and dies, and at the last moment Dantes realises he can escape the prison by pretending to be Faria’s dead body. He is thrown from the prison walls into the sea and swims to an island where he is picked up by smugglers. (I love the daringness of this, the prison escape was really exciting and clever, and I can see has been copied in lots of other books I love, such as Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Prisoner of Heaven (where, to give Zafon credit, the characters do refer to this book), and even in Harry Potter with Barty Crouch Jnr escaping prison by using his mother’s dead body. This is a fantastic plot device, I am full of admiration!).  Dantes has been told by Faria about a huge treasure concealed on the Island of Monte Cristo, which he finds and is then rich. He then determines to wreak revenge on the people that caused him to go to prison, he sees this revenge as God’s providence, and himself an agent of it. 

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First it’s Caderousse he visits, disguising himself as Abbe Busoni. Caderousse is poor and struggling with his pub business failing, and Dantes helps him by giving him a huge diamond, after Caderousse has told the story of Danglars’ and Fernand’s deception, as well as detailing how Dantes’ father died penniless and starving refusing to accept help from Morrel, and how Morrel left a red silk purse of money on Dantes’ father’s mantlepiece to provide the funds for a decent burial for him after he died. Dantes realises Caderousse wasn’t really involved in the deception and had tried himself to help Dantes’ father. 

Dantes then goes to Morrel, disguised as a clerk from a bank and also signing himself as Sinbad the Sailor and apparently acting for Lord Wilmore, and learns how Morrel repeatedly pleaded for Dantes’ release and stated Dantes’ good character.  Dantes learns Morrel is about to be declared bankrupt with his shipping business, and helps him with money, leaving this in the red silk purse he got from Caderousse and putting this on the mantlepiece of his father’s old apartment and instructing Morrel’s daughter, in a letter he writes signed ‘Sinbad the Sailor’, to collect it, and arranging for a replacement ship for Morrel (though he does leave this right to the wire, as Morrel is about to commit suicide through despair!  I think Dantes could have intervened sooner here, it almost felt like he was punishing Morrel before he helped him!). 

Then Dantes is mentioned no longer, and we are introduced to a man called Count of Monte Cristo (presumably Dantes), and a long long section of the book follows all about two rich young men called Franz d’Epinay and Albert Morcerf, and their visit to Rome where they meet the Count and learn about bandits in Rome, particularly Luigi Vampa who the Count has influence with. (All this section seemed far too long and unneeded! I did wonder if Franz was actually Fernand and this was all just an elaborate revenge plan of Dantes/the Count, but then I began to think not. But I really feel that all this bit could have been reduced). Albert is engaged to Danglars’ daughter (so there is a connection!), which Dantes knew beforehand, and is friends with Morrel’s son (which seemed to be a surprise to Dantes). And Albert is Mercedes’ son with Fernand (which seems to be a definite surprise to Dantes, and a very Dickens’-like coincidence, I feel! I am hoping he doesn’t propose revenge on Mercedes, I can’t see she did anything wrong in marrying after she presumed Dantes had died. I also hope he’s not going to hurt Albert, as I like him, and particularly his breakfast chat with his friends which was entertaining to read!).

(Where does Dantes’ vast knowledge come from, and his manners of nobility? Was this from Faria’s teaching? It seems a lot for him to have learnt in prison. Or has he pushed himself to learn all this after he escaped from prison? Considering he was originally a sailor from a poor background, who then spent 14 years in prison, the transformation is huge. He is an intriguing character, described as almost vampire-like with pale complexion, barely eats, shudders when he touches Albert’s hand. Also no-one recognises him (apart from Mercedes, by his voice). Could his 14 years of solitary confinement with no daylight alter his complexion so much? I guess he is also 14 years older, and his features have been hardened by suffering, but I struggle to believe he is totally unrecognisable. Oh, I’ve just looked back again at Caderousse’s recital to Dantes, and Dantes did know about Mercedes as Caderousse told him that Mercedes and Fernand married, and he gave Dantes their address and the information that they had a son called Albert! So all this meeting Franz and Albert has been contrived by Dantes to gain admittance to Mercedes and Fernand!! I’m quite shocked, I didn’t realise he had been so sneaky in his plotting, I thought it was all a Dickens-like coincidence!) 

Dantes’ steward, Bertuccio, has just related to Dantes the story of his life and that he killed Villefort as vengeance for him not investigating the murder of his brother (I imagine Dantes is disappointed that Villefort is already dead, as he’d have wanted to punish him), but Villefort’s mistress had just given birth so Bertuccio took this child after killing Villefort. Bertuccio and his sister then raised this boy, called Benedetto, but he turned out as a bad lot, killing his adopted mother after she refused to give him money, and Bertuccio hasn’t seen him since. (So I guess we may have Dantes searching for Villefort’s mistress and son now? I am suspecting that Dantes knew Bertuccio’s history when he took him on, as Bertuccio said he related it to the priest, Abbe Busoni, which was the identity Dantes assumed to question Caderousse. It is beginning to feel sinister just how much knowledge Dantes has about everyone). 

The house that Dantes has bought, in Auteuil in France, is the house where Villefort met his death. Franz recognised Bertuccio as being part of Dantes’ gang on Monte Cristo island. Bertuccio also related that he was a witness to Caderousse selling the diamond to a jeweller and then Caderousse killing that jeweller to get the diamond back, and Caderousse is now jailed for this (was this Dantes’ punishment to Caderousse for him not declaring what he knew Danglars and Fernand had done, ie did Dantes know Caderousse was the kind of man to fall to this temptation and so effectively gave him, with the diamond, enough rope to tempt and hang himself?). 

(I am now completely confused, as Bertuccio said he killed Villefort in the garden at Auteuil, yet Villefort is alive!  I thought at first this present Villefort was perhaps the son of the original Villefort, but he says his father is Noirtier and that he married Renee de Saint Meran, so how can he be alive but Bertuccio not have heard of his existence? Or was it someone else Bertuccio killed in the garden? He did say the man was wearing a mantle and he couldn’t see his face. But if so, then who did he kill? Bertuccio didn’t say what he did with ‘Villefort’s’ body, did he bury it in that garden, or did he not bury it all and the man (Villefort) wasn’t actually dead, just injured and survived? Dantes says after Bertuccio’s tale that ‘everything is possible, even that the procurer be not dead’ so is this implying that Dantes knows that Villefort isn’t  dead? And who is the pregnant woman who gave birth to the child that Bertuccio took? Was this child actually Villefort’s? The child was wrapped in a blanket with the initials H and N and a baronet’s coronet. Both Danglers’ wife and Villefort’s current (second) wife have the initial H, so did Villefort make his mistress his second wife and is this her child then she went on to have another child with Villefort when married to him, ie Edward? Or was Villefort’s mistress actually Danglars’ wife? Danglars is a baron, his wife’s first husband was Marquis of Nargonne, so is this the H and N from maybe before she married Danglars?).

Danglars’ daughter is called Eugenie, and is engaged to Albert. Villefort’s first wife died young (we don’t have details of how she died). Villefort has a daughter, Valentine, by his first wife, and Valentine is engaged to Franz but in love with Morrel.  Villefort also has a son, Edward, by his second wife. Villefort’s father, Noirtier, is now disabled by apoplexy (a stroke?). We also learn more of Dantes’ ‘daughter’/slave, she is called Haidee, is Greek, aged 19, and is told by him to conceal the names of her ‘illustrious father or ill-fated mother’. 

(I’m confused again, I don’t understand the Cavalcanti bit about the supposed lost son being reunited with his father when clearly they’re not actually father and son (Major Cavalcanti being the father and Andrea the son), what is this? Money changes hands, the father and son obviously know nothing about the reasoning behind this, I thought the son needed a respected place in society so ‘bought’ a father and his respected family history, but the son seems as puzzled as the father, they both just received letters offering them money if they came to a certain location. It seems to be organised by Abbe Busoni and Lord Wilmore, both of whom I presume are the Count. Can’t work this out at all). 

Noirtier learns of Villefort’s plan to marry Valentine to Franz, and objects to this and tries to stop it happening by disinheriting Valentine and Villefort in his will, though Villefort vows to continue with his plan. The Count also intercepts a telegram, and by giving false information causes stocks and shares that Danglars owns to become worthless and lose him a huge amount of money. 

The Count has thrown a dinner party at his house in Auteuil inviting, amongst others, Mr and Mrs Danglars, Mr and Mrs Villefort, and Major Cavalcanti and son (I think we are about to have answers!). Bertuccio identifies Mrs Danglars as the pregnant woman in the garden, and is shocked to see Villefort who he thought he’d killed but the Count tells Bertuccio he had injured Villefort but not killed him.  Bertuccio also identifies Andrea Cavalcanti as Benedetto. (And them all in a room together, omg, I am anticipating fireworks and destruction! And it seems almost like the Count is punishing Bertuccio too, as he’s sprung all this shock on him). During a tense dinner, the Count talks about a bedroom at the house that has a strange and sad atmosphere, and that he has found a box buried in the garden that contained the body of a child, this is clearly a severe shock for Villefort and Mrs Danglars, though when Danglars talks to his wife later, it appears he already knows this history and that Mrs Danglars’ first husband killed himself on discovery of it (so Mrs Danglars cheated on her first husband with Villefort, not on her present husband Danglars?). Caderousse turns up recognising Andrea as Benedetto (I presume they met in prison), asking him for money which he agrees to supply. 

Valentine’s grandmother arrives, Madame de Saint Meran, mother of her dead mother, but grandfather has died on the journey. Valentine’s wedding to Franz is brought forward, but she vows to run away instead with Morrel, and her grandfather, Noirtier, agrees to help them. However, these plans are delayed as Grandmother de Saint Meran also dies at Villefort’s house, suspected by the doctor to have been poisoned, she said she saw a spirit she thought to be her dead husband come from Madame Villefort’s room and touch her glass by her bedside (was she poisoned in her drink? Who did this and why? Surely not the Count in order to punish Villefort?).  Valentine’s marriage to Franz is cancelled when Noirtier reveals to Franz that he killed Franz’s father in a duel. The doctor confirms that grandmother was poisoned, and also grandfather too (which makes it hard to believe this was someone in Villefort’s house, as grandfather died on the road to their house), and Noirtier’s servant also dies after drinking a drink intended for Noirtier. The doctor believes the poisoner is Valentine, as she inherits money from both Saint Meran grandparents and from Noirtier (though it was Mrs Villefort who convinced Noirtier to change back his will to favour Valentine, so are we supposed to think Mrs Villefort is the poisoner?). Villefort knows there was no child’s body to be found by the Count in the garden at Auteuil, as he’d dug it all up searching for the body (so he knows someone else knows about him and Mrs Danglars and the child, and that this person has told the Count) and Villefort also now suspects the child may have lived. He determines to find out who told the Count, and begins to try and look into the Count’s background by speaking to Abbe Busoni and Lord Wilmore. Wilmore takes off his disguise when Villefort leaves and it is the Count, as is Abbe Busoni. 

The Count had helped Benedetto, with Caderousse, escape from jail (so, again, the Count obviously knows Benedetto’s background before it is ‘told’ to him and the reader by Betuccio! How has he found out all this information? And then he patiently waits and waits and waits formulating plans till he’s ready to act). Benedetto wants rid of Caderousse’s blackmailing (and he thinks he will inherit at the Count’s death?) so he plants the idea in Caderousse’s head of him robbing the Count’s house and draws him a plan of the house for him to use, he then anonymously writes to the Count to warn him he will be robbed that evening and to stay and confront the burglar alone, his intention being that Caderousse is arrested or killed, or the Count may be killed. This doesn’t happen as the Count, disguised as Abbe Busoni, confronts Caderousse and gets the plan from him, including that Benedetto is now Andrea Cavalcanti, guesses the rest and lets Caderousse go knowing he will then be attacked by Benedetto waiting outside to kill him if he emerges from the Count’s house alive, which happens and Caderousse dies after signing a written confession implicating Benedetto. The Count murmurs “one” when Caderousse dies (is this his first plan completed to success, ie his reveal to the person that he is Dantes and then their immediate death, so he is now moving onto the next part of the plan?). 

Benedetto, as Cavalcanti, is now engaged to be married to Danglars’ daughter, Eugenie, (they would be half brother/sister?) after Danglars is tempted by Cavalcanti’s wealth to agree to his marriage proposal, as well as Albert’s seeming indifference to Eugenie, and vague suspicions hinted about Albert’s father’s past (I’m guessing the Count is waiting to reveal Cavalcanti’s true identity as Benedetto, at the same time as revealing he is actually as Villefort and Mrs Danglars’ son, but is he going to wait until they are actually married in order to make the reveal even more shocking?!). 

An article is put into the paper regarding a man called Fernand who betrayed the prince of the country Vanina by receiving a huge sum of money to let the enemy into the prince’s castle and them all be killed, this report seems to have come from Danglars (I imagine hinted to him by the Count) and this is the suspicion that Danglars uses to convince Albert’s father, Fernand, to cancel the wedding of Albert and Eugenie. The prince that was killed was Haidee’s father, Haidee and her mother escaped, and Haidee was sold as a slave and purchased by the Count (so again, the Count appears to know everything! Did he buy Haidee because her father and fortune were destroyed by Fernand, who he wants to revenge himself on?). The Count also allows Haidee to tell her story to Albert, though not to reveal who the betrayer of her father was, though Albert appears to be suspicious that it might indeed be his father as he knows his father was in the country of Vanina then and was serving the prince. Albert discovers it was actually his father who betrayed the prince, he hopes this won’t come out but obviously someone else knows as the article was put in the paper. Fernand is then revealed to the public as the person who sold the Vanina prince and his family to the enemy, and Albert, while privately acknowledging his father’s guilt, determines to discover and duel with the person who revealed this, he works out this is the Count and challenges him to a duel. Mercedes appeals to the Count to call off the duel, which he refuses to do, or to let her son live, which means the Count must die and which he agrees to do. She says how she has always loved him and tortured herself with his suffering and supposed death. He tells her how his imprisonment was caused by Fernand. At the duel, Albert tells the Count how he’s been told how the Count has suffered terribly in his life and that this was caused by his father, Fernand, and he apologises to the Count for this (I guess Albert was told this by Mercedes, as a way to possibly prevent the duel going ahead and for both men to live). Albert and Mercedes leave Fernand without speaking to him again. Fernand goes to the Count for an explanation of what happened at the duel, and the Count reveals himself to Fernand as Dantes. Fernand shoots himself (is this the second reveal of Dantes’ identity to a person, and then the immediate death of that person?). 

Valentine is poisoned but survives (I am thinking again whether the Count could be the poisoner, or has he put Edward or Mrs Villefort up to this, or planted the seed in one of their minds? Did he read Mrs Villefort’s character in Italy and France and suspect she was planning to poison Villefort’s family members? He talked to her about poisons then, after the horses ran wild, and gave her a ‘prescription’, so was he giving herself enough rope to hang herself, as seems to be one of his preferred methods, thinking that the poisoning and death of Villefort’s family members would be a suitable punishment for Villefort, though he must have been fairly certain she wasn’t planning to murder Villefort himself which then leaves him able to issue his own revenge on Villefort?). Abbe Busoni has now moved in next door to the Villeforts’ house. (So are Danglars and Villefort to be left now to be ruined, Danglars ruined by the fact brother and sister are marrying and him becoming bankrupt? And Villefort ruined by his family poisoned, and the murderer being his wife or son?). 

At the signing of the marriage contract between Benedetto/Cavalcanti and Eugenie, soldiers turn up to arrest Benedetto/Cavalcanti as the murderer of Caderousse and reveal him as an escaped prisoner with Caderousse. Benedetto escapes. The Count also reveals that a letter was found in Caderousse’s waistcoat addressed to Danglars. Eugenie and her music teacher run away, with Eugenie disguised as a man, so her father can’t attempt to marry her again. 

Morrel goes to the Count for help, revealing to him his love for Valentine. The Count is horrified to realise that Morrel, who he loves like a son, is in love with Valentine. Valentine is poisoned again, and to prevent her dying the Count gives her something to make her appear to have died, and he reveals to her that Mrs Villefort is the poisoner.  Valentine trusts the Count to look after her. 

The Count reveals himself as Dantes to Morrel and his sister and her husband, and tells them that he saved their father from suicide. However, he doesn’t say that Valentine isn’t actually dead. 

The Count takes his savings from Danglars, who then has no money left and a bill to pay the following day, so Danglars writes to his wife saying he will disappear. (Is this Danglers done and the Count’s revenge on him complete, the disgrace of bankruptcy and the humiliation of being taken in by Benedetto, and then running away in shame? I think there must be more for Danglars, as Dantes hasn’t revealed himself to him yet. Equally is this Villefort done and the Count’s revenge on him complete, with Villefort thinking his daughter and three other family members are dead and knowing his wife is the poisoner and him vowing to deal with her, I presume this means to kill her himself? But I think we still have the reveal of Benedetto as their son to come).  

Benedetto is now in jail waiting to be executed, and has been visited by Bertuccio (not sure if Benedetto recognises Bertucio as his adopted father, as he still seems to think the Count is his real secret father). Villefort tells his wife he knows she is the poisoner and she must kill herself before he returns from Benedetto’s trial that day. When Benedetto is brought to trial he reveals to everyone crowded there that Villefort is his father (I am guessing that Bertuccio told him this, though the reader doesn’t witness this conversation). Villefort stumbles home hoping to find his wife before she kills herself, in order to go away with her and their son, but he’s too late, she has killed their son Edward and herself (omg, this is so dramatic!).  Abbe Busoni is at the house talking to Noirtier, he tells Villefort he has paid his penance with his daughter dying and is forgiven by God, and he reveals himself to Villefort as Dantes. Villefort takes Dantes to his dead wife and son, Dantes is horrified and tries to revive Edward unsuccessfully. Villefort loses his mind and starts digging in the garden (for Benedetto, the child he buried?). 

The Count leaves Paris for Marseilles with Morrel, after a touching goodbye with Morrel’s sister Julie and her husband Emmanual who still continue to thank the Count for saving their father, they declare he is an angel but he disagrees saying angels don’t make mistakes and misjudgements as he has done. (How long will the Count leave it before he revives Valentine?). Mercedes is also in Marseilles, saying goodbye to Albert who is joining the army in Africa (is the Count going to make a life with Mercedes?). The Count tells Mercedes that he buried money in the garden in Marseilles 24 years ago for their future, and that this is hers, it’s actually his modern-day money that he is giving her but he wanted to disguise this fact. He tells her ‘God needed me’, he was ‘an exterminating angel’ (so he definitely sees himself and this revenge mission as him doing God’s work). 

The Count goes back to the prison Chateau d’If, which is now no longer a prison and is open to tourists. He visits his old cell and remembers the despair he felt there, and he is told by a guide the story of his life and Abbe Faria’s, and comes away with Abbe Faria’s manuscript. 

Danglars travels to Rome to draw out money and escape justice, he is kidnapped by Luigi Vampa and held prisoner, he isn’t fed and has to give away the fortune he has just acquired to avoid starvation. The Count appears to Danglars and reveals himself as Dantes, he asks Danglars if he repents, he says he does and the Count forgives him. 

The Count goes with Morrel to Monte Cristo, where the Count has agreed Morrel can kill himself if he wishes to, but Valentine appears. The Count and Haidee go off together in love, as do Morrel and Valentine to live with Noirtier. 

Wow, I have to say again what a remarkable amazing incredible book this is, an epic story, brilliantly written, full of imagination and devious plotting and excitement and cleverness, I am quite blown away by it. Definitely one of my favourite books ever, one that will stay in my mind and I will re-read and re-read.

I’m a little surprised that Danglars gets away so lightly, Villefort and Fernand seemed to suffer more and yet Dantes’ imprisonment was originally orchestrated by Danglars with his false accusation against Dantes to the authorities. Or I guess it could be said that Danglars actually played a smaller part in Dantes’ final imprisonment than Villefort did, as it was Villefort who caused Dantes to be actually imprisoned in the first place, rather than just throwing out the charge as he was originally going to do, and by altering the records to ensure Dantes was in solitary confinement and there indefinitely. Or is it that Dantes is no longer as revengeful at the end, he is able to be more forgiving and lenient by the time he comes to dealing with Danglars, having perhaps been influenced by the love of the Morrel family? And I wonder if perhaps as time went on, Dantes allowed love into his life by caring for the Morrels and for Albert, and this love perhaps lessened the overriding thirst for revenge he had felt. I also wonder if he perhaps realised at the end that revenge has a far-reaching effect and hurts more than the person he intends to hurt, eg Morrel and Valentine were hurt by Dantes’ revenge on Villefort, Albert and Mercedes were hurt by Dantes’ revenge on Fernand. Thoughts regarding Dantes’ imprisonment, which seems so awful and sad and cruel, are that it was 14 years imprisonment only because of the fact that Dantes escaped, otherwise he’d have been there longer, and Dantes was prisoner no.34, Abbe Faria no.27 (somehow I feel these are important numbers to remember). Thoughts regarding Dantes himself and his plotting, he was imprisoned for 14 years and then spent 10 years plotting his revenge and accumulating knowledge before taking action, and he didn’t actually kill anyone in revenge, which I had presumed he would do, he instead exposed their guilt of another act (not the act of betraying him) and they then destroyed themselves or were destroyed by the circumstances of their life and the people they were involved with. I also like Dantes’ saying ‘the friends that we have lost do not repose in the bosom of the earth, but are buried deep in our hearts, and it has been thus ordained that we may always be accompanied by them’. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas available on Amazon
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