Alexandre Dumas, père Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis
The 118 chapters of The Count of Monte-Cristo may seem excessively long to many modern readers. The novel is divided into three major sections of unequal length. The first thirty chapters take place in Marseilles before, during, and just after Dantès’s imprisonment in the Château d’If, a prison in the harbor there. After his escape from prison, Dantès assumes the identity of the Count of Monte-Cristo, and the next nine chapters take place in Italy, where the now-wealthy Count of Monte-Cristo is living. The relevance of these chapters becomes clear to readers only in the third part of this novel, which takes place largely in France, where Dantès carries out his vengeance against those who sent him to prison.
The Count of Monte-Cristo
Edmond Dantès is an odd, not totally sympathetic character. Although he was the victim of a legal injustice, his vengeance can only be called extreme. To punish his now-politically influential enemies, he does not hesitate (twenty-three years later) to destroy the lives of their wives, children, and other relatives. As an excuse for his retribution, in chapter 91 Dantès claims that he is merely carrying out God’s wishes. Nevertheless, Dantès was not the only Frenchman to have been imprisoned unjustly during the Napoleonic era and the restoration of the Bourbons to the French throne. Dumas’s own father had been imprisoned unjustly for twenty months; these months in prison had adversely affected his health, causing him to die young. Unlike Dantès, however, Dumas’s father never sought vengeance against those who sent him to prison.
The structure of The Count of Monte-Cristo parallels that of many other detective novels. At the beginning, everything seems to favor Dantès. He has just become the captain of the Pharaon, a commercial boat owned by the kind and generous M. Morrel, and is engaged to Mercédès, whom he plans to marry the next day. Unfortunately, there are two obstacles to his happiness: Fernand, who also loves Mercédès, wishes to stop this marriage, and Danglars, the apparently dishonest accountant for the Pharaon, is afraid that Dantès will discover financial irregularities in the ship’s accounts. Fernand and Danglars are delighted to learn that the dying M. Leclère, whom Dantès replaced as captain of the Pharaon, has asked Dantès to deliver a letter to Napoleon Bonaparte, then a prisoner on Elba. Although indifferent to politics, Dantès takes his letter to Elba and receives a letter from Napoleon for a certain M. Noirtier in Paris. Fernand and Danglars denounce Dantès to the local prosecutor, claiming that he is a traitor who is attempting to restore Napoleon to the throne. A neighbor named Caderousse knows of the plot but remains silent. That evening, Dantès is arrested and then questioned by Villefort, an assistant prosecutor in Marseilles. After examining the compromising letter from Napoleon, Villefort orders that Dantès be taken, untried, to the Château d’If, where political prisoners are kept.
During the first few years, Dantès does not understand the reasons for his imprisonment, finally becoming convinced that it must be part of a divine plan. He believes that someday he will be freed and those who punished him will in turn be punished. The possibility of vengeance brings him extreme pleasure. Thus, even before he escapes from prison, readers do not feel completely sympathetic toward him.
After several years in solitary confinement, Dantès finally makes contact with Abbé Faria, a prisoner in an adjoining cell, who has dug a tunnel between their cells while seeking to escape. Faria helps Dantès recall the events before his arrest and during his interrogation. Thus, Dantès comes to an understanding of how Danglars and Fernand may have...
(The entire section is 1565 words.)