The Count of Monte Cristo Summary and Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo

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  • Features 73 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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The Count of Monte Cristo Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 81-page guide for “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 73 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Vengeance and The Count of Monte Cristo as Byronic Hero.

Plot Summary

The Count of Monte Cristo, an adventure novel by the French writer Alexandre Dumas, was originally published in serial form between 1844 and 1846. The novel’s episodic structure, large cast of characters, and frequent shifts of scene reflect its origins as a serial. The novel has been translated into English several times, usually in abridged form. This guide follows the translation and abridgment by Lowell Blair, first published in 1956.

The novel tells the story of Edmond Dantès, who reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo in order to take revenge on the three men responsible for sending him to prison on what was supposed to be his wedding day. At the age of 19, Dantès, a sailor from Marseilles, was about to be promoted to captain by his employer, M. Morrel, and to marry his fiancée, Mercédès.

In achieving these goals at such a young age, Dantès has managed to alienate Danglars, the purser on his ship, the Pharaon, and Fernand Mondego, a distant cousin of Mercédès who is also in love with her. The two write an anonymous letter to the authorities denouncing Dantès as a Bonapartist conspirator, a claim based on the fact that Dantès had stopped at the island of Elba at the request of the dying captain of the Pharaon and is now carrying a letter from Napoleon. (This part of the novel takes place in the early spring of 1815, in the days leading up to Napoleon’s return from Elba).

Dantès has no knowledge of any conspiracy, but Villefort, the young assistant prosecutor examining him, discovers that the letter is addressed to Villefort’s own father, Noirtier, a prominent supporter of Napoleon. Villefort, about to marry into a Royalist family of great wealth, cannot afford to have his family linked to a Bonapartist plot. To ensure that no one ever learns of the letter, he arranges for Dantès to be imprisoned for life in the Chateau d’If, a notorious prison on an island in the harbor of Marseilles.

After years of hardship, Dantès is befriended by a fellow prisoner, the Abbé Faria, who tunnels into Dantès’ cell while attempting to escape. Over the next few years, the Abbé provides Dantès with a superior education, especially in languages and in the preparation of drugs and poisons. He also shares with Dantès the secret of a treasure buried on the island of Monte Cristo centuries before, by a Roman cardinal killed by the Borgias. Faria also helps Dantès figure out who was responsible for his imprisonment. When Faria dies, Dantès takes the place of Faria’s corpse and is thrown into the sea. Rescued by Italian smugglers, he makes his way to the island of Monte Cristo and finds the treasure.

Now fabulously wealthy and well-traveled, Dantès–who has adopted the title of Count of Monte Cristo, devotes himself to rewarding those who stuck by him and, more importantly, avenging himself on those who wronged him. Disguised as an Italian priest, he learns from Caderousse, an old neighbor, that his elderly father died of hunger, despite the charity of M. Morrel, and that Mercédès eventually agreed to marry Fernand, who achieved success as a soldier and now lives in Paris as the Count de Moncerf. Danglars, a wealthy banker, also lives in Paris, as does Villefort, who is now an important prosecutor.

The Count of Monte Cristo first applies himself to rescuing the business of his old employer M. Morrel, who has suffered for his pubic support of a Bonapartist prisoner. In doing so, the count makes use of another fictional persona he will turn to again: that of an English aristocrat working on behalf of a Roman bank, Thomson and French.

A few years later, in Rome, the Count befriends Albert de Moncerf, son of Mercédès and Fernand, and his friend, Franz d’Epinay. When Albert is kidnapped by a bandit chief, the Count arranges his release and in exchange asks Albert to introduce him into Parisian society. When Albert does so, the only one who recognizes the Count of Monte Cristo as Edmond Dantès is Mercédès, who tells no one.

Fernand, now the Count de Moncerf, is a close associate of Baron Danglars, and Albert is expected to marry Danglars’ daughter, Eugénie, though he has no interest in doing so. The Count of Monte Cristo has also learned that, before her marriage to Danglars, Mme. Danglars was the lover of Villefort, who concealed her in a house in the Parisian suburb of Auteuil when she became pregnant. Villefort attempted to bury the baby in the garden of the house in Auteuil, but was attacked while doing so by a Corsican smuggler, Bertuccio, who was avenging Villefort’s refusal to investigate his brother’s murder.

In the present, Bertuccio has become the Count of Monte Cristo’s most trusted servant. After the Count rents the house in Auteuil as part of his planned revenge, Bertuccio confesses that he took the baby boy, along with his sister, and raised him under the name Benedetto. In addition to Bertuccio, the Count’s household includes Ali, a “Nubian” servant, and Haydée, a young Greek woman of mysterious origins, apparently purchased by the count as a slave.

Through Albert, the Count learns that Danglars frequently makes risky trades on the financial market based on information provided to his wife by her lover, Lucien Debray. The Count also makes contact with the adult children of M. Morrel and becomes the friend of Maximilien Morrel, a gallant young soldier. Maximilien is secretly in love with Valentine de Villefort, the daughter of Villefort’s first marriage. The Villefort household also includes the second Mme Villefort, her young son Edouard, and Villefort’s father, the Bonapartist Noirtier, now paralyzed and speechless after a stroke. Valentine loves Maximilien, but her father and stepmother have arranged a marriage to Franz d’Epinay, Albert’s friend.

The Count arranges for Danglars to experience a series of financial setbacks. He also encourages the interest in poison of Mme Villefort, who resents the fact that Valentine, rather than Edouard, will inherit the family fortune. He hires two men to play Italian noblemen, father and son. The young man playing the son, Andrea de Cavalcanti, is in fact Benedetto, the illegitimate son of Villefort and Mme. Danglars. Benedetto/Andrea, a hardened criminal, is recognized by Caderousse, now himself an escaped convict, having turned to murder and theft after his encounter with the count.

The count arranges a dinner party at the house in Auteuil, where he reveals enough knowledge of the house’s past to make clear to Villefort and Mme Danglars that he knows their secret. The Count also encourages Danglars to see Andrea Cavalcanti as a better match for his daughter than Albert de Morcerf. The Count also encourages Danglars to investigate Fernand de Morcerf’s past as a mercenary in Greece.

Meanwhile, Villefort loses both his in-laws from his first marriage to sudden illnesses. His father, Noirtier, prevents Valentine’s marriage to Franz d’Epinay by revealing that he killed d’Epinay’s father in a duel many years before. Valentine and Maximilien agree to marry, with Noirtier’s blessing, but their happiness is interrupted by the illness and death of Barrois, Noirtier’s longtime servant. The family doctor tells Villefort that he suspects poison in all three deaths, and that the poison that killed Barrois was intended for Noirtier. As Valentine will inherit from all her grandparents, she is the logical suspect.

Caderousse, unsatisfied with what he has earned through blackmailing Benedetto, breaks into the Count’s house in Paris. The Count, who has been forewarned by Benedetto, confronts him. Caderousse flees, but is attacked and stabbed by Benedetto. Just before Caderousse dies, the Count reveals to him that he is actually Edmond Dantès.

Danglars, having followed up on the count’s hints about Morcerf’s past, accuses Morcerf of having betrayed the Ali Pasha, his employer in Greece, and of selling the Pasha’s wife and daughter into slavery. Haydée confronts Morcerf publicly and reveals that she is the Pasha’s daughter, bought out of slavery by the count. Albert, outraged by the public humiliation of his father, challenges the Count to a duel. The Count agrees but apologizes instead, after Mercédès begs him to spare her son’s life. Albert and Mercédès leave Paris. The Count confronts Morcerf and reveals his true identity. Morcerf shoots himself.

Danglars has arranged for his daughter, Eugénie, to marry Andrea Cavalcanti, but the signing of the wedding contract is interrupted by the police, who arrest Andrea/Benedetto for the murder of Caderousse. Benedetto flees Paris, but is soon apprehended. Bertuccio visits Benedetto in prison and tells him the secret of his parentage.

Valentine de Villefort falls ill, an apparent victim of the same poison that killed her grandparents. The Count, shocked to learn that Villefort’s daughter is also Maximilien’s fiancée, assures her everything will be all right and administers a drug that puts her into deathlike trance on the same night that the real poisoner–her stepmother–attempts to give her a fatal dose. Villefort, realizing his wife is a murderer and believing that she has killed his daughter, gives her a choice between suicide and exposure.

In court that same day, Villefort is confronted by Benedetto, who exposes Villefort as his father. Returning home in a state of shock, Villefort finds that his wife has killed both herself and Edouard. The Count visits and reveals his true identity to Villefort. Villefort tells the Count to look at the bodies of his wife and child and asks if vengeance is worth such a price. He then lapses into insanity. The Count, horrified, wonders if he has gone too far.

Danglars, ruined financially by the Count, flees to Rome, where he is kidnapped by the same bandit chief who kidnapped Albert de Moncerf. After Danglars has experienced much hardship, the Count agrees to have Danglars released if he expresses true repentance, which he does. Back on the island of Monte Cristo, the Count reunites Maximilien with Valentine, who has been living with Haydée. The count announces his intention to leave all of them, but Haydée declares her love for him and insists on accompanying him. Before leaving, the count gives away his fortune and property to Maximilien and Valentine as a wedding gift.

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