The Count of Monte Cristo By Alexandre Dumas Summary and Analysis Chapters 55-67 - The Madness of Villefort

Summary

Leaving Monte Cristo, Maximilien walks to the Villefort residence. He meets Valentine and is immediately concerned about her health. She seems disoriented. Valentine tells him that she is "slightly indisposed," but that she is gaining strength; she has been taking slow, but increasing doses of her grandfather's medicine (brucine). She says that she'll be fine; only minutes ago, she drank a glass of sugared water.

Madame Danglars and Eugénie arrive to announce Eugénie's engagement to "Prince" Cavalcanti, a title that somehow "sounds better" to Madame Danglars than does "Count." Eugénie protests her engagement; she does not look forward to marriage and becoming "a wife or a slave of a man." She wants to be free, and she needs to be free, she says. Valentine leaves the room and collapses on the landing, where Maximilien finds her and carries her to old Noirtier's room. There, Valentine suffers another attack, and this time she becomes so cold and so lifeless that Doctor d'Avrigny is called.

Maximilien goes immediately to Monte Cristo. He says that he fears that Valentine has been murdered. Monte Cristo instructs Maximilien to "be strong" and not to "lose hope."

Back at the Villefort residence, Doctor d'Avrigny announces guardedly that Valentine is still alive, and Villefort suggests that Valentine be put in her own bed. Then he exits. Doctor d'Avrigny stays behind with Noirtier and questions the old gentleman about Barrois' (Noirtier's servant's) death. Noirtier tells the doctor, with signs, that Valentine was poisoned by the same person who killed Barrois, and moreover, that Barrois was poisoned by accident; he drank a glass of liquid that was meant for Noirtier. The doctor then asks Noirtier if it was he who began giving Valentine increasingly potent doses of brucine — to make her immune if someone tried to poison her. Noirtier signals Yes, it was indeed he. The doctor leaves then and goes to Valentine's room, where he discovers an Italian priest — Abbé Busoni (Monte Cristo, in disguise).

Three days later, the Danglars' mansion is all aglitter with guests adorned with diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones. Eugénie Danglars is announcing her engagement to young Cavalcanti to an enormous crowd of her father's friends. At exactly nine o'clock, Monte Cristo arrives and soon after, a notary calls for the signing of the wedding contract.

Baron Danglars signs, then hands the pen to the representative of Major Cavalcanti (the Major himself has disappeared). Madame Danglars sighs; she wishes that Monsieur Villefort were here, whereupon Monte Cristo steps up and says that, unfortunately, he is the cause of Villefort's absence. Andrea Cavalcanti (Benedetto) immediately pricks up his ears. Monte Cristo continues, and he says that the vest on the murdered Caderousse has been examined and that a piece of paper was found in one of the pockets. It was a letter addressed to Baron Danglars. Monte Cristo speculates that the letter might have concerned a plot against Danglars, so he sent the vest and the letter to the public prosecutor, Villefort.

The notary then announces that the signing of the contract will once again resume; just then, an officer and two gendarmes enter the salon and ask for Andrea Cavalcanti, "an escaped convict accused of murdering another escaped convict by the name of Caderousse." A search begins for young Cavalcanti, but he seems to have disappeared.

Upstairs, Eugénie makes plans to flee with her friend Louise d'Armilly. She says that she loathes men and intends to leave Paris immediately! Then she cuts off her long black hair and dons a man's suit of clothes. Louise is speechless at Eugénie's daring; they quickly hire a cab and escape into the night. Monsieur Danglars has lost his daughter.

"Andrea Cavalcanti" is a clever young man. Before escaping, he detours through the room where the "wedding jewels" are on display. He seizes the most valuable ones, then he cajoles a cab driver to whisk him as fast as possible out of the city (ostensibly to try and catch a friend in another carriage); then, after he alights, he smudges dust on one side of his overcoat and asks to rent a horse (his own horse threw him in the darkness, he says). All of his plans work, and by 4 A.M., he has settled himself in a rented room and is ready for a good sleep, after having consumed a cold chicken and some excellent wine. He is absolutely certain that no one will capture him, for he plans to depart early, travel through a forest, and then cross the French border.

Unfortunately, Andrea sleeps later than he expected to — and when he peers out the window, he sees three gendarmes arriving at the inn. Hastily, he writes a note to the innkeeper, making it sound as though he had to leave in shame because he had no money. He leaves a handsome tie pin behind as payment for board and room, then he climbs up the chimney and onto the roof. He is afraid, however, that while the gendarmes are searching the rooms in the inn, they might look out of an upper window and spy him on the roof. Thus, he slips down a chimney where there is no smoke. Imagine his surprise, when he drops down the chimney and onto the hearth of a bedroom — and two young ladies rise up out of their bed and scream for help. One of them is Eugénie Danglars — the woman he was supposed to marry — and the other is her friend Louise! Eugénie tells Andrea to climb back up the fireplace, but one of the gendarmes has already seen Andrea through the keyhole and breaks open the door and arrests him. Andrea is taken back to Paris and imprisoned.

Back at the Villefort residence, Valentine has still not recovered. She seems to see phantoms in her fevered, delirious state. One night in particular, she seems to see a human figure approaching her bed; the figure takes her drinking glass, samples the contents, then speaks: "Now you may drink." It is the Count of Monte Cristo. He explains to her that he has been keeping guard over her, ascertaining who has come into her room, what food has been prepared for her, and what liquids Valentine has been given to drink. He says that, just now, he emptied the glass by her bed — which was filled with poison — and refilled it with a therapeutic potion. Valentine is confused and distraught: Monre Cristo obviously knows who her poisoner is.

He does indeed, and he tells Valentine to pretend that she is asleep and she will see for herself who is trying to murder her. Then Monte Cristo hides.

Madame de Villefort, Valentine's twenty-five-year-old stepmother enters; she empties a flask into Valentine's glass, then silently withdraws. Valentine is dazed with horror and disbelief, as Monte Cristo explains Madame de Villefort's motives: When Valentine is dead, he says, the huge fortune that was to be Valentine's inheritance will revert to her father (Villefort), who will leave it all to Edouard — the one true love in Madame de Villefort's life. Valentine can scarcely believe that her stepmother is so diabolical, so she asks the Count what she must do. He tells her that "no matter what happens . . . if you awaken in a tomb or a coffin, keep your head and say, 'Maximilien is watching over me."' Then he gives her a pill the size of a pea, bids her goodbye, and tells her that she is saved. Valentine gradually falls asleep, looking like "an angel lying at the foot of the lord."

In the morning, a nurse enters and shrieks. Seemingly, Valentine is dead. Villefort enters and sinks to the floor, his head on Valentine's bed. Madame de Villefort arrives and is speechless. She is sure that the glass by Valentine's bed was empty, but now it is one-third full! And Doctor d'Avrigny is studying it, she thinks, in order to punish her. D'Avrigny then makes a little experiment with a drop of nitric acid, and immediately, the potion changes color. "Aha!" he exclaims. Madame de Villefort crumples to the floor unconscious.

Maximilien appears and is transfixed; then he lifts up old Noirtier and his wheelchair and brings them both into Valentine's room. Noirtier looks as though he is on the verge of an epileptic seizure, and Maximilien vows that he will be Valentine's avenger. Villefort, in secret to Maximilien, confesses that he knows who the murderer is, and he asks for three days before Maximilien begins his vengeance. On his way out, the doctor sees Abbé Busoni, who agrees to attend to all last rites. (Busoni, remember, is Monte Cristo in disguise.)

Next day, Monte Cristo visits Danglars and asks for five million francs. Danglars, who has been boasting about the immense fortune of his firm, is panic-stricken, but finally he pays the Count, who leaves. Within moments, Monsieur de Boville is announced, and he also asks for five million francs from Danglars; tomorrow, his books are being examined. Danglars promises to have the money ready by noon the next day. Of course, however, he won't. He writes a letter to his wife, then takes about fifty thousand francs, his passport, and closes the door behind him.

Valentine's funeral procession is especially painful for Maximilien and afterward, he retires to his room, lays out his pistols, and begins to write a suicide note. He is interrupted by Monte Cristo, who successfully begs him not to commit suicide. The Count tells him to live — with hope. Then, as proof of his compassion for Maximilien's future, he reveals who he actually is — Edmond Dantès,the "savior" of the Morrel shipping firm. Dantès says that within a week, all matters which now seem hopeless will be resolved. Then, in exactly one month, they will meet and be happier than Maximilien can even imagine. Maximilien agrees to Monte Cristo's proposition and also to his invitation to move into the Count's house with him.

Coincidentally, Albert and Mercédès have chosen to live in a rooming house that contains an apartment that is being used by Debray and Madame Danglars for their affair. Madame Danglars assures Debray that her husband's farewell note is final. He will never return to Paris nor to her. She has been abandoned. Debray becomes very nervous. He reminds her that she is rich, rich beyond measure, and then, business-like, he announces that it is time for them to reconcile their individual financial balances. At this point, Madame Danglars carefully conceals the pain which Debray's words give her and hurries away, scorning him for allowing her to leave "like a servant with a paycheck."

Upstairs Albert tells his mother that he has enlisted in France's military forces. She sobs out of fear for him, but Albert manages to get her to promise that she will "live to hope." He will henceforth use her maiden name in his new life, and he tells her further to make plans to go to Marseilles and claim the money which Edmond Dantès saved long ago and buried to be used after he was married to Mercédès.

From a secret vantage point, Monte Cristo wonders if he can ever bestow happiness on these innocent creatures who have, by association with him, become victims of his vengeance.

In the maximum security unit in the prison of La Force, Benedetto lives in great optimism. He is certain that Fortune will soon be kind to him.

Villefort continues to work feverishly on the legal case involving the murderer of Caderousse, and before he leaves for court, he asks his wife straightforwardly where she keeps her poison. She is thrown offguard and tries to evade the question. Villefort then accuses her of murdering three people and of watching them die. But he tells her that "as public prosecutor" and because of the possibility that her execution would "taint the Villefort name," he will be merciful to her. He swears that he will administer only "justice." (We feel that he wants the poison in order to force her to drink it and thereby save him, Villefort, from a court scandal.) Madame Villefort falls at her husband's feet, and Villefort tells her that he must go; he is due in court to demand the death penalty for a murderer. If she is still alive when he returns home, he vows that she will be in prison by nightfall.

The "Benedetto Case" produces a great sensation all over Paris. Everyone, it seems, knows about "Cavalcanti"; his splendid adventures are recounted in copious detail in the newspapers, alongside stories about his life in prison. Because Benedetto is handsome and suave, most people believe that he is the living reincarnation of a Byronic hero and is the tragic victim of Injustice and Misunderstanding.

Benedetto's actual day in court, however, is far different from the Romantic gossip that surrounds him. He begins the session by confessing that he murdered Caderousse. He is asked his name, but he says that he cannot say what his name really is; he does not know. He only knows what his father's name is: That name is Villefort.

A thunderous explosion of surprise rocks the courtroom. Villefort slumps half-unconscious in his chair, and a woman in one corner of the courtroom faints (this is Madame Danglars, hidden behind a veil). Andrea still doesn't fully understand what is taking place. All he knows is that he was born in Auteuil, he says, on September 27, 1817, and that his father immediately picked him up, told his mother that her new baby was dead, and then buried the baby alive in the garden. Benedetto has learned these facts from a Corsican who stabbed Villefort, then opened the grave that Villefort had just deposited the baby into, and took the boy to his sister-in-law to raise. This baby was born with such a "perverse nature" that he grew up evil and turned to crime — loathing and cursing his father for condemning him to hell — "if he had not lived . . . and to poverty if — by a miracle — he lived." He still doesn't know who his mother is and he doesn't want to know.

A shrill cry arises from the courtroom, and the woman who fainted earlier succumbs to a violent fit of hysteria. As she is being carried from the courtroom, her veil falls aside: It is Madame Danglars.

"Look at Villefort! There is the proof!" Benedetto cries, pointing to the staggering, disheveled public prosecutor who has torn his cheeks with his fingernails. In a choked voice, his teeth chattering, Villefort confesses that everything that Benedetto has said is true. He, Villefort, is guilty. Then he lunges mindlessly out of the courtroom.

Villefort realizes that his life is now ruined. He writhes inside his carriage. He acted like a god of Justice to his wife; he sentenced her, as it were, to death. Now, trembling with terror and remorse, he realizes that Madame de Villefort became a criminal only because "she touched me" — in other words, his own criminal nature "infected her." And he dared to accuse and condemn her! He prays that she is still alive. They must flee from France immediately. The scaffold is waiting for them both.

Sighing with hope, he sees nothing amiss at home. He calls again and again to his wife, and finally he finds her, pale and staring at him from her boudoir. "It's done," she moans and falls to the floor. Desperately, Villefort calls out for Edouard. Icy sweat breaks out on his forehead, and his legs begin to tremble. He sees his son lying on a sofa in the boudoir. Villefort leaps over the corpse of his wife and fervently kisses Edouard's cold cheeks. The boy is dead.

At that moment, Abbé Busoni enters; he has come to pray for Valentine's soul, he says. Villefort steps back in terror. The voice coming from the Abbé is not Busoni's. Monte Cristo tears off his disguise and stands before Villefort, daring him to recognize him. With an anguished shriek, Villefort acknowledges that the man before him is Edmond Dantès. "Is your vengeance complete?" he cries, grabbing Dantès' wrist and leading him to where Madame de Villefort and Edouard lie. Then he utters a loud shriek, followed by a burst of laughter, and runs down the stairs. Later, Monte Cristo sees him digging in the ground with a spade. "I must find my son," Villefort gasps. He is mad.

At home, Monte Cristo calls to Maximilien and tells him that they are leaving Paris tomorrow. He hopes that he hasn't caused any more suffering in his unrelenting quest for vengeance.

Analysis

This section, while focusing on the downfall of Villefort, also continues with Monte Cristo's slow and deliberate entrapment of Baron Danglars. Dumas leaves the scene of the Villefort family so that we can witness Danglars' slow and painful downfall. After everyone except Andrea Cavalcanti has signed the marriage contract before the huge gathering, Baron Danglars is told that the murdered man, an escaped convict, was carrying a letter addressed to the Baron, and that the murdered man's name is Caderousse.

Upon hearing the name of his old fellow conspirator, Danglars is visibly upset, and then he is horrified when the police raid his house in search of young Cavalcanti — an escaped convict from the prison at Toulon, and he's also accused of murdering another escaped convict by the name of Caderousse." The Baron is left in a state of consternation and shock. In addition to his crumbling financial structure, his entire social life has been slowly and painfully deteriorating. Now, it has collapsed before his eyes. His daughter, Eugénie, was forced into two unwanted engagements (first, to Albert de Morcerf, whose father is now dishonored; then, to Andrea Cavalcanti, who turned out to be a criminal), and she has taken advantage of the confusion to run away (by a circuitous route) to Rome so she can live the life of a free and unhampered artist. Thus in addition to everything else, Baron Danglars has lost his only daughter.

Later in this section, Danglars will become desperately confused by his failing financial affairs, especially when Monte Cristo suddenly withdraws five million francs and, at the same time, Monsieur de Boville arrives to collect another five million francs owed to charity hospitals. In desperation, Baron Danglars embezzles all the money he can put his hands on and, totally disgraced, he leaves France — but with a considerable amount of money, money which he clearly worships more than he does his family.

This section focuses primarily on the destruction of Villefort, as we watch Monte Cristo's slow punishment erode Villefort's arrogance — first, he must endure the illness of his beloved daughter Valentine, and then, he must accept her "death," after Monte Cristo gives her a mysterious pill which puts her into a state resembling death. Villefort is deeply grieved and almost inconsolable upon hearing that his daughter is dead, and he must further face Maximilien's and Dr. d'Avrigny's charges that Valentine was murdered, in addition to enduring the disgrace of having "a crime committed in my own house." Villefort is also horrified to discover through his father, Monsieur Noirtier, that the murderess is his own wife! Then he must face the horror of confronting his wife and demanding her suicide — or else he will have her sentenced to public execution. He tells her, "I am going to the Palace of Justice now to demand the death penalty for a murderer. If I find you alive when I return, you will be in prison by nightfall."

In addition to Danglars' shock at the humiliating revelation that Andrea Cavalcanti (alias Benedetto) is a criminal, this news will bring about Villefort's total destruction, and it will further emphasize Monte Cristo's belief that "the sins of the father are visited upon the son" since the evil and corrupt Andrea is actually the son of Villefort; in addition, poetic justice can be seen in the fact that the son will accuse the father of attempting to bury him alive when he was an infant. This reveals to us that Villefort is capable of the most horrible sin and atrocity known to civilized man — that is, of coldly and deliberately burying one's own child alive. Poetic justice occurs when the son whom the father tried to kill returns to publicly destroy his own father. Ultimately, however, we must remember that the Count of Monte Cristo has arranged all of this for the sake of punishment and justice.

But Villefort's slow punishment is not yet complete. When he arrives home, repentant of his demand that his wife kill herself, he discovers that she has already taken the poison and is now dying.

The ultimate horror is revealed when Villefort discovers that his wife has also poisoned their son, who is already dead. Then Abbé Busoni, who is visiting Monsieur Noirtier, reveals that he is, first, the Count of Monte Cristo, and then he forces Villefort to recognize him as Edmond Dantès, whom Villefort "condemned to a slow and hideous death," thereby depriving Dantès" of love, freedom and fortune." Villefort is barely able to withstand the horror of it all. He leads Dantès to the dead young Edouard, asking him, "Is your vengeance now complete?" Villefort then loses his mind and wanders through the garden in complete madness, searching for his dead son. The Count has once again gained his revenge against yet another of his enemies.

This section shows the first basic and fundamental change in Monte Cristo; until now, he has functioned under the theory that "the sins of the father are visited upon" subsequent generations. For this reason, he would have dueled with and killed Albert de Morcerf because Albert is the son of a hated enemy, but Monte Cristo did see a certain nobility in Albert, in spite of his treacherous father. Likewise, when Maximilien asks Monte Cristo to help Valentine, the daughter of his dreaded enemy Villefort, Monte Cristo is horrified to discover that so noble a young man as Maximilien could love such a descendant: "You love Valentine? You love that daughter of a cursed breed?" And yet he, out of his devotion to the young Maximilien, is persuaded ultimately to devote himself to saving and preserving Valentine for Maximilien. Finally, when Monte Cristo is confronted with the death of the young nine-year-old Edouard de Villefort, he doubts "for the first time" that he has a right to do what he has done. He hopes that "God grant that I haven't done too much already." Monte Cristo now seems to be satiated with his desire for revenge, even though he has arranged for the final destruction of Danglars in the next section.

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