Summary and Analysis
Chapters 20-21 - Monte Cristo's Revenge
The scene now changes dramatically. We are in Rome, where two new characters appear: Franz d'Epinay (a young baron) and Albert de Morcerf (a good-looking viscount). The young men are fretting because they have come to Rome to find romance and laughter during the carnival season, but strangely, all of Rome's carriages and horses have been rented. The two young men are furious; men of their class do not "run around Rome on foot like lawyers' clerks." Nevertheless, they decide to deliver their "letters of introduction" to all of Rome's first families and make plans, if need be, to costume themselves as
colorful "Neapolitan harvesters" and ride around in a festive and beribboned oxcart. But at the last minute, the two men are saved by a stroke of good fortune: The hotel-keeper tells them that the "very great" Count of Monte Cristo has heard of their plight and has offered them two seats in his carriage, as well as two seats in his window above the square where most of the merriment will take place.
When Franz and Albert meet Monte Cristo, they are in awe of him and of his palatial quarters and his princely generosity. In addition, both men are startled by Monte Cristo's enthusiastic invitation to join him in witnessing a public execution from a window overlooking the execution site. Both Albert and Franz survive the ordeal, but they are both greatly distraught. Immediately before the execution, Monte Cristo talks of little else except the justice of slow and painful revenge; the guillotine, he feels, offers death too quickly and too painlessly. In contrast to instantaneous decapitation, however, Franz and Albert witness a singularly savage execution: A man is bludgeoned with a mace, his throat slit open, and his stomach trampled on until jets of blood spurt from his mouth like fantastic ruby-colored fountains. Curiously, the other prisoner on the block, a bronzed and handsome young man with a wild, proud look in his eyes, is pardoned at the last minute — as Monte Cristo prophecied earlier that he would be.
Hurriedly, the two men and Monte Cristo don their carnival costumes and join the festivities. Albert is soon rewarded with romance; a masked lady in a carriage tosses a bouquet of violets to him, and on the second day of the carnival, she tosses another bouquet to him; then Albert is rewarded with an invitation to a rendezvous with the mysterious lady. He goes to the appointed street, but at the moment when all of the carnival candles are suddenly extinguished in a dramatic finale, he is kidnapped.
Franz receives a note demanding a great deal of money and threatening Albert's life if the sum is not paid. In desperation, Franz asks Monte Cristo for a loan, explaining that a man waits below for the ransom money. Monte Cristo goes to the window and speaks to the fellow. It is Peppino, the handsome, tanned youth who was pardoned earlier, and who, it turns out, "owes his life" to Monte Cristo. He explains that his master, the notorious Luigi Vampa, kidnapped Albert. Monte Cristo immediately tells Peppino to take them to Vampa at once.
Deep in the bowels of Rome's catacombs, Monte Cristo accuses Vampa of breaking his vow never to molest a friend of the Count's. Vampa, more like a gallant gentleman than a bandit, profusely apologizes to Monte Cristo and immediately releases Albert. Later, Albert asks Monte Cristo how he can ever repay him for saving his life, and Monte Cristo answers that he would like to be introduced into Parisian society. Albert, of course, promises to do so, and he sets a date for their next meeting — in Paris, in exactly three months. The two men shake hands on the agreement, and Monte Cristo leaves. Franz turns to Albert and says that Monte Cristo is indeed a strange man; he feels uneasy about the Count's coming to Paris.
These two transitional chapters show Edmond Dantès now totally metamorphosed into the noble, distinguished, and very rich Count of Monte Cristo. Quite a number of years have passed since the episode with Monsieur Morrel, and we can only gather from later facts that the Count has traveled extensively and performed many acts — such as acquiring Ali, his mute valet, Bertuccio, his steward, and Haydée, his "slave-mistress." And note that although it seems that the Count is "accidentally" staying in the same hotel with Albert de Morcerf and Franz d'Epinay, and although it seems to be a "miraculous" rescue of Albert, there is every indication (virtual proof, in fact) that Monte Cristo has arranged these things to happen so that he can "seemingly" come to the rescue of these two young (and prestigious) Parisian gentlemen. In other words, the Count of Monte Cristo wants Albert to become so indebted to him that Albert will introduce him into Paris society, and thereby introduce him to the very enemies against whom he plans his revenge. The first and simplest obligation which Albert owes to Monte Cristo is, of course, the loan of a carriage when one was "suddenly impossible to obtain" during Rome's carnival season. But the major obligation occurs when Monte Cristo "saved Albert's life" after he was "captured" by the bandit Luigi Vampa, a person who is also obligated to the Count. Albert is obligated to such an extent, therefore, that he will gladly introduce Monte Cristo to prominent Parisian society, where Monte Cristo will begin his slow revenge against those who are responsible for his long years of brutal imprisonment.
In this section also, we discover Monte Cristo's philosophy of revenge and death. Since the Count could obviously hire an assassin, or in other ways bring about the immediate death of his enemies, we should note that he does not believe in a quick and easy death for a person who has made others suffer for a long and extended period of time. As he says, "If a man has tortured and killed your father, your mother, your sweetheart, one of those beings who leave an eternal emptiness and a perpetually bleeding wound when they are torn from your heart . . . do you think society has given you sufficient reparation because the man who made you undergo long years of mental and emotional suffering has undergone a few seconds of physical pain?" In other words, Monte Cristo does not want quick revenge — he wants slow and deliberate vengeance: "For slow, profound, infinite, and eternal suffering, I'd try to avenge myself by inflicting similar suffering — an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." Thus, Monte Cristo will bring revenge upon his enemies slowly and very deliberately, making those who made him suffer, suffer in turn, for a very long time.