Summary and Analysis
Chapters 47-54 - The Death of Morcerf
One morning, Albert and Beauchamp (the journalist) call on Monte Cristo, and it is soon clear to the Count that Albert is out of sorts, so he invites him to go away with him to his new estate in Normandy, on the coast of France. Albert accepts the invitation, and when he arrives there, he is once more in awe of the Count — and of his new estate. From the terrace overlooking the sea, Albert sees Monte Cristo's yacht, proudly at anchor in the bay. That night, Albert falls asleep, lulled by the sound of waves breaking on the shore.
The following day, after shooting a dozen pheasants and catching a number of trout, Albert's idyllic interlude is cut short. Albert's valet arrives breathlessly from Paris, utterly exhausted from having traveled so far so quickly; he has a letter of urgent importance. Albert reads the first few lines and half-collapses. Monte Cristo murmurs omnisciently that "the sins of the father shall be visited upon the children." His insight is uncanny. The true identity of Albert's father has been revealed in the Paris press, as well as the fact that years ago when Fernand (de Morcerf) was supposedly defending Ali Pasha's fortress, he betrayed Ali Pasha to the Turks. (We learn later that not only did Fernand betray Ali Pasha, but that he assassinated him.) The implication is that "Count" de Morcerf (who bought his title), a member of the French Parliament, is both a traitor and a fraud. Albert leaves immediately for Paris. He is terribly confused. His father has such public stature that this scandal, he fears, will soon "echo all over Europe." He is correct.
Albert's father, meanwhile, reports to the Chamber totally unaware of the incriminating article that has just been published. Within minutes, one of his peers opens the floor for debate on the matter of Ali Pasha's assassination and what role Colonel Fernand Mondego (Morcerf's real name) played in it. Morcerf pales immediately, and then his entire body is rocked with a horrible shudder. There is a unanimous demand for an immediate investigation into the entire matter, and that evening, Morcerf presents himself before a twelve-member commission. His defense is that he was Ali Pasha's most trusted confidant; to be accused of betrayal is a grave error, for Morcerf tried to defend Ali Pasha, he says, but found him dead and his wife and daughter gone. Furthermore, he resents this anonymous attack on his honor.
The commission then produces a witness to substantiate the charges against Morcerf. Monte Cristo's slave-girl, Haydée, offers as evidence her birth certificate and her "bill of sale." She is Ali Pasha's daughter, she says, sold by Fernand (de Morcerf) to a slave merchant after her father was assassinated. At last, she says, she has the opportunity to avenge her father's murder. She identifies Morcerf by saying that her father's assassin has a wide scar on his right hand; immediately, Morcerf hides his hand and sinks into a chair, crushed by despair. Then, tearing open his coat, he flees from the room. Within moments, the commission finds him guilty of felony, treason, and dishonor.
When Albert hears of this decision, he vows to "find the denouncer" of his father. Beauchamp, the journalist, mentions that Danglars recently questioned his "correspondent" in the East about Ali Pasha's betrayal. Albert seizes on the news with vehemence and anger. He will fight Danglars, he says, and either he or Danglars "will be dead before the end of this day."
At first, Danglars shrinks with fear when he is confronted by Albert, but when he realizes that Albert's anger is totally irrational, he very cleverly suggests that it is Monte Cristo who is to blame for Albert's father's defamation. It was Monte Cristo, he says, who told him to investigate "the Ali Pasha affair" — which he did — and reported his findings to Monte Cristo immediately. Albert realizes that Danglars sounds like a man who has been used only as a "tool," and so he vows to go immediately to Monte Cristo and confront him with the charges.
The Count is unavailable when Albert calls, but Albert is told that Monte Cristo plans to go to the opera that evening, so Albert decides to attend the opera also and therefore sends word to Franz, Debray, and Maximilien to meet him there. He plans to use them as witnesses. Later, Albert questions his mother, Mercédès, about Monte Cristo. Mercédès cannot believe what her son tells her; she pleads with him to stay with her instead of going to the opera, but she is unsuccessful.
Monte Cristo arrives late, but Albert sees him enter, and during the intermission, he hurries to Monte Cristo's box. He shouts threats at the Count and makes an ugly scene, but Monte Cristo is undaunted; if Albert wants to duel, he will oblige him. He promises Maximilien that he will kill Albert tomorrow. Then he sits back and enjoys the rest of the opera.
Later, Mercédès visits Monte Cristo and agonizingly pleads for her son's life; then it is clear that she knows that Monte Cristo is Edmond Dantès. She begs him for pity — because of her. The Count refuses, revealing what a villain Fernand was — to help send Monte Cristo to prison for fourteen long, torturous years. Mercédès pleads with him, "the man [she] still loves," not to become the murderer of her son. Finally, Monte Cristo agrees not to kill Albert. Instead, he tells Mercédès, he will allow Albert to kill him. Gratefully, Mercédès leaves Monte Cristo. The Count is puzzled by Mercédès' seeming indifference to his own, certain death. He curses the day that he vowed to revenge himself on his enemies.
Next morning, Maximilien (Monte Cristo's "second") and Emmanuel (Julie Morrel's husband) arrive for Monte Cristo. They tell the Count that he will fire first, since he is "the offended party." Maximilien fears that Monte Cristo is not a good shot, and so the Count attaches an ace of diamonds to a plank and instantly shoots each of the four corners of the diamond in the center of the card. Maximilien cries out to the Count for mercy for Albert, but seemingly, the Count's decision will not be swayed. Yet, he says, despite the marksmanship that Maximilien has just seen, it will be Monte Cristo, and not Albert, who will be carried back.
The three men arrive at the appointed hour, and when Albert arrives — at a full gallop — he leaps off his horse and, before his own witnesses, he apologizes for his conduct. He knows now that his father, Fernand Mondego, did betray Ali Pasha. But, far worse than that was his father's betrayal of Edmond Dantès. Because of the enormity of Fernand's crime, Albert can only thank Monte Cristo for not deciding on more painful vengeance than he did.
Monte Cristo realizes that Mercédès has told her son everything; obviously she planned to do so all along, after Monte Cristo promised not to kill Albert. The two men shake hands on Albert's apology, and Albert returns home and begins to pack his belongings, including the portrait of Mercédès as a Catalan fisherwoman. But he discovers, to his surprise, that his mother is also packing. The two vow to make a complete break with their pasts, and Mercédès advises Albert to use the name of "Herrera," her father's name, instead of Morcerf.
Albert replies that if Monte Cristo was able to endure his own misery, unhappiness, and injustice, then he, Albert, can do the same. So he and his mother make ready to leave. Just then, Bertuccio, Monte Cristo's steward, delivers a letter to Albert from the Count. Albert is told to claim three thousand francs (money which Edmond Dantès buried twenty-two years ago, when he believed that he would marry Mercédès); the money lies buried in the garden of Dantès' father's house in Marseilles. Mercédès reads the letter and accepts the Count's offer. She'll take the money to a convent with her.
At home, Monte Cristo learns that Maximilien is deeply in love with someone, and so he tells him goodbye and asks him not to forget to call on the Count if ever the need arises. Maximilien agrees to do so. Shortly thereafter, Morcerf (Fernand) arrives to speak with Monte Cristo. He wants verification that his son actually apologized to Monte Cristo — instead of dueling with him. He cannot understand why.
Because, Monte Cristo says, "there was another man guiltier than I." Monte Cristo then names Fernand, labeling him an "enemy." Fernand challenges Monte Cristo to a duel, this time with swords. But Monte Cristo first identifies Fernand for what he is: Fernand, he says, deserted the French army on the eve of Waterloo; he served as a spy in Spain; he assassinated Ali Pasha, and he unscrupulously managed to become Count Morcerf. Fernand is livid. He demands to know who Monte Cristo is so that he can pronounce his name aloud as he plunges his sword into the Count's heart. Monte Cristo leaves the room and returns dressed as a young sailor. Morcerf's teeth begin to chatter; he leans against the wall, and then he slides out of the room, crying out in terror, "Edmond Dantès!"
Fernand returns home just in time to see his wife and son leaving together. Their carriage door closes, and Fernand is alone. Moments later, a shot rings out so violently that one of the frames in the bedroom window is shattered.
These chapters show how the Count effects his plan for revenge against his old enemy, Fernand, the man responsible for mailing the letter which imprisoned Dantès for fourteen years. His first act is to remove Fernand's son, Albert, from the environs so that Fernand will not be able to turn to his "beloved son" for solace. We see again the Count's very strong religious belief that the "sins of the father shall be visited upon the children to the third or fourth generation." Consequently, all the time that Monte Cristo has been seeing Albert, he has remained aloof, knowing that this young man, however charming, is nevertheless the son of one of his most detested enemies.
The damaging information about Morcerf's treacherous behavior at the battle of Yanina and his betrayal of his benefactor (Ali Pasha) is information that was given to the press by Danglars, partly because Danglars has never liked Count de Morcerf — even when they were young together and especially since the Count was able to buy a higher title than the one that Baron Danglars has. But more important, Danglars wants some reason to break off the marriage between Albert and Eugénie Danglars because he wants to align himself with a much larger fortune through young Andrea Cavalcanti, but who (unbeknownst to Danglars) is an imposter as well as the illegitimate son of Danglars' wife.
These chapters show that the Count's carefully laid plans are now beginning to pay off. We must, therefore, review the Count's philosophy: If a man has made you suffer for an untold number of years, then you are not right in revenging yourself instantaneously; you are obligated, as it were, to make your enemy endure prolonged suffering. Thus, Count de Morcerf must first face the humiliations of being called a traitor in the newspaper, of being charged to defend himself before the Chamber of Deputies (of which he is a very proud and feared member), and then he must face the direct accusations of Haydée, whom Morcerf obtained by treachery when he betrayed Haydée's father, then sold her as a slave girl, along with her mother, who soon died. Moreover, he must hear the Chamber of Deputies vote him guilty by a unanimous voice vote. He is now a man in complete public disgrace.
If the reader will remember that this is a Romantic novel, written for an audience believing in personal honor and integrity, then Albert de Morcerf's actions against the Count of Monte Cristo won't seem so strange. It is not that Albert ever questions his father's dishonorable actions — all noble families have things to hide — but it is dishonorable for any man to make public these dishonorable actions. Thus, Albert feels that Monte Cristo is totally accountable: Albert remembers that Monte Cristo knew everything, for he bought Ali Pasha's daughter, and then knowing everything about the "Ali Pasha" affair, he urged Danglars to write to Yanina. Finally, he took Albert to Normandy with him just at the moment when he knew the disaster was to occur. Thus, it now seems to Albert that Monte Cristo planned everything and that he was in league "with his father's enemies."
When Albert questions his mother about his father's enemies, he wonders about Monte Cristo because the Count has "always refused to eat or drink anything in our house . . . and as you know, Mother, the Count is almost an Oriental and, in order to maintain full freedom to avenge themselves, Orientals never eat or drink anything in the house of an enemy." Now, earlier scenes in the novel (often omitted in abridged versions), in which the Countess de Morcerf (Mercédès) would pick grapes and offer them to the Count who refused, or when Mercédès would bring the Count tempting morsels which he would always refuse, become clear when we realize why Monte Cristo always refused to eat what was offered to him. Note too, that in this present scene, when Mercédès comes to plead with the Count for the life of her son, this is not by any means the first time that they have acknowledged by indirect signs that they are indeed the old lovers of years ago, but this is the first time that they call each other by their real names. When Mercédès tells Monte Cristo that Albert attributes Fernand's misfortunes to him, the Count reiterates his basic belief:
"What has happened to his father is not a misfortune: It's a punishment. I haven't struck him down: Providence has punished him." Thus, as with the death of Caderousse, the Count believes strongly in the efficacy of Providence. When Mercédès pleads for the life of her son, the Count tells her of Fernand's betrayal and says that he, Monte Cristo, is only acting in the name of God — "You're asking me to disobey God, who brought me back from a living death in order to punish them. Impossible . . . I suffered for fourteen years, I wept and cursed for fourteen years, and now I tell you, Mercédès, I must have vengeance!"
Finally, the remembrance of Monte Cristo's past love for Mercédès conquers his desire for vengeance; Monte Cristo agrees not to kill Albert, but he lets it be known to Mercédès, and later to Maximilien, that he will allow Albert to kill him. This is the only honorable course that he can take, for no longer can he adhere to his credo that the "sins of the father must be visited upon the son."
Fernand's death comes after he has confronted the Count with a demand for a duel; when the Count reveals that he is Edmond Dantès, Fernand can barely stagger home, and when he arrives there, he discovers that his wife and son — the only people whom he has ever loved — have totally rejected him and are leaving his house, carrying absolutely nothing that belongs to him. With this knowledge, Fernand shoots himself, thus ridding the Count of Monte Cristo of the second of his four enemies.