The Count of Monte Cristo | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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The Count of Monte Cristo | Chapters 1–4 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

On February 24, 1815, the three-masted ship Pharaon returns to the harbor at Marseille after a three-month voyage loaded with cargo. The ship is under the capable command of first mate Edmond Dantès, whose natural leadership ability has earned the ready obedience and loyalty of the crew. The ship's owner, Monsieur Morrel, comes on board, and Dantès explains that as first mate, he took over command when Captain Leclère died of brain fever. He tells Morrel that Captain Leclère's last order to him was to make a stop at Elba and deliver a packet to the Grand Marshal. Morrel checks in with Danglars, the supercargo (business manager), and Danglers makes some derogatory comments about Dantès. Morrel discounts Danglars's comments and tells Dantès that he intends to promote him to captain before the next voyage. He asks Dantès how he would feel about having Danglars as his supercargo on the next voyage. Dantès diplomatically says that he'd respect the owner's choice of employees.

Chapter 2

Once ashore, Dantès rushes to see his poor, aged father, who looks frail and ill. Dantès is shocked to discover that there is no food in the house. Before he left on his voyage, Dantès had given his father money. But their neighbor, Caderousse, to whom Dantès owed money, suddenly demanded that his father repay the debt, threatening to go to Morrel to ask for it if Old Dantès wouldn't pay. Appalled, young Dantès immediately makes sure that his father has what he needs. Caderousse appears at the door and greets Dantès with false enthusiasm. He advises Dantès to rush to Les Catalans to see his fiancée, Mercédès, immediately, implying that she has other suitors. After Dantès leaves, Caderousse meets up with Danglars. They discuss Dantès, revealing their envy of him. Danglars suggests that Dantès might not be promoted to captain; he might, in fact, "even become less than he is." They decide to go to Les Catalans to see firsthand how Dantès fares with Mercédès.

Chapter 3

In the village of Les Catalans, Mercédès is at home telling her cousin Fernand "for the hundredth time" that she won't marry him; she's in love with Edmond Dantès. Mercédès advises Fernand not to dream of things he can't have but to be content to be a fisherman. When Dantès appears at the door, the lovers joyfully embrace while Fernand seethes. Mercédès introduces Fernand as her cousin and brother, but Fernand responds with hostility and rushes out of the house.

While Caderousse and Danglars are drinking wine at a table outside La Réserve, they see Fernand running down the road looking distraught. They persuade him to join them, hoping to make him so angry that he'll attack Dantès. But when Dantès and Mercédès walk by, a sharp glance from Mercédès is enough to restrain Fernand. Danglars and Caderousse ask about their wedding plans, and Dantès mentions that he'll be going to Paris to carry out a final request for Captain Leclère. Danglars concludes that he'll be delivering the letter Leclère had given to Dantès before he died. This errand gives Danglars an idea about how to keep Dantès from becoming captain of the Pharaon.

Chapter 4

The happy couple go on their way, leaving Danglars, an increasingly drunken Caderousse, and the despairing Fernand at the table under the arbor. Danglars goads Fernand for not fighting for the love of Mercédès. Fernand explains that Mercédès had threatened suicide if anything happened to Dantès. Danglars suggests that Dantès might not need to die; instead, he might be sent to prison. Caderousse points out that Dantès, when he got out of prison, would take revenge. But Danglars persists. Pretending to be concerned about Fernand's unhappiness, he suggests that he knows how to have Dantès arrested. Finally, Fernand says he will carry out whatever plan Danglars devises. Danglars calls for a pen and paper. Using his left hand to disguise his writing, he writes an anonymous letter to the Crown Prosecutor, denouncing Dantès as an agent of Napoleon Bonaparte. The proof of his guilt, he writes, is a letter that Dantès has on him which he plans to deliver to Paris. Then, saying that he has written the letter simply as a joke, Danglars crumples it up and tosses it on the ground. Caderousse, very drunk now, asserts that Dantès is his friend and approves of throwing the letter away. Danglars and Caderousse leave together, and Fernand lingers for a moment. He picks up the letter, pockets it, and heads off toward town.

Analysis

These chapters introduce several of the main characters and describe the actions and motivations that lead to the central conflict in the novel. The story plays out against the background of political unrest that marks this period of French history. Napoleon, after his initial defeat in 1814, languishes in exile on Elba, and plots are undertaken to restore him to power and unseat the Bourbon monarch who has been placed on the French throne. The situation is still very volatile, and France is divided between Bonapartists and Royalists (who want no part of Napoleon's return). The young, innocent Dantès doesn't realize that by delivering a packet to Napoleon's marshall on Elba, he unwittingly aided a plot to overthrow the monarchy. To him, it was nothing more than a simple favor for a dying man and the carrying out of a superior officer's orders. Morrel's warning that Dantès could get in trouble for speaking to the emperor foreshadows the problem, or conflict, that Dantès is about to encounter.

These chapters also introduce the personal conflict among these main characters as well as give readers their first glimpse of the characters' personalities. Dantès, the protagonist, is young, happy, and in love. Intelligent, honest, generous, and somewhat naive, he's looking forward to a bright future. What would motivate Danglars, Caderousse, and Fernand to plot against him? Caderousse, in demanding that Dantès's father repay his son's loan and threatening to embarrass him by going to Morrel, shows that he is mean-spirited and greedy. He enjoys telling Dantès that Mercédès has another suitor, revealing his envy of the young man's happiness. Fernand, of course, is motivated by jealousy, because the woman he loves intends to marry Dantès. Danglars resents the fact that Dantès will be appointed captain of the Pharaon, a post that he believes he should have. His sly words to Morrel, as he tries to undermine Dantès and shake the owner's confidence in the young man, foreshadow the plot that the conspirators finally undertake. Morrel's acceptance of Dantès's answers to Danglars's doubts hints at the faith he will place in the young man after his arrest. The beautiful Mercédès is just as deeply in love with Dantès as he with her, as evidenced by her vow to commit suicide should anything happen to him.

Dantès makes diplomatic answers to Morrel's questions about Danglars that may surprise readers in light of his apparent naïveté. He indicates that there was some friction between the two of them but also expresses his willingness to work with the man again if Morrel desires it. He is at once uncomfortable with Danglars and obedient to authority.

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