The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas

Excerpts from Chapters 31, 32, 38, 40, 53, 77

(in the full 117 chapter version -- accept no other!)


Set in the turbulent times of early 19th century France, The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) centers on Edmond Dantes, a young sailor, who is arrested unjustly on his wedding day and imprisoned on the Island of Monte Cristo. After many years he escapes and recovers a lost treasure that a fellow inmate informs him of. He buys a yacht and spends the rest of the novel travelling around in various disguises, achieving intricate and exquisite revenge on the men who framed him in order to win his position and his fiancee, Mercedes, while rewarding those who stood up for him at their own peril. 


Disguised as an Englishman, Dantes tells the daughter of his loyal and former employer Morrel that she will receive a note from Sindbad the Sailor, with instructions she is to follow closely. She soon receives a note informing her where she can find a purse containing the money her father needs to save his business and a magnificent diamond for her dowry.


Soon afterwards, a young Frenchman, Franz d'Epinay, stops on the island of Monte Cristo, which he is told is uninhabited except for occasional smugglers who land there. Upon arrival, he is invited to dinner in a sumptuously decorated cave by a mysterious man calling himself Sindbad the Sailor who sails in a yacht. Franz, who keeps exclaiming that the evening is like an Arabian Nights adventure, tells "Sindbad" to call him "Aladdin." 


After dinner, a Nubian servant called Ali brings two baskets filled with desserts and places them on the table. Dumas writes,


Between the two baskets he placed a small silver cup with a silver cover. The care with which Ali placed this cup on the table roused Franz's curiosity. He raised the and saw a kind of greenish paste, something like preserved angelica, but which was perfectly unknown to him. He replaced the lid, as ignorant of what the cup contained as he was before he had looked at it, and then casting his eyes towards his host he saw him smile at his disappointment. "You cannot guess," said he, "what there is in that small vase, can you?"


"No, I really cannot."


"Well, then, that green preserve is nothing less than the ambrosia which Hebe served at the table of Jupiter."


"But," replied Franz, "this ambrosia, no doubt, in passing through mortal hands has lost its heavenly appellation and assumed a human name; in vulgar phrase, what may you term this composition, for which, to tell the truth, I do not feel any particular desire?"


"Ah, thus it is that our material origin is revealed," cried Sinbad; "we frequently pass so near to happiness without seeing, without regarding it, or if we do see and regard it, yet without recognizing it. Are you a man for the substantials, and is gold your god? taste this, and the mines of Peru, Guzerat, and Golconda are opened to you. Are you a man of imagination -- a poet? taste this, and the boundaries of possibility disappear; the fields of infinite space open to you, you advance free in heart, free in mind, into the boundless realms of unfettered revery. Are you ambitious, and do you seek after the greatnesses of the earth? taste this, and in an hour you will be a king, not a king of a petty kingdom hidden in some corner of Europe like France, Spain, or England, but king of the world, king of the universe, king of creation; without bowing at the feet of Satan, you will be king and master of all the kingdoms of the earth. Is it not tempting what I offer you, and is it not an easy thing, since it is only to do thus? look!"


At these words he uncovered the small cup which contained the substance so lauded, took a teaspoonful of the magic sweetmeat, raised it to his lips, and swallowed it slowly with his eyes half shut and his head bent backwards. Franz did not disturb him whilst he absorbed his favorite sweetmeat, but when he had finished, he inquired, -- "What, then, is this precious stuff?"


"Did you ever hear," he replied, "of the Old Man of the Mountain, who attempted to assassinate Philip Augustus?"


"Of course I have."


"Well, you know he reigned over a rich valley which was overhung by the mountain whence he derived his picturesque name. In this valley were magnificent gardens planted by Hassen-ben-Sabah, and in these gardens isolated pavilions. Into these pavilions he admitted the elect, and there, says Marco Polo, gave them to eat a certain herb, which transported them to Paradise, in the midst of ever-blooming shrubs, ever-ripe fruit, and ever-lovely virgins. What these happy persons took for reality was but a dream; but it was a dream so soft, so voluptuous, so enthralling, that they sold themselves body and soul to him who gave it to them, and obedient to his orders as to those of a deity, struck down the designated victim, died in torture without a murmur, believing that the death they underwent was but a quick transition to that life of delights of which the holy herb, now before you had given them a slight foretaste."


"Then," cried Franz, "it is hashish! I know that -- by name at least."


"That is it precisely, Signor Aladdin; it is hashish -- the purest and most unadulterated hashish of Alexandria, -- the hashish of Abou-Gor, the celebrated maker, the only man, the man to whom there should be built a palace, inscribed with these words, `A grateful world to the dealer in happiness.'"


"Do you know," said Franz, "I have a very great inclination to judge for myself of the truth or exaggeration of your eulogies."


"Judge for yourself, Signor Aladdin -- judge, but do not confine yourself to one trial. Like everything else, we must habituate the senses to a fresh impression, gentle or violent, sad or joyous. There is a struggle in nature against this divine substance, -- in nature which is not made for joy and clings to pain. Nature subdued must yield in the combat, the dream must succeed to reality, and then the dream reigns supreme, then the dream becomes life, and life becomes the dream. But what changes occur! It is only by comparing the pains of actual being with the joys of the assumed existence, that you would desire to live no longer, but to dream thus forever. When you return to this mundane sphere from your visionary world, you would seem to leave a Neapolitan spring for a Lapland winter -- to quit paradise for earth -- heaven for hell! Taste the hashish, guest of mine -- taste the hashish."


Franz's only reply was to take a teaspoonful of the marvelous preparation, about as much in quantity as his host had eaten, and lift it to his mouth.


Soon, Franz begins to feel a "strange transformation":


All the bodily fatigue of the day, all the preoccupation of mind which the events of the evening had brought on, disappeared as they do at the first approach of sleep, when we are still sufficiently conscious to be aware of the coming of slumber. His body seemed to acquire an airy lightness, his perception brightened in a remarkable manner, his senses seemed to redouble their power, the horizon continued to expand; but it was not the gloomy horizon of vague alarms, and which he had seen before he slept, but a blue, transparent, unbounded horizon, with all the blue of the ocean, all the spangles of the sun, all the perfumes of the summer breeze; then, in the midst of the songs of his sailors, -- songs so clear and sonorous, that they would have made a divine harmony had their notes been taken down, -- he saw the Island of Monte Cristo, no longer as a threatening rock in the midst of the waves, but as an oasis in the desert.


Franz invites his host to visit him in Paris in order that he might reciprocate his hospitality; "Sindbad" replies should he visit Paris he would do so in disguise. Franz ends the evening imagining he is making love to some beautiful women in the form of Greek statues, and awakes the next morning feeling it was all a dream:


He recalled his arrival on the island, his presentation to a smuggler chief, a subterranean palace full of splendor, an excellent supper, and a spoonful of hashish. It seemed, however, even in the very face of open day, that at least a year had elapsed since all these things had passed, so deep was the impression made in his mind by the dream, and so strong a hold had it taken of his imagination. Thus every now and then he saw in fancy amid the sailors, seated on a rock, or undulating in the vessel, one of the shadows which had shared his dream with looks and kisses. Otherwise, his head was perfectly clear, and his body refreshed; he was free from the slightest headache; on the contrary, he felt a certain degree of lightness, a faculty for absorbing the pure air, and enjoying the bright sunshine more vividly than ever.


Franz travels on to Rome and there he and his friend Albert de Morcerf are rescued from a band of bandits and kidnappers by a man presenting himself as the Count of Monte Cristo. In gratitude, Albert makes an appointment with the Count in Paris, laughing off Franz's suspicions that he may be Sinbad the Sailor.


The Count arrives in Paris, brandishing an emerald box in which he carries small green pills of his own devising used for sleeplessness. He informs his enthralled company that the pills are compounded of hashish and opium. While exhibiting admirable moderation in his habits of eating and drinking, the Count speaks of a fondness for things Oriental (of which hashish was considered one).


While at the Opera, the Count is asked,


"But what do you think of the music?"


"What music?"


"Why, the music you have been listening to."


"Oh, it is well enough as the production of a human composer, sung by featherless bipeds, to quote the late Diogenes."


"From which it would seem, my dear count, that you can at pleasure enjoy the seraphic strains that proceed from the seven choirs of paradise?"


"You are right, in some degree; when I wish to listen to sounds more exquisitely attuned to melody than mortal ear ever yet listened to, I go to sleep."


"Then sleep here, my dear count. The conditions are favorable; what else was opera invented for?"


"No, thank you. Your orchestra is too noisy. To sleep after the manner I speak of, absolute calm and silence are necessary, and then a certain preparation."


"I know -- the famous hashish!"


"Precisely. So, my dear viscount, whenever you wish to be regaled with music come and sup with me."  

Today, with many of the most interesting chapters excised from popular editions of this remarkable work of literature (with no notation that they are abridged), students wonder what is so great about the tale of vengeance that survives. In preventing his marriage to Mercedes, his life, his children, have been denied Dantes, and so as the novel ends he takes his joy in a young Greek slave girl, Haydee, who seems to be a personified statue from a hashish dream.