Analysis: Chapters 68–76
With his vast resources and hidden identities, Monte Cristo is a plausible forerunner of the modern superhero, using his enormous gifts to fight crime and help the innocent. Additionally, he is able to go incognito instantly and effortlessly, merely by donning a simple disguise. Dressed as an Italian priest or an Englishman, no one recognizes him as the Count of Monte Cristo. In Chapter 70, his red wig and fake scar so convince Villefort that he is Lord Wilmore that Villefort does not even begin to suspect his true identity. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Monte Cristo’s disguises is that they fool even his closest companions. Bertuccio, for instance, never figures out that Monte Cristo and Abbé Busoni are the same person. Monte Cristo’s expert ability to disguise himself, along with his enormous strength and his seemingly inexhaustible knowledge, make him appear superhuman.
Monte Cristo can also be seen as a precursor to another popular modern figure, the detective. Monte Cristo meticulously assembles his enemies’ histories, collecting clues and evidence by slyly questioning his suspects and those close to them, wheedling out of them any information they can give. He cleverly manipulates those around him, pressuring his enemies to their breaking point—tempting Danglars into betrothing his daughter to Cavalcanti, for instance, and subtly influencing Madame de Villefort to begin her campaign of murders. Eventually, Monte Cristo brings to light heinous crimes that, if not for his sleuthing, might never be uncovered.
Unlike his real-life model, Piçaud, Monte Cristo does not stoop to criminal actions when taking revenge. Instead, what we see unfolding in these chapters is an elaborate plan to destroy his enemies by exposing their own past crimes. Moreover, Monte Cristo does not rely on the crimes his enemies committed against him long ago, but instead draws on far greater crimes they have committed against others in the intervening years. Danglars is ultimately punished for his cruel financial opportunism, Fernand Mondego for his betrayal of Ali Pacha, and Villefort for his merciless and hypocritical wielding of the law. Seen in this light, it is not Monte Cristo who is the undoing of these men; it is rather their own criminal or selfish actions that are their own undoings. This distinction raises Monte Cristo’s scheme from the level of petty revenge to the level of divine Providence. As we later see, he appeals to his enemies’ particular weaknesses in tempting them into ruin. It is Danglars’s greed, for instance, that draws him to Andrea Cavalcanti—an attraction that later becomes the final blow in his destruction. Villefort’s undoing, by contrast, is brought on by his strong, unbending ambition, which prevents him from permitting a criminal investigation to take place in his house, thereby allowing the murderer to remain at large, poised to strike again. Destroying each villain with his own weaknesses and his own crimes, Monte Cristo truly sets himself up as the dispenser of justice rather than just a petty man getting back at old enemies.
The revelation of the connection between Noirtier and Franz d’Epinay’s father casts Villefort in an even worse light than ever before. We know that Villefort is aware of this connection, as it is the very murder he and Noirtier discuss in Chapter 12, when Villefort warns his father that the police are after him. It is clear that Villefort wants the marriage to take place precisely because he thinks that it will guarantee that his father’s crime will never come to light. Once Franz is a member of the family no one would think to suspect Noirtier, and even if someone were to suspect Noirtier, surely Franz would not want to pursue such a line of inquiry. As always, Villefort is acting solely for the sake of his own ambition, sacrificing his daughter’s future and the feelings of an innocent stranger to his own goals.