The date is February 14, 1815 and the vessel, the Pharaon is returning to Marseilles after a three month long journey. The ship's owner, M. Morrel, watches his boat arrive in the harbor and he quickly jumps into a small skiff to go meet it. Once aboard, M. Morrel and the reader encounter the protagonist, Edmond Dantès. He is described as eighteen or twenty years old with black eyes and "raven" black hair. He also has an aura of calmness and resolution that befits an individual accustomed to danger. M. Morrel finds that Dantès, a captain's mate when the ship left, has now assumed the captain's post because misfortune befell the ship and the aging war veteran, Captain Leclère, has died. Thus, it is now Dantès who commands the ship. His crew is fond of him and they follow his orders quickly and precisely. M. Morrel is impressed and thus plans to officially make Dantès the captain of the ship. First, however, he must consult the boat's co-owner. M. Morrel also converses with Danglars, the ship¹s accountant, who bears nothing but hate for Dantès. Danglars complains to M. Morrel that Dantès delayed the ship's progress at the Island of Elba for a day and a half. Dantès clears his responsibility for this delay by clarifying to M. Morrel that he merely stopped at Elba to deliver a package for the deceased Captain. The package was for the Emperor Napoleon himself. M. Morrel is delighted. In conversation, Danglars hints at a letter that Dantès may be withholding from M. Morrel. M. Morrel assumes that if such a letter exists, Dantès will give it to him. He does not doubt Dantès' integrity. Dantès turns down Morrel's dinner offer for the evening, however, because he must first see his poor father and his betrothed, Mercedes. The chapter ends with both M. Morrel and Danglars watching Dantès row ashore.
Dumas introduces drama and suspense in this first chapter. Some of the first images encountered are a deceased captain and a ship cargo whose contents remain undefined. The Captain's death prepares the reader for what is to be an adventure-packed novel. The death also is a window for Dumas to immediately establish the conflict that is to be central to the entire work. Dantès success shall fuel the jealous natures of others, such as Danglars. Dantès is presented as a naïve youth, despite his taste for danger and his ability to command a ship. M. Morrel comments on Dantès youth and talent to Danglars. M. Morrel's intuitive nature is non-existent. He cannot feel the hate Danglars harbors for Dantès. Dantès has all the attributes for success, thus he has an enemy in the jealous Danglars. Danglars is out to destroy Dantès. When he hints of a withheld letter, Danglars is sowing the seeds for Dantès' ruin. Danglars is not honest. His deceptiveness is revealed when he reddens in conversation with M. Morrel. M. Morrel wishes to know why Danglars knows of the secret package that Dantès delivered to Napoleon. Danglars manages to extricate himself from Morrel's suspicion, but the reader is not fooled. Dantès, however, makes the mistake of not discarding of Danglars when he can. He eloquently states to M. Morrel that he shall trust Danglars if Morrel himself deems Danglars worthy of his trust. Yet Danglars is not to be trusted, as we shall see.
Also significant in this first chapter is the tribute paid to Napoleon. The action takes place during 1815 when Napoleon is in exile on the Island of Elba. Through M. Morrel's excitement at the mention of the Emperor's name, one sees Dumas' respect for the former Emperor. Additionally, the deceased Captain is accorded a proper burial which befits his rank and legacy in Napoleon's army. Dumas' father was also a close friend and General of Napoleon's. Perhaps this influenced Dumas to make such a social commentary by honoring the Captain. War heroes were to be venerated.
The setting for this chapter is no longer aboard ship. Action takes place in Dantès' father's chambers. Dantès' father is overjoyed at the sight of his son. Dantès relates the prospect of his new post to his father. He has plans to buy a house for his father once he obtains the lucrative post. Dantès is also surprised to find his father with hollow cheeks. His father had used one hundred and forty of the two hundred francs Dantès had given him before he went to sea to pay off their neighbor, Caderousse, who insisted he pay off a debt. The old Dantès' diet has consequently suffered. There is also no wine. Dantès empties his pockets on to the table, brightening his father's countenance with the sight of twelve gold pieces.
Caderousse comes to welcome Dantès back. Dantès must be quick to delude the neighbor who has spotted the gold pieces and comments on how the sea journey has apparently proven profitable. Dantès pretends that it was his father's money. This is to both hide his success, and to protect his father's pride, who does not wish to be seen by the town as financially dependent upon his son. Caderousse continues to pry into Dantès affairs. Having already chatted with the evil Danglars, Caderousse has heard of M. Morrel's desire for Dantès to be his ship's new captain. He chides Dantès for declining M. Morrel's dinner invite. Dantes responds that he hopes to be captain without the flattery of patrons. Caderousse also inquires about Mercédès. He arouses Dantès' uneasiness by stating that Mercedes has many admirers. Dantès has confidence in Mercédès, however. Dantès leaves to go to the Catalans, Mercédès' residence.
Caderousse leaves to go find Danglars, who is waiting downstairs. Caderousse reports that Dantès is insolent about his new post as captain. He comments it would better for Dantès not to become a captain, for if he does, then he will he will not be approachable. Caderousse also mentions he does not like Dantès, and that he has seen Mercédès with another admirer. Danglars and Caderousse decide to go the same way as Dantès. They go get wine at La Reserve inn to wait for tidings of the young fellow.
The influence of Dumas' dramatic style is evident. The setting of chapter II is like a second scene in a play. The reader is introduced to new characters. Dantès' father serves the purpose of illustrating the family's humble status. He also is a window for Dumas to illustrate Dantès' good intentions to care for his father once he makes money. Caderousse is a hypocrite who is also jealous of Dantès. He tells Dantès that all his friends shall rejoice with the news of Dantès new post, when in fact, he states to Danglars that Dantès is insolent. He would like nothing better than to see Dantès' demise. Thus, he has found a friend in Danglars. Dumas foreshadows Dantès' demise with an allusion to Danglars' power over Dantès destiny. Dumas ends the chapter with Caderousse and Danglars having a drink under budding trees and singing birds. This springtime environment symbolizes the newfound optimism that the two have found in each other and the plan that is about to be born.
Danglars, Caderousse, and Fernand still are at La Réserve. Caderousse is becoming more and more intoxicated. Fernand admits that he is in love with Mercédes and that as a potential suitor to her, he hates Dantes. He reveals to Danglars that Mercedes has threatened to kill herself should any harm befall Dantes. Danglars has a plan to thwart the marriage without killing Dantes. Fernand has no plan. Danglars thus comments that the French invent solutions while the Spanish ruminate over their problems. (Fernand is a Catalan). Fernand realizes that Danglars despises Dantes also, though he does not know the root of Danglars' hatred. Danglars orders more wine for Caderousse, who at this point has little sense left in him. He also asks the waiter for pen, paper, and ink. He writes a letter to the king's attorney incriminating Dantes as a Bonapartist agent. The letter shall be anonymous, and thus Fernand will not look guilty to Mercedes. Danglars dupes Caderousse into thinking the letter a jest. He throws the letter in the corner, yet he knows Fernand will fetch it and deliver it once he gets up to bring the drunken man home.
This chapter is significant because Danglars' letter is symbolic of Dantes' doom. It is an anonymous letter, that similarly will cause Dantes to be nameless, forgotten in prison. The three conspirators will later be the objects of Dantes' wrath and revenge once he figures out who they are. It should be noted that Caderousse has little to do with the actual letter's composition. He is intoxicated beyond comprehension, and when he realizes the contents of the letter, Danglars pretends it is a jest. Caderousse's intoxication is an exaggeration of his personality, for he is naturally a greedy follower, and is easily manipulated. Caderousse's sin is that he will be too weak to denounce the evil Danglars and stop the letter from being delivered. It is Danglars who is the mastermind behind the event; Fernand without Danglars is merely a rejected jealous lover. However, both Danglars and Fernand will benefit from Dantes' disappearance.
The feast for Dantes and Mercedes takes place at the inn, La Réserve. Danglars, Fernand, and Caderousse are present. Caderousse has a vague recollection of the night before, yet he has forgotten the ills he harbored against Dantes. The food and drink available sway him. For Fernand and Danglars, however, the previous night's conspiracy is forever in their thoughts. Fernand is uneasy, sweating, and his ears are perked to any sound. He expects the authorities to come in at any time to take Dantes away. Dantes and Mercedes do not notice his behavior, they are too involved in each other's happiness.
M. Morrel is also an important guest at the feast. There is now no doubt in the public's mind that Dantes is to be the future captain of the Pharaon. When the feast begins, Mercedes places herself between her father and Fernand. Dantes likewise places himself between Danglars and M. Morrel. Sumptuous fruits of the sea are served.
Dantes reveals to his merry guests that he and Mercedes are to be married in less than an hour and a half. This stuns Fernand and Danglars, who expected the procedure to take longer. Dantes, however, used M. Morrel's influence to bypass the normal hold ups. Mercedes and Dantes also have little wealth, thus the marriage contract was easily settled.
Fifteen minutes before the happy couple are to be married, the authorities come to arrest Dantes. He surrenders to them with dignity. He assures everyone that it is a mistake that shall be easily cleared up. Dantes' father pleads with the soldiers, but to no avail. M. Morrel realizes the futility of such pleas and goes to Marseilles to discover the truth of the matter. Caderousse now suspects Danglars and Fernand, and tells them he shall denounce their treachery. Mercedes is devastated and sobs uncontrollably.
M. Morrel returns from Marseilles pale. He reveals to the guests that Dantes has been accused of being a Bonapartist agent. Now Caderousse is certain of Danglars' guilt. Danglars, however, silences Caderousse by revealing to Caderousse that the Pharaon did stop at Elba (where Napoleon is in exile), thus, who is to know if the charges are true? Caderousse thus decides selfishly that it is best to wait and see what happens before helping Dantes. Danglars also manages to convince Caderousse that he had destroyed the note he had written to incriminate Dantes. He blames Fernand for perhaps copying it and bringing it to the authorities. But he assures Caderousse that neither he nor Caderousse can suffer any ill from the ordeal, since the note was anonymous.
In the meantime, Fernand becomes Mercedes' protector, and Danglars is to become captain of the Pharaon until Dantes returns. Danglars believes that Dantes shall not return, however.
The chapter illustrates how Dumas used historical events as a backdrop for his writing. Danglars takes advantage of the political situation in France to incriminate his nemesis. Napoleon is in exile and the royalists are in power, thus anyone accused of being in league with the former ruler is to be severely punished. Within this politically unstable system, all Danglars must do to dispose of Dantes is to accuse Dantes of being a Bonapartist agent.
Danglars is revealed to be deceptive in all ways. Not only has he denounced Dantes, but he also manages to convince Caderousse that it was Fernand and not himself who was responsible. Danglars, of course, was the mastermind of the plan. The chapter closes with a monologue by Danglars that reveals to the reader that he has achieved his goals, and that most likely Dantes will not return. These statements coupled with the incriminating letter are symbols of the Danglars' treachery. Danglars also reassures Caderousse that the dirty deed cannot be traced back to them, since the letter was in a disguised handwriting. He neglects to realize that it shall later become obvious to Dantes (with the help of Abbe Faria) who was responsible for denouncing him, since he shall merely have to look for a motive. Fernand marries Mercedes and Danglars, becomes captain of the Pharaon. Caderousse will be proven correct in his fears, for Dantes' incarceration shall eventually lead to the downfall of his accusers.
The following chapter introduces Monsieur de Villefort, a deputy public prosecutor. He, like Dantes, is about to be married. His marriage feast is interrupted by news of Dantes' arrest. Villefort must attend to Dantes' case. He thus leaves his betrothal party. Villefort is a staunch royalist, whose father is a Bonapartist. Thus, Villefort must prove his political opinion by dealing harshly with Bonapartist conspirators. Dantes makes a favorable impression on Villefort, however. He has a candid air even with his inquisitor. He reveals how he landed on the island of Elba and was given a letter by Napoleon to be delivered to Paris. The fact that he was merely carrying out orders of the dying Captain Leclere seems to prove Dantes as innocent. Villefort is about to release Dantes, yet when Dantes reveals to him to whom the letter was addressed he immediately changes his mind. The letter was addressed to Noirtier, who happens to be Villefort's Bonapartist father. Thus, Villefort must now try to cover the conspiracy to save his own name. He thus burns the letter, and tells Dantes to deny its existence. He will keep Dantes a prisoner. At the close of the chapter Villefort even thinks of a way to turn the letter, which could have ruined him, into a fortune. How he will do this is yet to be revealed.
This chapter introduces Dantes' fourth enemy. Villefort is merely concerned with his own public image as a royalist. He will do whatever will further his career. He deceives Dantes trust by telling the accused to deny the existence of the Bonapartist letter. This was, however, for his own public protection and not Dantes' benefit. Villefort's lies are yet another symbol of the evil forces at work against Dantes. Dantes symbolizes good, thus when he later takes revenge upon his enemies, this shall symbolize the triumph of good over evil.
Dantes is escorted to prison, where he awaits release. Monsieur de Villefort had assured him of a timely release. Guards do come, but instead they row him to the infamous Chateau D'If, an island prison. This is a prison for political offenders. Dantes spends his first night standing up. He does not move. When the jailer comes to see him, Dantes demands to see the governor. He also asks the jailer to deliver a few lines to Mercedes. When the jailer refuses he threatens him, even grabbing a stool. This is when Dantes is thrown into the dungeon as a "madman."
Dantes does not comprehend why he is not released, for Villefort had given him indication of a timely release. For this reason, he is thrown into a deeper darker dungeon. The dungeon serves as a metaphor for his mental state; his inability to comprehend the reason's for his plight lead him deeper into darkness and confusion. Dantes' desire to reach Mercedes symbolizes his refusal to accept his removal from the outside world. He is now a nameless prisoner. The guards ensure his complete removal from society by throwing him away into the darkest dungeon. Only when Dantes meets the Abbe Faria, another prisoner with whom he will come into contact, will he learn of Villefort's treachery and swear to revenge.
The following chapter involves the reigning monarch, Louis XVIII. Monsieur de Villefort visits the King to warn him of a plot to restore Napoleon as Emperor. He tells the King of his meeting with Dantes, who landed on the Island of Elba to meet with the usurper (Napoleon). He also reassures the king that Dantes is now in prison. The Minister of Police brings news of Napoleon's arrival in France just as Villefort is meeting with the king. Louis is astonished that Napoleon was able to enter the country unnoticed for two days. The former emperor is now advancing towards Paris. He commends Villefort for his warning, and gives him his cross of the Legion of Honor. Villefort is quite happy with himself to have gained royal favor.
This chapter is an ideal example of Dumas' genius. He melds the excitement of an adventure novel with historical conflict. The action takes place right before Napoleon returns to rule, ousting the royalists. Louis XVIII's reign is thus currently threatened. A man such as Monsieur Villefort's plans to utilize this situation for his own political benefit. His scheme to warn the King of the threat of Bonapartists in Marseilles is revealed. Though he had recognized Dantes' innocence, he uses Dantes' story to further his royalist goals. Dantes is thus a victim of the selfish, politically minded Villefort. While Dantes rots in prison, Villefort wins favor with the King at Dantes' expense. The cross of the Legion of Honor is a symbol of the King's appreciation of Villefort's service, however, this token's value will be worthless under Napoleon's potential upcoming regime. The ephemeral quality of this cross is a metaphor for life's inconsistencies. One never knows when one's fate is to change. Dantes, for example, was about to have a prosperous happy life, yet from one day to the next he was doomed to rot in prison.
Dantes is forgotten in prison throughout the changing political regimes. Napoleon returns to power but only temporarily. Louis XVIII re-obtains the throne once more. M. Morrel pleads on Dantes' behalf during Napoleon's empire, yet to no avail. Fernand joins the army of the Emperor, and leaves Mercedes. Fernand still hopes that one day she shall be his. When Napoleon returns to power, Danglars worries that Dantes will return. Thus, fearing revenge, he quits his post with M. Morrel and flees for Madrid. Dantes' father dies and M. Morrel clears the old man's remaining debts.
This chapter summarizes the reaction that the characters have to the changing political regimes. This is contrasted to Dantes, who is unaware of it all. He rots in prison, forgotten by the bureaucracy that threw him in his cell. His father dies of poverty and hunger. Only the good M. Morrel remains faithful to him. He still pleads Dantes' cause and clears up his father's debts. Mercedes still pines for him, yet is comforted by Fernand, who is still hoping for her love. Though her love for Dantes will never cease, she will succumb to the one constant figure in her life, Fernand. Mercedes thus eventually marries him because she fears the thought of loneliness, and Fernand is now wealthy enough to care for her quite well. Villefort, on the other hand, uses marriage to improve his social standing.
Ironically, it is the evil Villefort who has the patience to wait to marry. This patience stands in contrast to Mercedes, who does not wait all that long before marrying Fernand. In fact, her desire to marry so quickly may in a strange way be taken as a symbol for her love for Dantes, for it was so great that she could not bear to be left alone. Her passion needed to be subdued by a replacement, in the form of Fernand. Villefort's only passion, however, is his social standing, and he thus postpones his marriage until the political climate favors his marriage to a royalist's daughter.
The story next returns to Dantes in prison. Dantes has lost hope and decides to commit suicide by starvation. He throws his food out the window. His resolve to die is broken by the sounds of another prisoner's digging. The thoughts of escape and the thoughts of a companion rejuvenate him. He manages to dislodge a stone to talk to the prisoner. The prisoner tells him that he has been imprisoned since 1811, four years before Dantes' incarceration. He also tells Dantes that if Dantes was nineteen years old in 1815, than Dantes is now almost twenty-six years old. More time has passed than Dantes realized.
This chapter focuses on Dantes' character. He still cannot comprehend why he was thrown into prison. His happiness was ruined for no reason. He thus has no desire to live anymore, for imprisonment has crushed his previously exuberant soul. His suicide attempt shows that he now doubts the existence of good.
The arrival of the other prisoner, digging through the wall, is a critical turning point. For the first time we are introduced to character who cannot be subdued, not even by stone walls. This ability to overcome impossible obstacles is one that will be transferred to Dantes, and it will forever change his character.
This chapter witnesses the meeting and the friendship of Dantes with another political prisoner, Abbe Faria. This prisoner has spent years tunneling his way to freedom, and a miscalculation has led him to Dantes' cell. The Abbe is crushed and his energy to escape is as well. He shows Dantes the tools he made and his writing, A Treatise on the Possibility of Monarchy in Italy. He is a very learned man, and thus shares his knowledge of languages, mathematics, and science with Dantes over the next few years. The Abbe also aids Dantes in deducing who was responsible for Dantes' incarceration, and he soon concocts another plan to escape. Thus the two begin tunneling to freedom once again. Before they are able to finish, however, the Abbe suffers from an apoplectic attack, which paralyzes his arm. He informs Dantes that he now expects death very soon, and encourages Dante to escape without him (the tunnel is finished). Dantes refuses to leave him.
Dantes friendship with the Abbe Faria is significant because he acquires much of the knowledge that will later prove key to his survival within French society. Once he escapes this knowledge will create an aura of exotic mystery around him that will help him accomplish his revenge. Vengeance was a characteristic that the Abbe also instilled in Dantes, since Dantes had been unable to deduce alone who was responsible for his imprisonment. This chapter also illuminates Dantes' "disinterested devotion" to the Abbe. He will not leave the Abbe even though a means of escape is now finished. The Abbe is a father figure. Dantes was forced to abandon his real father, thus he will not voluntarily abandon his adopted one.
Even more important is the fact that Dumas purposely makes the Abbe Faria a religious man. This can be seen as divine intervention, a 'deus ex machina' of sorts. Just as Dantes is about to commit suicide, an act that would have condemned him to hell (and the first real sin that he ever contemplates up to this point), a man arrives who manages to give him hope in every way possible. Through the Abbe, Dantes recovers his will to live, deduces who his enemies are, learns arts and sciences, and finally contemplates escape from the prison. This entire chapter is a testament to the Christian belief that God will intervene to support the moral man.
The book has been divided based on a 73 chapter edition; this may differ from other editions.