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(Note: all emphases in quoted passages below are mine.)


Continuing the theme of confusing mathematics in The Count of Monte Cristo, here is another example that stymies me:

When Edmond Dantès is first described in Chapter One, right when the story begins, his age is given as follows:

He was a fine, tall, slim young fellow of eighteen or twenty, with black eyes, and hair as dark as a raven’s wing; and his whole appearance bespoke that calmness and resolution peculiar to men accustomed from their cradle to contend with danger.

Here he is estimated to be 18-20 years old. In Chapter Two (which is the same day) he himself confirms that he is 20 years old:

“God forgive me,” said the young man, “for rejoicing at happiness derived from the misery of others, but, Heaven knows, I did not seek this good fortune; it has happened, and I really cannot pretend to lament it. The good Captain Leclere is dead, father, and it is probable that, with the aid of M. Morrel, I shall have his place. Do you understand, father? Only imagine me a captain at twenty, with a hundred louis pay, and a share in the profits! Is this not more than a poor sailor like me could have hoped for?”

At the end of Chapter Two, Mercédès (Edmond's bride) is described as being 17 years old, and her cousin (Fernand) as being 21 years old:

“Well, every time I have seen Mercédès come into the city she has been accompanied by a tall, strapping, black-eyed Catalan, with a red complexion, brown skin, and fierce air, whom she calls cousin.”

“Really; and you think this cousin pays her attentions?”

“I only suppose so. What else can a strapping chap of twenty-one mean with a fine wench of seventeen?”

Thus, at this point we have established that Fernand is about a year older than Edmond, who in turn is about three years older than Mercédès.

Fast-forward about forty chapters, and Mercédès is now married to Fernand (Count de Morcerf) and is the mother of Albert, while Edmond has become the Count of Monte Cristo.

In Chapter Forty-One Edmond visits the de Morcerf house and sees a portrait of Mercédès:

It was the portrait of a young woman of five or six-and-twenty, with a dark complexion, and light and lustrous eyes, veiled beneath long lashes.

Albert then explains that the portrait is his mother, taken 6-8 years ago:

“Ah, monsieur,” returned Albert, “I would never forgive you this mistake if you had seen another picture beside this. You do not know my mother; she it is whom you see here. She had her portrait painted thus six or eight years ago. This costume is a fancy one, it appears, and the resemblance is so great that I think I still see my mother the same as she was in 1830. The countess had this portrait painted during the count’s absence. She doubtless intended giving him an agreeable surprise; but, strange to say, this portrait seemed to displease my father, and the value of the picture, which is, as you see, one of the best works of Léopold Robert, could not overcome his dislike to it. It is true, between ourselves, that M. de Morcerf is one of the most assiduous peers at the Luxembourg, a general renowned for theory, but a most mediocre amateur of art. It is different with my mother, who paints exceedingly well, and who, unwilling to part with so valuable a picture, gave it to me to put here, where it would be less likely to displease M. de Morcerf, whose portrait, by Gros, I will also show you. Excuse my talking of family matters, but as I shall have the honor of introducing you to the count, I tell you this to prevent you making any allusions to this picture. The picture seems to have a malign influence, for my mother rarely comes here without looking at it, and still more rarely does she look at it without weeping. This disagreement is the only one that has ever taken place between the count and countess, who are still as much united, although married more than twenty years, as on the first day of their wedding.”

Thus, at this point Mercédès would have to be 31-34 years old (25 + 6 = 31; 26 + 8 = 34), which would mean (as per the above evidence) that Edmond would be about 34-37 years old and Fernand would be about 35-38 years old. However, at the end of the paragraph just cited, Albert clearly states that his parents have been married for more than 20 years. That would mean that they got married when Mercédès was (at most) younger than 14 years old, Edmond (at most) younger than 17 years old, and Fernand (at most) younger than 18 years old. Yet that would mean that they were married even before the book began! This, of course, cannot be, as when the book began Mercédès was still betrothed to Edmond, and she only married Fernand well after Edmond had been imprisoned. According to Caderousse in Chapter Twenty-Seven it was a full eighteen months later:

“Mercédès begged for six months more in which to await and mourn for Edmond.”

“So that,” said the abbé, with a bitter smile, “that makes eighteen months in all. What more could the most devoted lover desire?” Then he murmured the words of the English poet, “‘Frailty, thy name is woman.’”

“Six months afterwards,” continued Caderousse, “the marriage took place in the church of Accoules.”

To compound matters further, returning to Chapter Forty-One, Edmond meets Fernand who is described as being 40-45 years old:

Monte Cristo was engaged in examining this portrait with no less care than he had bestowed upon the other, when another door opened, and he found himself opposite to the Count of Morcerf in person.

He was a man of forty to forty-five years, but he seemed at least fifty, and his black moustache and eyebrows contrasted strangely with his almost white hair, which was cut short, in the military fashion. He was dressed in plain clothes, and wore at his button-hole the ribbons of the different orders to which he belonged.

This is problematic because it makes Fernand 6-14 years older than Mercédès (instead of four years older as indicated from the beginning of the book). It also doesn't fit with how Edmond's own age is described by Albert immediately thereafter:

“And what do you suppose is the count’s age?” inquired Mercédès, evidently attaching great importance to this question.

“Thirty-five or thirty-six, mother.”

“So young, — it is impossible,” said Mercédès, replying at the same time to what Albert said as well as to her own private reflection.

“It is the truth, however. Three or four times he has said to me, and certainly without the slightest premeditation, ‘at such a period I was five years old, at another ten years old, at another twelve,’ and I, induced by curiosity, which kept me alive to these details, have compared the dates, and never found him inaccurate. The age of this singular man, who is of no age, is then, I am certain, thirty-five. Besides, mother, remark how vivid his eye, how raven-black his hair, and his brow, though so pale, is free from wrinkles,—he is not only vigorous, but also young.”

Edmond being 35-36 would be consistent with Mercédès being 31-34 as was indicated by the portrait, but it is not definitely not consistent with Fernand being 40-45 years old. Furthermore, when Mercédès says “So young, — it is impossible,” she seems to be trying to refute a potential suspicion that the Count of Monte Cristo is actually Edmond, by saying that Edmond couldn't possibly be that young.

What is going on here? How can we make sense of the age discrepancies described above? Have I miscalculated, or misinterpreted any important details? Is this just a mistake?

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TL;DR: The discrepancies can be reconciled if we allow the painter to flatter Mercédès, and Monte Cristo to lie about his age.

Chronology

24 February 1815 — Edmond arrives at Marseilles:

On the 24th of February, 1815, the look-out at Notre-Dame de la Garde signalled the three-master, the Pharaon from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples. [Chapter 1]

28 February 1815 — Edmond is arrested:

“So long?—when were you arrested, then?” asked the inspector.
“The 28th of February, 1815, at half-past two in the afternoon.” [Chapter 14]

We are given the ages of Edmond:

He was nineteen when he entered the Château d’If [Chapter 21]

and also of Fernand and Mercédès, according to Caderousse:

“What else can a strapping chap of twenty-one mean with a fine wench of seventeen?” [Chapter 2]

February 1816 — Edmond’s father dies, according to Caderousse:

“Ah, yes, about a year after the disappearance of his son the poor old man died.” [Chapter 26]

August 1816 — Mercédès and Fernard are married, according to Caderousse:

“Fernand saw this, and when he learned of the old man’s death he returned. He was now a lieutenant. At his first coming he had not said a word of love to Mercedes; at the second he reminded her that he loved her. Mercedes begged for six months more in which to await and mourn for Edmond. […] Six months afterwards, the marriage took place in the church of Accoules.” [Chapter 26]

28 February 1829 — Edmond escapes the Château d’If:

“I ask you what year is it?”
“The year 1829,” returned Jacopo.
It was fourteen years, day for day, since Dantès’ arrest. [Chapter 21]

January 1838 — Monte Cristo meets Albert and Franz:

Towards the beginning of the year 1838, two young men belonging to the first society of Paris, the Viscount Albert de Morcerf and the Baron Franz d’Épinay, were at Florence. [Chapter 31]

21 February 1838 — Monte Cristo arranges to visit Albert in Paris:

he said, “to-day is the 21st of February;” and drawing out his watch, added, “it is exactly half-past ten o’clock. Now promise me to remember this, and expect me the 21st of May at the same hour in the forenoon.” [Chapter 34]

21 May 1838 — Monte Cristo visits Albert in Paris:

In the house in the Rue du Helder, where Albert had invited the Count of Monte Cristo, everything was being prepared on the morning of the 21st of May to do honor to the occasion. [Chapter 39]

Checking

Let’s go through the text quoted in the post and check against the chronology. Difficulties are in italics.

In chapter 1 (February 1815), Edmond is described as “eighteen or twenty”. According to the chronology he is nineteen.

In chapter 2 (February 1815), Edmond says, “imagine me a captain at twenty”. This is compatible with his being nineteen, if he is imagining being made captain later that year.

In chapter 41 (May 1838), Albert says the portrait was painted “six or eight years ago” which would be 1830 to 1832, when according to the chronology Mercédès was thirty-two to thirty-five years old. But the portrait is “of a young woman of five or six-and-twenty”.

Albert says his parents have been “married more than twenty years”. According to the chronology they have been married 21 years and 9 months.

Fernand is described as “a man of forty to forty-five years, but he seemed at least fifty”. According to the chronology he is forty-four or forty-five.

Albert says that he is certain that Monte Cristo is “thirty-five”. But according to the chronology he is forty-two or forty-three.

Resolution

There are two difficulties to resolve:

  1. The age of Mercédès in the portrait. This is easily resolved, since it is a painting, not a photograph. Presumably the painter (Louis Léopold Robert) flattered the sitter.

  2. The age of Monte Cristo. Again, this is easily resolved, since this is only Albert’s deduction from Monte Cristo’s mentions of his age at particular dates. We can guess that the Count has lied to Albert in order to make it harder for Mercédès to penetrate his disguise.

  • Thorough and excellent! – Alex Mar 10 at 0:35

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