The Abbe speaks to Dantes, who for some time is so overwhelmed by the presence of another person in his cell that he can say very little. The Abbe describes himself: he was imprisoned in 1807, first in another prison, for attempting to unite Italy as one nation. Since his imprisonment, he has made tools, including a chisel and lever, to help him dig beneath the walls of his cell, including a fifty-foot tunnel leading not to the edge of the prison, as he’d hoped, but nearly to Dantes’ wall, which he then passed beneath. Dantes is astonished by the man’s vigor.
The Abbe Faria is an extraordinary character in book filled with such characters. What is most notable here—and more astonishing to Dantes—is the Abbe’s patience. He has worked away at the walls of his prison for years, continuing his own scholarly projects as he does so, despite having no guarantee that the work will result in his freedom.
Dantes asks whether the Abbe wouldn’t be willing to dig another tunnel together to the outside—then they could scale the walls and kill one of the guards to escape. The Abbe says he could never take another man’s life—and he doesn’t necessarily believe that Dantes would be able to commit this murder himself, even as Dantes argues that he would do it to gain his freedom. The Abbe argues that, for humans, killing is unnatural and only unnatural people can plot and carry out a murder. The Abbe describes other wonders in his cell: the pens and paper he’s made from bird-bones and old linen shirts; the ink made from soot dissolved in wine. He tells Dantes of the languages he knows and of the many books he’s memorized, including the Latin and Greek classics and works of more modern literature. Dantes is astonished to learn this, and asks to go with the Abbe into his cell to see for himself what the man has built over the years of his imprisonment.
The Abbe reveals himself to be a man of rules. He claims that their plan to escape can involve no harming of another individual, and though he will revise this rule slightly as he goes along, he believes more in the power of cunning than he does in brute force. This, too, helps Dantes to train himself in patience and forethought. Dantes’ later commitment to exacting revenge will take many years, and will require him to plan many months, years, or decades in advance. Without the Abbe’s example in prison, Dantes might not have lived long enough, nor have assembled the mental fortitude, to avenge his imprisonment so thoroughly.