The narrator switches to a parallel scene, another betrothal feast, but this time of the “cream of Marseille’s society.” A man named Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor, is to be married to Renee Saint-Meran, daughter of the Saint-Meran family. Her parents are a Marquis and Marquise, both of whom are ardent Royalists – supporters of Louis XVIII, who currently rules in Paris in 1815. They are also opponents of Bonaparte, who is currently in exile on Elba. Marquise Saint-Meran discusses politics briefly with de Villefort, and notes cuttingly that Villefort’s father, Noirtier, was a Girondin—a moderate revolutionary believed to be sympathetic to Napoleon. But Villefort has disavowed his father, is now employed in a Royalist government, and is marrying into a high-society Royalist family.
Villefort’s relationship with his father will be an ongoing source of torment for him throughout the novel. Villefort understands that, because his father is associated with the more radical elements of the French Revolution, which led to the rise of the Emperor Napoleon, Villefort must do all he can to paint himself as a staid, trustworthy follower of the Royal government. Later in the novel, Villefort’s father will live with the Villefort family in Paris, but even when Villefort is in ostensible control of his father’s life and livelihood, he still fears his father’s interference, as when Noirtier decides that he will not support Valentine’s marriage to Franz.
What follows is a long conversation on the state of current French politics and Villefort’s place in them. Villefort assures Renee’s parents—especially her insistent mother—that he is a committed Royalist who has renounced his father’s Girondist actions. Furthermore, he claims that his father has renounced those actions, too, and has become a Royalist himself (though his location is not referenced, and he is not at the betrothal feast). Villefort assures the Saint-Merans and assembled guests that he will be firm and fair with anyone convicted of sympathizing with Bonaparte, and that this firmness and fairness might even extend to trying them for capital crimes, although he does not take much comfort in the idea and wishes he had less work of that kind to do.
The politics of the French Revolution and its aftermath are immensely complex, and the book relies, in part, on the idea of a shared cultural understanding – that readers reading the book near the time of its publication will be as aware of the different political factions in France as today’s general reader might be of the Republicans and Democrats in the United States. Nevertheless, the narrator goes to some lengths to draw out important differences between the groups – stating, for example, that the Royalists are in power when Napoleon is exiled to Elba and, later, to Saint Helena.
As if on cue, a messenger arrives at the feast, interrupting the conversation, and hands Villefort a copy of the denunciation letter against Dantes. The messenger tells Villefort that, since the head crown prosecutor is away, Villefort is in charge of the investigation. The criminal in question, who is as yet unnamed, is waiting for Villefort at his house. Villefort, anxious to address the issue and to demonstrate his fealty to the Royalist cause and his toughness against conspirators with Bonaparte, leaves the feast in haste, but not without reminding Renee of his love for her. Renee reminds him to be fair and to look “with indulgence” on this supposed criminal he is to interrogate. Villefort promises to do so.
Just as Dantes’s betrothal feast is interrupted, so too is Villefort’s. But Villefort is not sent to prison – instead, he is given an opportunity to interrogate Dantes and then, shortly thereafter, make a name for himself in Paris by appearing before the Royal court. It is a testament to Villefort’s commitment to his career that he is willing to interrupt the most important event in his private life for his public duties. And indeed, Villefort will go to great lengths throughout the book to conceal facts about his private life from his “official” life as crown prosecutor.