Alexandre Dumas, père, born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (24 July 1802 – 5 December 1870) was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure which have made him one of the most widely read French authors in the world. Many of his novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne were originally serialized. He also wrote plays and magazine articlesand was a prolific correspondent.
Dumas’ paternal grandparents were Marquis Alexandre-Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, a French nobleman and Général commissaire in the Artillery in the colony of Saint-Domingue — now Haiti — and Marie-Cesette Dumas, an Afro-Caribbean Creole of mixed French and African ancestry. Their son, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, married Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret, the daughter of an innkeeper. Thomas-Alexandre, then a general in Napoleon‘s army, fell out of favor and the family was impoverished when Dumas was born.
Thomas-Alexandre Dumas died in 1806, when his son was still an infant. His widow was unable to provide her son with much of education, but Dumas read everything he could obtain. His mother’s stories of his father’s bravery during the years of Napoleon I of France inspired Dumas’ vivid imagination for adventure. Although poor, the family had their father’s distinguished reputation and aristocratic position. In 1822, after the restoration of the monarchy, twenty-year-old Alexandre Dumas moved to Paris, where he worked at the Palais Royal in the office ofduc d’Orléans (Louis Philippe).
While in Paris, Dumas began writing for magazines and plays for the theater. His first play, Henry III and His Court, was produced in 1829, and was met with acclaim. The next year his second play, Christine, was equally popular, and he was financially able to work full time on writing. In 1830 he participated in the Revolution which ousted Charles X, and which replaced him on the throne with Dumas’ former employer, the Duc d’Orléans, who would rule as Louis-Philippe, the Citizen King. Until the mid-1830s life in France remained unsettled, with sporadic riots by disgruntled Republicans and impoverished urban workers seeking change. As life slowly returned to normal, the nation began to industrialize, and with an improving economy — combined with the end of press censorship — the times were very rewarding for the skills of Alexandre Dumas.
After writing more successful plays, he turned his efforts to novels. Although attracted to an extravagant lifestyle, and always spending more than he earned, Dumas proved to be an astute marketer. Since newspapers wanted many serial novels, in 1838 Dumas rewrote one of his plays to create his first serial novel, titled Le Capitaine Paul, which led to his forming a production studio that turned out hundreds of stories, all subject to his personal input and direction.
From 1839 to 1841 Dumas, with the assistance of several friends, compiled Celebrated Crimes, an eight-volume collection of essays on famous criminals and crimes from European history, including essays on Beatrice Cenci; Martin Guerre; Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia; and more recent incidents, including the cases of executed alleged murderers Karl Ludwig Sand and Antoine François Desrues.
Dumas also collaborated with his fencing master Augustin Grisier in his 1840 novel, The Fencing Master. The story is written to be Grisier’s narrated account of how he came to witness the events of the Decembrist revolt in Russia. This novel was eventually banned in Russia by Czar Nicholas I, causing Dumas to be forbidden to visit Russia until after the czar’s death. Grisier is also mentioned with great respect in both The Count of Monte Cristo and The Corsican Brothers, as well as in Dumas’ memoirs.
On 1 February 1840 he married actress Ida Ferrier (born Marguerite-Joséphine Ferrand) (1811—1859) but continued with his numerous liaisons with other women, fathering at least four illegitimate children. One of those children, a son named after him, whose mother was Marie-Laure-Catherine Labay (1794—1868), a dressmaker, would follow in his footsteps, also becoming a successful novelist and playwright. Because of their same name and occupation, to distinguish them, one is referred to as Alexandre Dumas, père, the other as Alexandre Dumas, fils. His three other children were: 1) Marie-Alexandrine Dumas (5 March 1831—1878) who later married Pierre Petel and was daughter of Belle Krelsamer (1803—1875), 2) Micaëlla-Clélie-Josepha-Élisabeth Cordier, born in 1860 and daughter of Emélie Cordier, and 3) Henry Bauer, born of an unknown mother.
Dumas made extensive use of the aid of numerous assistants and collaborators, of whom Auguste Maquet was the best known. It was Maquet who outlined the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo, and made substantial contributions to The Three Musketeers and its sequels, as well as to several of Dumas’ other novels. When they were working together, Maquet proposed plots and wrote drafts, while Dumas added the details, dialogues, and the final chapters. See Andrew Lang essay, Alexandre Dumas – in his Essays In Little (1891) – for an accurate description of these collaborations.
Dumas’ writing earned him a great deal of money, but Dumas was frequently insolvent as a result of spending lavishly on women and sumptuous living. The large Château de Monte-Cristo that he built was often filled with strangers and acquaintances taking advantage of his generosity.
When King Louis-Philippe was ousted in a revolt, Dumas was not looked upon favorably by the newly elected President, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. In 1851 Dumas fled to Brussels, Belgium, to escape his creditors, and from there he traveled to Russia, where French was the second language, and where his writings were enormously popular. Dumas spent two years in Russia, before moving on to seek adventure and fodder for more stories. In March 1861 the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed, with Victor Emmanuel II as its king. For the next three years Alexandre Dumas would be involved in the fight for a united Italy, founding and leading a newspaper, named Indipendente, and returning to Paris in 1864.
Despite Alexandre Dumas’ success and aristocratic background, his being of mixed race would affect him all his life. In 1843 he wrote a short novel, Georges, that addressed some of the issues of race and the effects of colonialism. He once remarked to a man who insulted him about his mixed-race background:
In June 2005 Dumas’ recently-discovered last novel, The Knight of Sainte-Hermine, went on sale in France. Within the story Dumas describes the Battle of Trafalgar, in which the death of Lord Nelson is explained. The novel was being published serially, and was nearly complete at the time of his death. A final two-and-a-half chapters were written by modern-day Dumas scholar Claude Schopp, who based his efforts on Dumas’ pre-writing notes.
Buried where he had been born, Alexandre Dumas remained in the cemetery at Villers-Cotterêts until 30 November 2002. Under orders of the French President, Jacques Chirac, his body was exhumed, and in a televised ceremony his new coffin, draped in a blue-velvet cloth, and flanked by four Republican Guards (costumed as the Musketeers – Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan) was transported in a solemn procession to the Panthéon of Paris, the great mausoleum where French luminaries are interred. In his speech President Chirac said:
“With you, we were D’Artagnan, Monte Cristo, or Balsamo, riding along the roads of France, touring battlefields, visiting palaces and castles — with you, we dream.”
In that speech President Chirac acknowledged the racism that had existed, saying that a wrong had now been righted, with Alexandre Dumas enshrined alongside fellow authors Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. The honor recognized that although France has produced many great writers, none has been so widely read as Alexandre Dumas. His stories have been translated into almost a hundred languages, and have inspired more than 200 motion pictures.
Alexandre Dumas’ home outside of Paris, the Château de Monte-Cristo, has been restored and is open to the public.
The Alexandre Dumas (Paris Métro) station was named in his honour in 1970.
Alexandre Dumas, père, wrote stories and historical chronicles of high adventure that captured the imagination of the French public, who eagerly waited to purchase the continuing sagas. A few of these works:
- Charles VII at the Homes of His Great Vassals (Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux, 1831) – drama, adapted for the opera The Saracen by Russian composer César Cui
- Othon l’archer
- The Fencing Master (Le Maître d’armes, 1840)
- Castle Eppstein; The Specter Mother (Chateau d’Eppstein; Albine, 1843)
- Georges (1843): The protagonist of this novel is a man of mixed race, a rare allusion to Dumas’ own African ancestry.
- The Nutcracker (Histoire d’un casse-noisette, 1844): a revision of Hoffmann‘s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, later adapted by Tchaikovsky as a ballet
- the D’Artagnan Romances:
- The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mousquetaires, 1844)
- Twenty Years After (Vingt ans après, 1845)
- The Vicomte de Bragelonne, sometimes called “Ten Years Later”, (Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, ou Dix ans plus tard, 1847): When published in English, it was usually split into three parts: The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise de la Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask, of which the last part is the best known. (A third sequel, The Son of Porthos, 1883 (a.k.a. The Death of Aramis) was published under the name of Alexandre Dumas; however, the real author was Paul Mahalin.)
- The Count of Monte Cristo (Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, 1845–1846)
- The Regent’s Daughter (Une Fille du régent, 1845)
- The Two Dianas (Les Deux Diane, 1846)
- the Valois romances
- the Marie Antoinette romances:
- Joseph Balsamo (Mémoires d’un médecin: Joseph Balsamo, 1846–1848) (a.k.a. Memoirs of a Physician, Cagliostro, Madame Dubarry, The Countess Dubarry, or The Elixir of Life)(Joseph Balsamo has a length of about 1000 pages, and is usually separated into 2 volumes in English translations: Vol 1. Joseph Balsamo and Vol 2. Memoirs of a Physician.)
- The Queen’s Necklace (Le Collier de la Reine, 1849–1850)
- Ange Pitou (1853) (a.k.a. Storming the Bastille or Six Years Later)
- The Countess de Charny (La Comtesse de Charny, 1853–1855) (a.k.a. Andrée de Taverney, or The Mesmerist’s Victim)
- Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge (1845) (a.k.a. The Knight of the Red House, or The Knight of Maison-Rouge)
- The Black Tulip (La Tulipe noire, 1850)
- The Page of the Duke of Savoy (Catherine Blum, 1853-4)
- The Wolf-Leader (Le Meneur de loups, 1857)
- The Gold Thieves (after 1857): a play that was lost but rediscovered by the Canadian Reginald Hamel, researcher in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 2004
- The Companions of Jehu (Les Compagnons de Jehu, 1857)
- Robin Hood (Robin Hood le proscrit, 1863)
- The Whites and the Blues (Les Blancs et les Bleus, 1867)
- The Last Cavalier (Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine, 1869): This nearly completed novel was his last major work and was lost until its rediscovery by Claude Schopp in 1988 and subsequent release in 2005.
The Women’s War: follows Baron des Canolles, a naive Gascon soldier who falls in love with two women.
Although best known now as a novelist, Dumas first earned fame as a dramatist. His Henri III et sa cour (1829) was the first of the great Romantic historical dramas produced on the Paris stage, preceding Victor Hugo‘s more famous Hernani (1830). Produced at the Comédie-Française, and starring the famous Mademoiselle Mars, Dumas’ play was an enormous success, launching him on his career. It had fifty performances over the next year, extraordinary at the time.
Other hits followed. For example, Antony (1831) — a drama with a contemporary Byronic hero — is considered the first non-historical Romantic drama. It starred Mars’ great rival Marie Dorval. There were also La Tour de Nesle — 1832, another historical melodrama, and Kean — 1836, based on the life of the great, and recently deceased, English actor Edmund Kean, played in turn by the great French actor Frédérick Lemaître. Dumas wrote many more plays and dramatized several of his own novels.
It is worthwhile to note that Dumas founded Théâtre Historique at the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, which later became Opéra National (established by Adolphe Adam in 1847). That in turn became Théâtre Lyrique in 1851.
Dumas was also a prolific writer of non-fiction. He wrote journal articles on politics and culture, and books on French history.
His massive Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine (Great Dictionary of Cuisine) was published posthumously in 1873. It is a combination of encyclopedia and cookbook. Dumas was both a gourmet and an expert cook. An abridged version (the Petit Dictionnaire de cuisine, or Small Dictionary of Cuisine) was published in 1882.
He was also a well-known travel writer, writing such books as:
- Impressions de voyage: En Suisse (Travel Impressions: In Switzerland, 1834)
- Une Année à Florence (A Year in Florence, 1841)
- De Paris à Cadix (From Paris to Cadiz, 1847)
- Le Journal de Madame Giovanni (The Journal of Madame Giovanni, 1856)
- Le Caucase (The Caucasus, 1859)
- Impressions de voyage: En Russie (Travel Impressions: In Russia, 1860).