Who Was Alexandre Dumas?
Alexandre Dumas established himself as one of the most popular and prolific authors in France, known for plays and historical adventure novels such as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. He died on December 5, 1870, in Puys, France. His works have been translated into more than 100 languages and adapted for numerous films.
Alexandre Dumas was born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie on July 24, 1802, in Villers-Cotterêts, France, to Marie Louise Labouret and General Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie. The Dumas family name was adopted from Alexandre's grandmother, an enslaved Haitian woman named Marie-Césette Dumas. His grandfather was the Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de La Pailleterie. Thomas-Alexandre took the name Dumas when he enlisted in Napoleon's army, where he acquired the dubious nickname "Black Devil."
Dumas' father, Thomas-Alexandre, rose to the rank of general at the age of 31, the highest rank of any Black man in a European army. In 1797, he distinguished himself at the battle of Adige when he surprised and defeated an Austrian battery. Thomas-Alexandre left the armed forces following a disagreement with Napoleon over his Egypt campaign. He was imprisoned for nearly two years and died shortly after his release. After her husband's death, Marie Louise Labouret worked hard to provide an education for her son. Dumas attended Abbé Grégoire's school before dropping out to take a job assisting a local notary.
In 1822, Dumas moved to Paris and immersed himself in literature. He worked as a scribe for the duc d'Orléans (later named King Louis Philippe) during the 1830 revolution. He began writing plays, both comedies and dramas. Dumas's Romantic style — often compared to that of his contemporary and rival, Victor Hugo — proved to be exceptionally popular.
Dumas was a prolific writer of essays, short stories and novels, as well as plays and travelogues. His interests also encompassed crime and scandals and wrote eight volumes of essays on infamous cases in history such as that of Lucrezia Borgia and Cesare Borgia, and names more contemporary to his time, like Karl Ludwig Sand. But he achieved widespread success with his novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, initially published as serials. The Three Musketeers was one of three novels in his D'Artagnan Romances, the others being Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. The story "The Man in the Iron Mask" from Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, also stands out as one his most widely known. Among his many volumes of romantic novels are the series of Valois, which center on Queen Marguerite, the last in the Capetian dynasty, and eight novels dubbed the Marie Antoinette romances. He also penned the fantasy novel The Wolf Leader, which is considered one of the earliest werewolf-themed books. The popularity of his writing made Dumas a household name in France and a celebrity throughout much of Europe.
With the money he earned from publishing his novels, Dumas purchased land and built the Château de Monte Cristo in Port Marly, Yvelines, France. This home (which is now a museum) was intended to be a sanctuary for the author, and he spent much of his time writing and entertaining there before debt overtook him, forcing him to sell the property. He fled to Belgium in 1851, and later to Russia, to evade creditors. Dumas continued to publish books, including travel books on Russia, during his period of exile.
Dumas had a son, also named Alexandre, with Marie Laure Catherine Labay. His son followed in his literary footsteps. In 1840, Dumas married actress Ida Ferrier, but continued his affairs with other women. He had at least one daughter, Marie Alexandrine, out of wedlock, and dated much younger women in his old age.
Death and Legacy
Dumas died on December 5, 1870, at his son's home in Puys, France. He was buried in the cemetery of Villers-Cotterêts. In 2002, his body was moved to the Panthéon in Paris, where Dumas rests among such other French literary greats like his rival Victor Hugo, Émile Zola and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. "Alexandre Dumas will finally take his place beside Victor Hugo and Emile Zola, his brothers in literature," said President Jacques Chirac. "With you, it is childhood, hours of reading relished in secret, emotion, passion, adventure and panache that enter the Pantheon. With you we dreamed. With you we still dream.”
Dumas' swashbuckling adventures continue to appeal to readers worldwide, with his work having been translated into more than 100 languages and adapted into a multitude of films. In 2008, an unfinished manuscript, The Last Cavalier, was published.
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