Alexandre Dumas: Prolific 19th-Century Writer
Black European Alexandre Dumas, one of the most prolific writers of the 19th century, was born July 24, 1802, in Villers-Cotteréts near Paris, as Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie.
He is one of the most widely read French authors. Many of his historical novels of high adventure were originally published as serials, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Ten Years Later.
His father Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), was a general in Napoleon’s army. His mother was Marie-Cessette Dumas, an enslaved African woman from Saint-Domingue (Haiti). At age 14 Thomas-Alexandre was taken by his father Marquis Antoine-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, to France, where he was legally freed and educated at a military academy and entered the military for what became an illustrious career. He also had two daughters, Marie-Alexandrine (born 1794) and Louise-Alexandrine (born 1796, died 1797).Thomas-Alexandre left the army following a disagreement with Napoleon over his Egypt campaign. He was imprisoned for nearly two years and died shortly after his release.
After his death in 1806, his widow Marie Louise Labouret, could not provide her son with much of an education, but Dumas read everything he could and taught himself Spanish. In 1822, after the restoration of the monarchy, Alexandre Dumas moved to Paris to find work. Dumas immersed himself in literature. His father’s aristocratic rank helped young Alexandre acquire work with the Duke of Orléans, later King Louis Philippe. He later began working as a writer, finding early success.
By age twenty-five, Dumas had his first success as a playwright with “Henri III et Sa Cour” (1829), produced by the Comedie Francaise. It gained success and Dumas went on to write additional plays. “La Tour de Nesle” (1832, “The Tower of Nesle”) is considered the greatest masterpiece of French melodrama. He wrote constantly, producing a steady stream of plays, novels, and short stories.
Dumas wrote many interesting observations about the world during his life. Dumas’ life as a writer was filled with years of traveling. Some of his writings include The Count of Monte-Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Three Musketeers. Much can be found in his piece “Mes Mémoires.” Dumas also wrote several children’s stories and a culinary dictionary. He also did not shy away from collaborating with other authors or rewriting older stories.
He produced some 250 books with his 73 assistants, especially with the history teacher Auguste Maquet. His most successful novels contained vivid adventures with action, and bigger-than-life characters. He took great liberty with the truth to achieve a good story. Dumas’s Romantic style—often compared to that of his contemporary and rival, Victor Hugo—proved to be exceptionally popular.
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.
Dumas collaborated with Augustin Grisier, his fencing master, in his 1840 novel, The Fencing Master. The story is written as Grisier’s account of how he came to witness the events of the Decembrist revolt in Russia. The novel was eventually banned in Russia by Czar Nicholas I, and Dumas was prohibited from visiting the country until after the Czar’s death. Dumas refers to Grisier with great respect in The Count of Monte Cristo, The Corsican Brothers, and in his memoirs.
In the election of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1851, Dumas fell from favor and left France for Belgium, where he stayed for several years. Upon leaving Belgium, Dumas moved to Russia for a few years before going to Italy. In 1861, he founded and published the newspaper L’Indipendente, which supported the Italian unification effort. In 1864, he returned to Paris.
On 1 February 1840, Dumas had married actress Ida Ferrier (born Marguerite-Joséphine Ferrand) (1811–1859). He had numerous liaisons with other women and was known to have fathered at least four children by them:
- Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824–1895), son of Marie-Laure-Catherine Labay (1794–1868), a dressmaker. He became a successful novelist and playwright.
- Marie-Alexandrine Dumas (5 March 1831 – 1878), the daughter of Belle Krelsamer (1803–1875).
- Micaëlla-Clélie-Josepha-Élisabeth Cordier (born 1860), the daughter of Emélie Cordier.
- Henry Bauer, the son of a woman whose surname was Bauer.
Dumas had acknowledged and assisted his son, Alexandre Dumas, to become a successful novelist and playwright. They are known as Alexandre Dumas père (father) and Alexandre Dumas fils (son). Alexandre Dumas fils, wrote several important novels, including La Dame aux Camélias, the basis of Verdi’s opera “La Traviata.”
Alexandre Dumas died in Puys, near Dieppe, on December 5, 1870. He was buried at his birthplace of Villers-Cotterêts.
Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia