Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas (known as Dumas Pere) was born on July 24th, 1802, at Villers-Cotterets, a small town about forty-five miles north-east of Paris. His father, General Dumas, was a mulatto; the natural son of Alexandre Antony Davy De la Pailleterie, a nobleman who had settled in St. Domingo, and of a black slave girl, named Louise-Cezette Dumas. General Dumas had a distinguished career during the wars of the French Republic and under Bonaparte. At the time of his son’s birth, General Dumas was living in retirement at Villers-Cottered where in the year 1792 he had married Marie Louise Labouret. He died in 1806, leaving his widow and small son in straitened circumstances.

However for Alexandre Dumas, the years of childhood and adolescence were carefree enough; his education was scanty. At sixteen he became a clerk with a local solicitor, and in 1823, determined to make his way in life, he went to Paris. He succeeded in obtaining a post on the secretarial staff of the Duc d’Orleans (the future King Louis-Philippe) at a yearly salary of 1200 francs.

Soon Dumas established contact with young men of the literary world. He read avidly especially history and the works of great writers, frequented the theatre and soon he himself began to write for the stage.

After a number of false starts and two minor successes his romantic play Henry lll et say Cour was accepted by the Theatre-François and given its first performance in 1829. It established his fame, literally, overnight and bought him the friendship of Victor Hugo, Vigny and other writers and poets. The Duc d’Orleans gave him the sinecure of a librarian at 1200 francs a year.

Already, then, Dumas found himself up against a problem which was to trouble him all his life and was later assume gigantic proportions, he could not adapt expenditure to revenue. It was a problem deeply rooted in traits of his character e.g. In his extravagant tasteso,  his vanity, his lack of common sense, his generosity. Another  inexhaustible source of trouble throughout his life was his unending amorous entanglements. During his first weeks in Paris 1823 he formed a liaison with a young woman, Marie Lebay, by whom he had a son in 1824 whom he fully acknowledged in 1831. In 1831 also he had another child a daughter by another mistress. His marriage 1840 to the actress Ida Ferries,  was of short duration.

After Henry lll Dumas wrote further plays in rapid succession, among them Anthony, a modern romantic drama the success of which even surpassed the success of Henry lll. In 1830 he participated in a somewhat comic opera fashion in the July revolution, and again in 1832, having only just recovered from cholera, took part in the rising against Louis-Philippe his former protector. In 1844 appeared The Three Musketeers, the first perhaps the most famous of Dumas’ historical romances which, in three distinct cycles, cover almost three centuries of French history. In 1844 also he produced The Count of Monte Cristo,  the romantic adventure story of the prisoner of Chateau d’If. Dumas’ industry was prodigious. Foe nearly forty years, during which he lived as full a life as any man could ever wish to live, he poured out books, plays articles in an uninterrupted stream. He was frequently accused during his life-time of having employed  (and exploited) others to write books which  brought him fame and fortune. The truth is that he employed collaborators who supplied and arranged material and submitted ideas for plots.

At the height of his success, Dumas’ prosperity and extravagance of living knew no bounds. He built himself a fantastic castle which he called ‘Monte Cristo'(it was later sold piecemeal by order of his creditors), financed theatres and lavished hospitality on friends and strangers alike. In 1851 he went back to live in Brussels where he worked on his Memoires. Back in Paris he launched into some newspaper ventures which kept him in the pupils limelight but ultimately failed. Years of wandering followed. He went to Russia 1858, travelling in the style of a potentate, and soon after his return he set out for Sicily where he joined Garibaldi in whose cause he worked enthusiastically for four years.

The last year’s of his life Dumas spent in an atmosphere of ever increasing financial chaos, of loneliness, domestic difficulties and failing health. He died at his son’s house in Dieppe on December 5th 1870.

source D. Brereton, The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas

One of my favorite films the shawshank redemption written by Stephen King mentions The Count of Monte Christo, which had a huge part to play within that film. Alexandre Dumas was a master writer his books are made into films, so often, which is a true testimate to Dumas’s writing ability.



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