I am back with another portrait of a popular literary figure in Romanticism and one of most widely read author from France; Alexandre Dumas. His works are extremely popular. They have been translated worldwide in about 100 languages and inspired more than 200 motion pictures.
Alexandre Dumas was born as Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie on 24 July 1802 in Villers-Cotterêts in the department of Aisne in Picardy, France. With two sisters, he was born to Marie-Louise Élizabeth Labouret, daughter to an innkeeper, and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Thomas-Alexandre was born in the colony of Saint-Domingue from a mixed-race relationship between the marquis Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, a French nobleman and général commissaire of the artillery of the colony, and Marie-Cessette Dumas, a slave of Afro-Carribean ancestry, though the exact African descent is not known. Thomas-Alexandre was brought at a young age to France and was legally freed there. He was educated in a military school and he joined the army. As an adult, he used his mother’s surname, Dumas, after a break with his father. He served with distinctions in the French Revolutionary Wars and became general in-chief of the Army of Pyrenees, the first person of mixed origin to have reached that rank. When Alexander was four, his father died of a cancer and his widowed mother Marie-Louise was impoverished offering no means of education for the children, however, the aristocratic rank and reputation of Thomas-Alexandre helped them to climb the social ladder. Dumas self-taught himself Spanish and whatever he could. When Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans was made King, he acquired at the age of 20 a position at the Palais Royal in Paris.
While fulfilling his duties for Louis-Philippe, he wrote articles for magazines and plays for the theatre. He used, as his father did before him, the name of Dumas. His first play at the age of 27, Henri III and his Courts was met with acclaim in 1829. The next one, Christine, was as popular as the first play the following year. These successes gave him sufficient income to write full-time. In 1840, Dumas founded the Théâtre Historique. In 1839 to 1841, with the aid of his friends, he compiled the Celebrated Crimes, an eight-volume collection of essays on famous crimes and criminals in European history. After writing immensely successful plays, he resorted to novel-writing. He converted one of his earlier plays into his first novel; Le Capitaine Paul. He also wrote unforgettable historical novels of high adventure notably the trilogy of The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years Later and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later and also The Count of Monte Cristo. Unfortunately, he could not complete his last novel; The Knight of Sainte-Hermine, uncompleted at the time of his demise. It is with the restoration efforts of Claude Schopp that his last novel will be completed and published in 2005. In 2008, it will be published in English as The Last Cavalier. In 1846, outside Paris in Le Pont-Marly, he had built a large country house called Le Château de Monte Cristo. His popularity earned him much money but as a spendthrift, he suffered from financial difficulties and after two years, he had to sell the property.
Authorial recognition of Dumas’ writing some of his novels was long questioned but it was proved that though he was helped by Auguste Maquet, he was the one who wrote the novels like The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas fled France in 1851 because of Napoleon and his creditors. He travelled to Belgium, Russia and Italy and published travel books. Though Dumas has an aristocratic background and personal success, he had to deal with discrimination related to his mixed-race ancestry. Dumas married actress Ida Ferrier (born Marguerite-Josephine Ferrand) but was alleged to have multiple affairs and is known to have fathered four children, one of whom became a novelist and playwright like his father: Alexandre Dumas, fils.
He died on 5 December 1870 and was cremated at his birthplace in Villers-Cotterêts in the department of Aisne. In 1970, Alexandre Dumas Paris Métro station was named in his honour. His edification, the Château de Monte Cristo has been restored and is open to public as a museum. In 2002, for the bicentennial of Dumas’ birth, French President Jacques Chirac had a ceremony honouring the author by having his remains re-interred at the mausoleum of the Panthéon de Paris, where many French intellectuals were buried. The ceremony was broadcasted where his coffin was carried by four Republican Guards dressed as the four Musketeers.
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.
– President Chirac’s words in his speech
Chirac acknowledged the racism that had existed in France and said that the re-interment in the Panthéon had been a way of correcting that wrong, as Alexander Dumas was enshrined alongside fellow great authors Victor Hugo and Émile Zola. Chirac also recognised the greater readership of Dumas in comparison to other great writers of France.
Alexandre Dumas sure had a tough time with all these ups and downs. The difficulties he encountered during his education, racism, poverty among others is a reminder that every writer has a story behind their stories to tell. In the face of adversity, he stayed strong. He is an inspiration to show us that even we are of multiple origins, we can still achieve as much as the rest.
That’s all for now. I shall take your leave. We shall meet another time for yet another post on a writer and their struggle.
If you want to leave any review, comment, message, criticism and/or ideas about previous post(s), the blog in general or message directed to our blog authors, please consult our Review Page. We’ll happily receive your views and respond to them.
Written by: Lyram Dinsmore