Alexandre Dumas, pere (French for "father", akin to 'Senior' in English), born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was a French writer, best known for his numerous 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 serialized. He also wrote plays and magazine articles and was a prolific correspondent.
Alexandre 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 former slave. Their son, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, married Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret, the daughter of an innkeeper. Thomas-Alexandre was a general in Napoleon's army who fell into disfavor, rendering his family impoverished.
By the time young Dumas was born his family had lost all pretensions to wealth, and his widowed mother struggled to give him a decent education. General Dumas died in 1806 when Alexandre was three and half years old. Although Marie-Louise was unable to provide her son with much in the way of education, it did not hinder young Alexandre's love of books, and he read everything he could get his hands on. While he was growing up, his mother's stories of his father's brave military acts during the glory years of Napoleon I of France spawned Alexandre's vivid imagination for adventure and heroes. Although poor, the family still had the father's distinguished reputation and aristocratic connections, and after the restoration of the monarchy, twenty-year-old Alexandre Dumas moved to Paris where he obtained employment at the Palais Royal in the office of the powerful duc d'Orléans.
Literary career: While working in Paris, Dumas began to write articles for magazines as well as plays for the theatre. In 1829 his first solo play, Henry III and his Court, was produced, meeting with great public acclaim. The following year his second play, Christine, proved equally popular, and as a result, he was financially able to work full time at writing. In 1830, he participated in the revolution that ousted King Charles X and replaced him on the throne with Dumas's 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 turned out to be 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 a very astute business marketer. With high demand from newspapers for serial novels, in 1838, he simply rewrote one of his plays to create his first serial novel. Titled Le Capitaine Paul, it 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 be witness to events in the Decembrist revolt in Russia. This novel was eventually banned in Russia by Czar Nicholas I of Russia, causing Dumas to be forbidden to visit Russia until 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 Dumas's memoirs. On 1 February 1840, he married an 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 Marie-Alexandrine Dumas (5 March 1831 1878, who later married Pierre Petel and daughter of Belle Krelsamer (1803 1875), Mica lla-Clélie-Josepha-Élisabeth Cordier, born in 1860 and daughter of Emélie Cordier, and Henry Bauer, born of an unknown mother. Dumas made extensive use of the aid of numerous assistants and collaborators, of which 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 several of Dumas's other novels. When working together, Maquet proposed plots and wrote drafts, while Dumas added the details, dialogues, and the final chapters. His writing earned him a great deal of money, but Dumas was frequently broke or in debt as a result of spending lavishly on women and high living. The large and costly Ch teau de Monte-Cristo that he built was often filled with strangers and acquaintances who took advantage of his generosity. When King Louis-Philippe was ousted in a revolt, Dumas was not looked upon favorably by the newly elected President, Charles Louis Napoleon 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 his writings were enormously popular. Dumas spent two years in Russia before moving on to seek adventure and fodder for more stories. In March of 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 connections, 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. Nevertheless, racist attitudes affected his rightful position in France's history long after his death at Puys on December 5, 1870, at the age of 68. It is attributed to him a personal quote to someone who insulted him about his mixed-race background: It is true. My father was a mulatto, my grandmother was a negress, and my great-grandparents were monkeys. In short, sir, my pedigree begins where yours ends. In June 2005, Dumas's 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 almost complete by the time of his death. A final two-and-a-half chapters were written by modern-day Dumas scholar Claude Schopp who based himself on Dumas' pre-writing notes.
When a mulatto general from Napoleon's army retired to the small northeastern town of Villers-Cotterets, France, little did the natives know that their town was now destined to become the birthplace of the great Alexandre Dumas. On July 24, 1802 the forty-four year old General learned that he had fathered a son. A statue in the town now commemorates one of the most prolific and loved writers of the 19th century. Alexandre Dumas was to excel at both the dramatic genre and the romantic novel. His works involve adventuresome plots, which depict the heroic triumph of human strength and endurance.
Dumas' plots were inspired by his father's wild adventures. Beginning early in life Dumas learned of the wartime triumphs and hardships the General had experienced. Unfortunately for the young boy, these proved insuperable for his father's aging body. The General had suffered from poisoning and imprisonment. Dumas' father thus died only four years after his son's birth. Dumas then led an isolated childhood. His protective mother could not part with her boy though his education was at stake. Thus, Alexandre did not attend college. Only once that his mother's monetary funds had been exhausted did she concede to the prospect of his voyage to the big city, Paris.
Once in Paris, Dumas tried to kindle relations with his father's old friends. This however proved to be anything but fruitful. Luckily, General Foy, who represented Dumas' town district in the Chamber of Deputies, was also friendly with the Duc D'Orleans. As a result of this connection Dumas obtained a clerkship with the Duc. Dumas possessed the fine penmanship necessary for the post. Dumas, however, already had higher goals in mind. He is reported to have commented to Foy, "General, I am going to live by my handwriting, but I promise you that I shall someday live by my pen."
It did not take long for the spirited Dumas to start working towards this dream. Shortly thereafter, he was inspired to write a drama, Henri III, et sa Cour. This was performed in February 1829.
Next, Dumas became temporarily distracted with political ambitions. He became a captain in the artillery of the National Guard. These duties did not hinder his literary output for long, however. Five Dumas dramas were performed in Paris in 1831. It was not until 1844 and 1845 that his most celebrated works The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were written.
The explosion of Dumas' career as a romance novelist was controversial. Assistants and secretaries with whom he collaborated wrote in his style before he then reviewed what they had written. To their work he added his inventive touch and the finished product was published under his name. Dumas was criticized and even brought to trial for this collaboration. Despite this, the public loved his work. Dumas held his readers captive. Pieces of his narratives were published daily in journals. Each day the readers were left with the phrase, to be cont? They anxiously wondered what would happen next.
Dumas' economic success was hindered by a lavish wild lifestyle. He was always in financial trouble. He once left Paris to live in Brussels because his creditors allowed him no peace. Fortunately, Dumas was brought back to Paris once a friend had regulated his accounts.
In 1860, Dumas' whimsical nature brought him to Naples where the political insurgent Giuseppe Garibaldi had requested his presence. Here Dumas became involved with politics and also served as superintendent for an art museum. 1864 brought him back to Paris where he was watched over by his son. His son was also a writer who had amassed a glory of his own, as well as the fortune his father never could. His son tended to his father's financial needs until Dumas' death in 1870. Alexandre Dumas died on his son's estate on December 5, 1870.
Dumas is best remembered for his historical novels such as Monte Cristo. Here, history forms the backdrop to the fantastic fictional inventions of a wild mind. Dumas' output also contains romances such as the Valois romances and D'Artagnan. These works involve real historic characters and events to teach the French people their national history. Explanations of events are, however, a fabrication of Dumas' imagination.
Never ceasing creativity is the heart of Dumas' genius. His action filled dramas and novels capture the true essence of human spirit. Dumas' sense of adventure lives on through the pages of his works.