by Alexandre Dumas
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|About The Author:
One of the most famous French writers of the 19th century.
Dumas is best known for historical the novels The Three
Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both written
within the space of two years, 1844-45, and which belong
to the foundation works of popular culture. He was among
the first, along with Honoré de Balzac and Eugène
Sue, who fully used the possibilities of roman feuilleton,
the serial novel. Dumas is credited with revitalizing
the historical novel in France, although his abilities
as a writer were under dispute from the beginning. Dumas'
works are fast-paced adventure tales that blend history
and fiction, but on the other hand, the are entangled,
melodramatic, and actually not faithful to the historical
Alexandre Dumas was born in Villes-Cotterêts. His
grandfather was a French nobleman, who had settled in
Santo Domingo (now part of Haiti); his paternal grandmother,
Marie-Cessette, was an Afro-Caribbean, who had been a
black slave in the French colony (now part of Haiti).
Dumas's father was a general in Napoleon's army, who had
fallen out of favor. After his death in 1806 the family
lived in poverty. Dumas worked as a notary's clerk and
went in 1823 to Paris to find work. Due to his elegant
handwriting he secured a position with the Duc d'Orléans
- later King Louis Philippe. He also found his place in
theater and as a publisher of some obscure magazines.
An illegitimate son called Alexandre Dumas fils, whose
mother, Marie-Catherine Labay, was a dressmaker, was born
As a playwright Dumas made his breakthrough with HENRI
III ET SA COUR (1829), produced by the Comedie Francaise.
It gained a huge success and Dumas went on to write additional
plays, of which 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.
Historical novels brought Dumas enormous fortune, but
he could spent money faster than he made it. He produced
some 250 books with his 73 assistants, especially with
the history teacher Auguste Maquet, whom he wisely allowed
to work quite independently. Dumas earned roughly 200,000
francs yearly and received an annual sum of 63,000 francs
for 220,000 lines from the newspapers Presse and the Constitutionel.
Maquet often proposed subjects and wrote first drafts
for some of Dumas' most famous serial novels, including
LES TROIS MOUSQUETAIRES (1844, The Three Musketeers) and
LE COMTE DE MONTE-CRISTO (1844-45, The Count of Monte-Cristo).
As a master dialogist, Dumas developed character traits,
and kept the action moving, and composed the all-important
chapter endings - teaser scenes that maintained suspense
and readers interest to read more.
Dumas' role in the development of the historical novel
owes much to a coincidence. The lifting of press censorship
in the 1830s gave rise to a rapid spread of newspapers.
Editors began to lure readers by entertaining serial novels.
Everybody read them, the aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie,
young and old, men and women. Dumas' first true serial
novel was LE CAPITAINE PAUL (1838, Captain Paul), a quick
rewrite of a play.
Dumas lived as adventurously as the heroes of his books.
He took part in the revolution of July 1830, caught cholera
during the epidemic of 1832, and traveled in Italy to
recuperate. He married his mistress Ida Ferrier, an actress,
in 1840, but he soon separated after having spent her
entire dowry. With the money earned from his writings,
he built a fantastic château Montecristo on the
outskirts of Paris. In 1851 Dumas escaped his creditors
- his country house, the Chateau de Monte Cristo. Dumas
spent two years in exile in Brussels (1855-57), and then
returned to Paris. In 1858 he traveled to Russia and in1860
he went to Italy, where he supported Garibaldi and Italy's
struggle for independence (1860-64). He then remained
in Naples as a keeper of the museums for four years. After
his return to France his debts continued to mount.
Called as "the king of Paris", Dumas earned
fortunes and spent them right away on friends, art, and
mistresses. Dumas died of a stroke on December 5, 1870,
at Puys, near Dieppe. His son Alexandre Dumas fils, became
a writer, dramatist, and moralist, who never accepted
his father's lifestyle.
Dumas did not generally define himself as a black man,
and there is not much evidence that he encountered overt
racism during his life. However, his works were popular
among the 19th-century African-Americans, partly because
in The Count of Monte-Cristo, the falsely imprisoned Edmond
Dantès, may be read as a parable of emancipation.
In a shorter work, GEORGES (1843, George), Dumas examined
the question of race and colonialism. The main character,
a half-French mulatto, leaves Mauritius to be educated
in France, and returns to avenge himself for the affronts
he had suffered as a boy.