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Home » Alexandre Dumas, Authors, Features, France, Passport Week

Passport: France- Spotlight on Alexandre Dumas

Submitted by on February 25, 2011 – 9:00 am2 Comments

We cannot visit France without mentioning the great Alexandre Dumas. Dumas was a pioneer of the Romantic theatre in France, for which he wrote a series of colourful historical dramas, although it is as a novelist that he is best known today. His works include The Three Musketeers (1844-5), La Reine Margot (1845) among others.

River Somme, Picardy France
Born in Villers-Cotterêts in the department of Aisne, in Picardy, France in 1802, 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 Creole of mixed French and African ancestry.Their s on, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, married Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret, the daughter of an innkeeper. Thomas-Alexandre, then a general in Napoleon’s army, fell out of favor and the family was impoverished when Dumas was born.

Thomas-Alexandre Dumas died in 1806, when his son was still an infant. His widow was unable to provide her son with much of an education, but Dumas read everything he could obtain. His mother’s stories of his father’s bravery during the years of Napoleon I of France inspired Dumas’ vivid imagination for adventure. Although poor, the family had their father’s distinguished reputation and aristocratic position. In 1822, after the restoration of the monarchy, twenty-year-old Alexandre Dumas moved to Paris, where he worked at the Palais Royal in the office of duc d’Orléans (Louis Philippe).

Palais Royal

While in Paris, Dumas began writing for magazines and plays for the theater. But, it was in his books that Dumas truly excelled. His popularity made him easy friends that took advantage of Dumas’ generosity and “Joie De Vivre” and like the French are known for doing, he enjoyed indulging in women and sumptuous living. In fact, the large Château de Monte-Cristo that he built was often filled with strangers and acquaintances lapping up Dumas’s fortune.

Château de Monte-Cristo

One thing about Alexandre Dumas that has always fascinated me was his success in a time when his heritage might have been looked down upon. Though most of the world seemed to enjoy Dumas’s work and respect his aristocratic upbringing, it seems that his mixed race affected him personally all his life. In 1843 he wrote a short novel, Georges, that addressed some of the issues of race and the effects of colonialism. He once remarked to a man who insulted him about his mixed-race background:

“My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.” -Alexandre Dumas

Nonetheless, Dumas is responsible for some of the most beloved classic to be written in France during his time. Perhaps my favorite Dumas story is . A popular bestseller since its publication in 1844, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the great page-turning thrillers of all time. Set against the tumultuous years of the post-Napoleonic era, Dumas’s grand historical romance recounts the swashbuckling adventures of Edmond Dantès, a dashing young sailor falsely accused of treason. The story of his long imprisonment, dramatic escape, and carefully wrought revenge offers up a vision of France that has become immortal. What is more though, Dumas weaves such a complex and intricate array of characters with backgrounds all their own. His world building was impeccably meticulous and it really gives the sense that this story is more of a historical account than a fictional adventure.
Lastly, I wouldn’t feel right if I left out another of my favorite Dumas books (this time for the subject matter) . Ahhh…The Borgia’s… There are dreadful — perhaps scurrilous — rumors about the Borgia’s of renaissance Italy, and here Dumas, author of such classics as THE THREE MUSKETEERS, in his Celebrated Crimes series, dishes up the dirt in all its ugly glory. This book was not written for children. Dumas has minced no words in describing the violent scenes of a violent time. In some instances facts appear distorted out of their true perspective, and in others the author makes unwarranted charges. The careful, mature reader — for whom the books are intended — will recognize and allow for this fact and it is nonetheless a book for any Borgia researcher to have on their shelf.

As I am writing this I am considering the topics and general themes behind my favorite Dumas books. With The Count of Monte Cristo, it is revenge and with The Borgia’s it is schemeing and muderous betrayal. Hmmmm…I am not quite sure what that says about me . . .

What about you? Do you have a favorite Alexandre Dumas story or is there another classic French author that is on your list of favorites?

Day is a dreamer who has never met a stranger. She is fearless and will talk to anyone and read anything! She taught music and dance and was a singer/actress for years, performing on stages both nationally and overseas. Now married with children, she spends less time singing on stage and more time writing songs at home. But, family life has not completely slowed this chick down. She still loves an adventure and learning new things. She resides in Texas with her family, Great Dane (Sophie), Labradoodles (George & Cosmo) and Chihuahua (Juan Carlos).
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  • BLHmistress says:

    To be honest I haven't read any French Author's who do you recommend to try for the first time?

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  • Day says:

    Wow, that is a good question. So much of my French favorites are classics… If you like classic fiction then I would suggest Dumas for adventure (Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo) If you like really long Epic stories then perhaps Victor Hugo or Proust. Of course, if you prefer a more scandalous story there is always Dangerous Liaisons which several film and book adaptations have been made from the original book.

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