Black History Minute!!! Alexandre Dumas (1802 - 1870)
Alexandre Dumas (pronounced: [a.lɛk.sɑ̃dʁ dy.ma], born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, [dy.ma da.vi‿d.la pa.jə.tʁi], 24 July 1802 – 5 December 1870), also known as Alexandre Dumas, père, was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure. Translated into nearly 100 languages, these 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: Ten Years Later were originally published as serials. His novels have been adapted since the early twentieth century for nearly 200 films. Dumas' last novel, The Knight of Sainte-Hermine, unfinished at his death, was completed by a scholar and published in 2005, becoming a bestseller. It was published in English in 2008 as The Last Cavalier.
Prolific in several genres, Dumas began his career by writing plays, which were successfully produced from the first. He also wrote numerous magazine articles and travel books; his published works totaled 100,000 pages. In the 1840s, Dumas founded the Théâtre Historique in Paris.
While working for Louis-Philippe, Dumas began writing articles for magazines and plays for the theatre. As an adult, he used his slave grandmother's surname of Dumas, as his father had as an adult. His first play, Henry III and His Courts, produced in 1829 when he was 27 years old, met with acclaim. The next year his second play Christine was equally popular. These successes gave him sufficient income to write full-time.
In 1830 Dumas participated in the Revolution that ousted Charles X and replaced him on the throne with the Duke of Orléans. Dumas' former employer, he ruled 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. An improving economy—combined with the end of press censorship—made the times rewarding for Alexandre Dumas' literary skills.
After writing additional successful plays, Dumas switched to writing novels. Although attracted to an extravagant lifestyle and always spending more than he earned, Dumas proved to be an astute marketer. As newspapers were publishing many serial novels, in 1838 Dumas rewrote one of his plays as his first serial novel, Le Capitaine Paul. He founded a production studio, staffed with writers who turned out hundreds of stories, all subject to his personal direction, editing and additions.
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. He featured Beatrice Cenci, Martin Guerre, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, as well as more recent events and criminals, including the cases of the alleged murderers Karl Ludwig Sand and Antoine François Desrues, who were executed.
Dumas collaborated with Augustin Grisier, his fencing master, in his 1840 novel, The Fencing Master. The story is written as Grisier's account of how he came to witness the events of the Decembrist revolt in Russia. The novel was eventually banned in Russia by Czar Nicholas I, and Dumas was prohibited from visiting the country until after the Czar's death. Dumas refers to Grisier with great respect in The Count of Monte Cristo, The Corsican Brothers, and in his memoirs.
Dumas depended on numerous assistants and collaborators, of whom Auguste Maquet was the best known. It was not until the late twentieth century that his role was fully understood. Maquet is known to have outlined the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo, and made substantial contributions to The Three Musketeers and its sequels, as well as to several of Dumas' other novels. Their method of working together was for Maquet to propose plots and write drafts. Dumas added the details, dialogues, and the final chapters. Maquet took Dumas to court to try to get authorial recognition and a higher rate of payment for his work. He was successful in getting more money, but not a byline.
Dumas' novels were so popular that they were soon translated into English and other languages. His writing earned him a great deal of money, but he was frequently insolvent, as he spent lavishly on women and sumptuous living. (He has been found to have had a total of 40 mistresses.) In 1846 he had built a country house outside Paris at Port Marly, the large Château de Monte-Cristo, with an additional building for his writing studio. It was often filled with strangers and acquaintances who stayed for lengthy visits and took advantage of his generosity. Two years later, faced with financial difficulties, he sold the entire property.
Dumas wrote in a wide variety of genres and published a total of 100,000 pages in his lifetime. He made use of experience, writing travel books after taking journeys, including those motivated by reasons other than pleasure. After King Louis-Philippe was ousted in a revolt, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected as president. As Bonaparte disapproved of the author, in 1851 Dumas fled to Brussels, Belgium, which was also an effort to escape his creditors. He moved on to Russia about 1859, where French was the second language of the elite, and his writings were enormously popular. Dumas spent two years in Russia, before leaving to seek different adventure. He published travel books about Russia.
In March 1861 the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed, with Victor Emmanuel II as its king. Dumas traveled there and, for the next three years, participated in the movement for Italian unification. He founded and led a newspaper, Indipendente. Returning to Paris in 1864, he published travel books about Italy.