Summary: Alexandre Dumas senior ('père', born July 24, 1802, died December 5, 1870); French author of romance and adventure literature, most famous for the Three Musketeers series, which includes the Man in the Iron Mask, and for the Count of Monte Cristo. His son, Alexandre Dumas junior (fils, born July 27, 1824, died November 17, 1895); romantic novelist and playwright most famous for La Dame aux Camélias.

Alexandre Dumas was born in 1802, at Villers-Cotterêts, just north of the River Marne, the illegitimate son of a Napoleonic general named Thomas Alexandre Dumas (1762-1806). His paternal grandparents were from Santo Domingo, which is now part of Haiti. Marie-Cessette, Dumas' grandmother, was an Afro-Carribean former slave. After his father's death in 1806, Dumas' family lived in poverty. In 1823, after a stint as a notary's clerk, he went to Paris to find work. Due to his exquisite calligraphic skills, he gained employment in the household of the Duc d'Orléans, who would subsequently become the Orleanist King Louis Philippe. Whilst in the employ of the Duke, he became a playwright. He also had an affair with a dressmaker named Marie-Catherine Lebay, to whom a son, Alexandre Dumas fils, was born in 1824. (See below)

Dumas' first successful work was the play Henri III et sa Cour (Henry III and his court), produced in 1829 at the Comedie Française. Among his later plays is the outstanding melodrama, La Tour de Nesle (The Tower of Nesle), produced in 1832. He also founded and wrote for several magazines, and wrote books about his various travels.

But it was as the author of around 250 novels that Dumas gained his greatest fame. A pioneer of the roman feuilleton or serial novel, he collaborated with the historian Auguste Maquet to fill the pages of the newspapers Presse and Constitutionel with swashbuckling adventure stories. When his patron, Louis Philippe, became king in 18301, Dumas benefitted massively from the relaxation of press censorship and consequent popularity of newspaper publishing.

In 1832 Dumas caught cholera in the great epidemic, and spent some time recuperating in Italy. In 1840 he married the actress Ida Ferrier, who had become his mistress. The marriage was not a success, and Dumas spent his wife's entire dowry. They separated.

Dumas spent two years in Brussels from 1855 to 1857, in exile2. He visited Russia in 1858. In 1860 he went to Italy again, this time to support Garibaldi and be keeper of the museums in Naples. In 1864 he came back to Paris, still in debt. His fortune, earned from his writing, had largely been spent building the Chateau de Montecristo, a large country house outside the capital.

Although Dumas was of mixed race, he did not dwell on the fact very often. Nevertheless, his works, particularly The Count of Monte Cristo with its themes of false imprisonment and liberation, proved popular with African Americans at the time.

On December 5, 1870, Dumas had a stroke and died at Puys, near Dieppe. He was buried at Villers-Cotterêts - a fact which upset fans who believed him deserving of a state funeral like that which the more pious and highbrow Victor Hugo got, and a burial in the Pantheon. A statue was put up to him by the townsfolk, but was destroyed by the occupying Nazi forces during WWII. This year (2002), it is planned to exhume Dumas' remains and finally transfer them to the Pantheon. Members of the 'three Dumas' society (dedicated to Dumas' father, and the two Alexandres) object to this, as they now rather like the celebrity that Dumas' grave lends to the town. An offer has been made to restore the lost statue, though.

Most famous works:

1: An event which drove the Bourbon loyalist mathematician Augustin-Louis Cauchy out of the country.
2: For tax or debt reasons, I believe.

Thanks to Spuunbenda for locating Dumas' birthplace, which is north-east of Paris and west of Rheims.

Alexander Dumas fils spent much of his early life in boarding schools, at his father's expense, where he was unhappy because of taunts concerning his illegitimacy. While living at Saint-Germain-en-Laye with his father, young Alexandre met the courtesan Marie Duplessis, who inspired the younger Dumas' great work, La Dame aux Camélias. Marie died of tuberculosis in 1847. The novel appeared the following year. In 1853, Giuseppe Verdi based his opera La Traviata on the work.

Unlike his father, the younger Dumas was a strict moralist, and was opposed to the emancipation of women. He made this and other political points in the pointed prefaces to his works.

Alexandre Dumas fils died at Marly-le-Roi on November 27, 1895.

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