Biography of Alexandre Dumas

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.


Study Guides on Works by Alexandre Dumas