Alexandre Dumas’ stories, including classics The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, make him the most widely read French writer in history. His work has been translated into 100 languages and more than 150 movies have been made based on his stories.
Many books and web resources do not even mention Dumas’ ethnicity, but he is clearly biracial. Surprisingly, the Dumas clan was the toast of France for three generations. Alexandre’s father, Thomas Alexandre Dumas, was the illegitimate son of a French nobleman and a West Indian slave woman. He moved to France with his father, joined Napoleon’s army during the French Revolution, rising to the rank of general. He was popular with the troops and the “Black Devil” was known for his bravery. The Italians captured him while he was returning to France and held him prisoner for nearly two years. The torture he endured left him partially paralyzed, blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. But France released him from service without a pension. When he died at 37, he left his wife and Alexandre, 4, in poverty.
Alexandre didn’t receive much education when he was young. By 20, he moved to Paris and capitalized on his white grandfather’s aristocratic rank to make contacts and find work. He was a prolific writer, producing novels full of swashbucklers and adventure, in addition to plays, travel guides and even a encyclopedia-style cookbook. His books sold very well and he became wealthy.
But Alexandre was quite the bon vivant in cafe Paris. He fathered four illegitimate children while married to his actress wife and lived extravagantly, well in excess of his successful career. He was the father, pere, of playwright Alexandre Dumas, called Dumas fils (son). Dumas fils wrote Camille, published in 1852. Giuseppe Verdi based his world-famous opera, La Traviata, on this play.
Dumas pere was broke and out of the limelight when he died in 1870 at age 68. In 2002, French President Jacques Chirac had Dumas pere’s body exhumed and brought to the Pantheon of Paris, the mausoleum where the legends of France are buried. There Dumas pere took his rightful place in eternity alongside fellow luminaries including writers Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.
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