Alexandre Dumas Biography & Facts
Alexandre Dumas (UK: , US: ; French: [alɛksɑ̃dʁ dymɑ]; born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie ([dymɑ davi də la pajət(ə)ʁi]), 24 July 1802 – 5 December 1870), also known as Alexandre Dumas père (where père is French for 'father', to distinguish him from his son Alexandre Dumas fils), was a French writer. His works have been translated into many languages and he is one of the most widely read French authors. Many of his historical novels of adventure were originally published as serials, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. His novels have been adapted since the early twentieth century into nearly 200 films.
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 totalled 100,000 pages. In the 1840s, Dumas founded the Théâtre Historique in Paris.
His father, General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, was born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) to Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, a French nobleman, and Marie-Cessette Dumas, an African slave. At age 14, Thomas-Alexandre was taken by his father to France, where he was educated in a military academy and entered the military for what became an illustrious career.
Dumas's father's aristocratic rank helped young Alexandre acquire work with Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, then as a writer, a career which led to early success. Decades later, after the election of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1851, Dumas fell from favour and left France for Belgium, where he stayed for several years, then moved to Russia for a few years before going to Italy. In 1861, he founded and published the newspaper L'Indépendent, which supported Italian unification, before returning to Paris in 1864.
Though married, in the tradition of Frenchmen of higher social class, Dumas had numerous affairs (allegedly as many as 40). He was known to have had at least four illegitimate children, although twentieth-century scholars believe it was seven. He acknowledged and assisted his son, Alexandre Dumas, to become a successful novelist and playwright. They are known as Alexandre Dumas père ('father') and Alexandre Dumas fils ('son'). Among his affairs, in 1866, Dumas had one with Adah Isaacs Menken, an American actress who was less than half his age and at the height of her career.
The English playwright Watts Phillips, who knew Dumas in his later life, described him as "the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill – once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself."
Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (later known as Alexandre Dumas) was born in 1802 in Villers-Cotterêts in the department of Aisne, in Picardy, France. He had two older sisters, Marie-Alexandrine (born 1794) and Louise-Alexandrine (1796–1797). Their parents were Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret, the daughter of an innkeeper, and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas.
Thomas-Alexandre had been born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), the mixed-race, natural son of the marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie (Antoine), a French nobleman and général commissaire in the artillery of the colony, and Marie-Cessette Dumas, an enslaved woman of Afro-Caribbean ancestry. The two extant primary documents that state a racial identity for Marie-Cessette Dumas refer to her as a "négresse" (a black woman) as opposed to a "mulâtresse" (a woman of visible mixed race). It is not known whether Marie-Cessette was born in Saint-Domingue or in Africa, nor is it known from which African people her ancestors came. What is known is that, sometime after becoming estranged from his brothers, Antoine purchased Marie-Cessette and her daughter (by a previous relationship) for "an exorbitant amount" and made Marie-Cessette his concubine. Thomas-Alexandre was the only son born to them, but two or three daughters were also born, of whom two daughters survived until their father sold them in 1775.
In 1775, following the death of both his brothers, Antoine left Saint-Domingue for France in order to claim the family estates and the title of Marquis. Shortly before his departure, he sold his long-time concubine Marie-Cessette and two of his own daughters born to her (Adolphe and Jeanette), as also Marie-Cessette oldest daughter Marie-Rose (whose father was a different man) to a Baron who had recently came from Nantes to settle in Saint Domingue. Antoine however retained ownership of Thomas-Alexandre (his only natural son) and took the boy with him to France. In that country, Thomas-Alexandre received his freedom and a sparse education at a military school, adequate to enable him to join the French army, there being no question of the mixed-race boy being accepted as his father's heir. Thomas-Alexandre did well in the Army and was promoted to general by the age of 31, the first soldier of Afro-Antilles origin to reach that rank in the French army.The family surname ("de la Pailleterie") was never bestowed upon Thomas-Alexandre, who therefore used "Dumas" as his surname. This is often assumed to have been his mother's surname, but in fact, the surname "Dumas" occurs only once in connection with Marie-Cessette, and that happens in Europe, when Thomas-Alexandre states, while applying for a marriage license, that his mother's name was "Marie-Cessette Dumas." Some scholars have suggested that Thomas-Alexandre devised the surname "Dumas" for himself when he felt the need for one, and that he attributed it to his mother when convenient. "Dumas" means "of the farm" (du mas), perhaps signifying only that Marie-Cessette belonged to the farm property.
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 done as an adult. His first play, Henry III and His Court, 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 with Dumas's former employer, the Duke of Orléans, who 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 industrialise. An improving economy combined with the end of press censorship made the times rewarding for Alexandre Dumas's literary skills.
After writing additional successful plays, Dumas switched to.... Discover the Alexandre Dumas popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Alexandre Dumas books.