Alexandre Dumas was born on July 24, 1802, in Villers-Coterêts, north of Paris. His father was a soldier in Napoleon's army and his mother was the daughter of a local innkeeper. However, his grandfather was a marquis, and his grandmother was a slave in what is now Haiti. Throughout his life, his part-African ancestry would fascinate Parisians, who found it exotic; some made racist comments about him but were usually charmed by his witty responses.
Dumas's father died when he was four years old and left the family penniless. Dumas learned to read and write from his mother, his sister, and a neighbor but spent most of his time hunting and fishing in the forest near his home instead of studying. When he was sixteen, he met two friends, Vi-comte Adolphe Ribbing de Leuven and Amedee de La Ponce, both highly educated, who encouraged Dumas to read widely. In addition, de Leuven, who wanted to be a playwright, soon convinced Dumas to collaborate with him on writing a play. Dumas, who had very elegant handwriting, found work as a clerk and in his spare time continued to read and to write. He attended plays and made friends in the theater world.
His first success came with his play Henri III et sa cour (Henry III and His Court), which was performed by the prestigious Comedie Francaise and, through his acquaintance with the duc d'Orleans, Dumas was attended by princes and princesses who happened to be visiting the duc at the time. Overnight he had fame and fortune and was the toast of Paris. He became friends with all the leading literary figures of the time, spent his money generously, traveled widely, and wrote prolifically.
In 1836, he signed a contract to retell various events in French history in the Sunday edition of the newspaper La Presse. These pieces, enthusiastically awaited by the public, led him to begin writing historical novels. During the course of one year, 1844, he wrote The Three Musketeers, its sequels Twenty Years After, Le Comte de Bragelonne, and The Count of Monte Cristo. All of these works are still in print in France.
Dumas wrote an astonishing number of novels and plays, some of them hundreds of pages long; he usually worked with collaborators who did the historical research and often came up with plots. Then Dumas would flesh out the bare bones of the structure and bring the story vividly to life. One collaborator, Auguste Maquet, eventually sued for what he felt was his literary due. During the trial, his version of a chapter from The Three Musketeers was compared to Dumas's, and the court found in favor of Dumas because of the greater quality of his writing. None of Maquet's independent writing ever succeeded.
Although Dumas was hugely successful, he spent money as fast as he made it and had to keep writing to pay off his debts; however, it is likely that he would have written whether he was paid to or not. Although he had robust health throughout his life, at age 68 he went to his son Alexandre's house and told him he had come there to die. His son, like him, was a successful writer but led a more quiet life than Dumas had. Dumas died in Puy, near Dieppe on the coast of France on December 5, 1870. Before he died, he told his son that of all his works, his favorite was The Three Musketeers. In 1883, a statue in his memory was erected at the Places Malsherbes on the Right Bank in Paris.
Did this raise a question for you?