Alexandre Dumas Biography

Alexandre Dumas Biography

Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) is one of France’s greatest authors and one of the world’s most appreciated novelists. Dumas’s father died when he was a small boy, so he grew up listening to his mother’s stories of his father’s bravery in war. These stories spurred him to write such swashbuckling classics as The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Man in the Iron Mask. In addition to novels, the incredibly prolific Dumas (some critics calculate his collected output to fill nearly 1,000 volumes) also wrote plays, magazine articles, and travel guides. Dumas’s stories have even been translated into one hundred languages and made into over two hundred film adaptations.

Facts and Trivia

  • Dumas was always worried about the fact that he was biracial. Someone once insulted him about this fact and he replied, “It is true. My father was a mulatto, my grandmother was a negress, and my great-grandparents were monkeys. In short, sir, my pedigree begins where yours ends.”
  • Dumas did not write his novels alone. He had several assistants who helped him with research. Some even outlined the plots of his novels for him and wrote early drafts. Dumas would then add dialogue and other details.
  • Despite his success, Dumas was often in debt due to spending so much on his mistresses. Though he was married to actress Ida Ferrier, he had at least four illegitimate children.
  • In 2002, French president Jacques Chirac had Dumas’s body exhumed and interred in the same place as Victor Hugo and Voltaire.
  • In 2005, Dumas’s last novel, The Knight of Sainte-Hermine, was sold in France. It was not quite finished at the time of his death, so the last two chapters were ghostwritten by Dumas scholar Claude Schopp.

Author Profile

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)
0111204747-Dumas.jpg Alexandre Dumas, père (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Dumas is best known for such romances as The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), The Three Musketeers (1844), and The Man in the Iron Mask (1848-1550). He claimed to have written more than twelve hundred pieces of work, but that figure is an exaggeration. Dumas dealt with many issues pertaining to the history of France in his novels and plays, and he produced his best work during his middle years, from 1835 until 1860. In 1863, Dumas along with his son—who is known as Alexandre Dumas, fils—received a Decree of Condemnation which placed all of his writings on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum by the Roman Catholic church because of their emphasis on “impure love.” He was branded one of the church’s eleven “Condemned Novelists” and all his future novels were to be automatically listed, unless they could be shown to be acceptable. This condemnation did not extend to Dumas’ dramatic works, however.

Later, some of Dumas’ works were given qualified church approval by Abbe Louis Bethleem, who made a detailed study of the French authors, particularly those whose works were placed under the ban of “all love stories.” Several of Dumas’ minor works and his major works, including The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, were banned entirely. The Corsican Brothers (1844), a story about the intimate sympathy between twin brothers, even when separated, and The Twin Lieutenants (1858), a story about the career of Napoleon, along with fifteen other works were designated as suitable only for adults to read. Seventeen minor works by Alexandre Dumas are considered works which may be read by all. These include The Chronicles of Charlemagne (1836), a portion of Dumas’ series The Chronicles of France. Several travel books by Dumas are listed as books that may be read only with serious precautions, including Ten Days on Mount Sinai (1839), a narrative of a scientific journey to Egypt and Sinai, and A Year in Florence (1841), a travelogue of Dumas’ journey through the south of Europe. (Abbe Bethleem did not recommend lifting the prohibition on any of Alexandre Dumas, fils novels.)

After the church’s Decree of Commendation, Dumas continued to write sparingly until his death, concentrating on dramas and serialized romances. Several of his later works dealt with the turbulent times in French history and are listed under the completely banned works of the author.

Alexandre Dumas Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Alexandre Dumas, pére, was born on July 24, 1802, in Villers-Cotterêts, a small village northeast of Paris. He was the son of one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s generals, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, and Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Labouret, daughter of an innkeeper in Villers-Cotterêts; he was the grandson of a French marquis, Antoine-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, and a black slave girl, Marie-Cessette Dumas.

When General Dumas was returning to his wife and daughter from Bonaparte’s campaign in Egypt, a violent storm in the Mediterranean led to his capture by enemy forces; he spent about twenty months as a prisoner in Naples, suffering much abuse and perhaps even a poisoning attempt. He was not able to return to his family until May of 1801. His only son, the dramatist, was born the following year. The general, never in good health after his captivity, died in 1804, leaving his family with limited financial means.

In his boyhood Dumas showed little interest in studies, preferring to spend his time hunting in the forests near Villers-Cotterêts. His attitude toward books was eventually changed by two new arrivals in the village. Amédée de la Ponce, a hussar officer, taught him Italian and some German, and introduced him to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774; The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1779) and to the works of Friedrich Schiller—the European Romantic movement thus reached Villers-Cotterêts. A Swedish nobleman, Vicomte Adolphe de Leuven, thrilled the young romantic with stories of Paris—and the Parisian theater in particular. The two decided to collaborate in writing comedy, finishing one play in 1820. Although this light comedy was not of interest to producers, the collaborators were not deterred from writing two additional plays before the end of 1821. It was Leuven who introduced Dumas to the novels of Sir Walter Scott and the riches of romance and history that they contained. Dumas was enthralled; as soon as he had read Ivanhoe (1819), he immediately started writing a play based on it, and he made plans to move to Paris to pursue a literary career.

In 1823 in Paris, Dumas was made painfully aware of the deficiencies in his education; he evidently secured a job as copyist for the duke of Orleans (later King Louis-Philippe) only by virtue of his beautiful handwriting. Luckily, one of the other workers in the office advised Dumas on what to read to improve himself and to prepare for a writing career. The suggested works included the great epic poets, French historians, and such moderns as George Gordon, Lord Byron; Victor Hugo; and Alphonse de Lamartine.

Shortly after his arrival in Paris, Dumas began an affair with Marie-Catherine-Laure Labay, a seamstress, who bore him a son on July 27, 1824 (the son was also to become a famous writer, Alexandre Dumas, fils). In 1830, Dumas began an affair with an actress, Bell Krelsamer, who bore him a daughter, Marie-Alexandrine, in 1831. By this time Dumas had become a famous playwright.

A minor theatrical success in 1825 had given Dumas all the encouragement he needed to pursue a career in the theater. With Leuven and P.-J. Rousseau he wrote La Chasse et l’amour (hunting and love), and this piece was produced on September 22 at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique. Before the end of 1826, he had another work on the stage, La Noce et l’enterrement (the wedding and the burial), which had a run of forty performances.

In the next two years, Dumas staged nothing, but he learned much. He thrilled to the performances of plays by William Shakespeare given in...

(The entire section is 1497 words.)

Alexandre Dumas Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

On July 24, 1802, Alexandre Dumas was born in Villers-Cotterêts, a suburb of Paris with souvenirs of eighteenth century royalty that was to figure in many of his novels. From his father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, a general in Napoleon I’s service who dared to defy the emperor and hence lost possibilities of future honors, he received an adventurous spirit and a mulatto ancestry. His father died in 1806, and young Alexandre was brought up by his mother with little formal education and a love for the country and its woods. In 1818, Adolphe de Leuven and Amédée de la Ponce began to initiate him into German and Italian studies, and later into the works of William Shakespeare and a love for the theater.

In 1823, Dumas left Villers-Cotterêts and, with little more than a few coins and a letter of introduction (the minimum that d’Artagnan also carried), found a job as a copyist for the future Louis-Philippe through the intermediary of his father’s former colleague General Foy. Dumas’s passion for women developed alongside his love for the theater, and in 1824 he had a child, Alexandre Dumas, fils, by Catherine Labay. Dumas’s first successful play, Henri III and His Court, was staged at the Comédie-Française in 1828. Thereafter his plays succeeded one another as rapidly as his liaisons, many with actresses, notably Mélanie Waldor; Mélanie Serre (Belle Krelsamer), the mother of Marie-Alexandrine Dumas; and Ida Ferrier, later his wife. He rapidly became acquainted with the most notable authors and artists, including Balzac, Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, and Eugène Delacroix....

(The entire section is 662 words.)

Alexandre Dumas Biography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Alexandre Dumas, père, was born on July 24, 1802, in Villers-Cotterêts, a small town northeast of Paris. His father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, was a general in the French army and his mother, Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Dumas, was the daughter of innkeepers from Villers-Cotterêts. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas died when his son was only four years old, and Mme Dumas decided to move back into her parents’ inn, where she reared her son and daughter. Dumas spent his childhood and adolescence in his native town.

In 1823, he moved to Paris, where, during the 1820’s and 1830’s, he established a solid reputation in literary circles and came to know such important French writers and artists as Victor Hugo, Gérard de Nerval, Eugène Delacroix, and Alfred de Vigny. Between 1829 and 1851, Dumas wrote, either by himself or in collaboration with other dramatists, more than sixty plays. His many historical dramas and melodramas were well received by both Parisian theatergoers and critics. Despite their enormous popularity during his lifetime, Dumas’s plays have largely fallen into oblivion.

In 1838, he began to write historical romances. The year 1844, when The Three Musketeers appeared in print, was the most important in his literary career; during the same year, he began to publish chapters from The Count of Monte-Cristo in the Journal des débats, a Parisian literary journal. During the last twenty-four years of his life, Dumas continued to write extensively, but he was never able to duplicate the extraordinary popular and critical success of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte-Cristo. The French public associated Dumas so closely with The Count of Monte-Cristo that he decided to call his own house “le château de Monte-Cristo” (the castle of Monte-Cristo).

Although Dumas was married to the actress Ida Ferrier from 1840 to 1848, they had no children. Nevertheless, he did have three children from different mistresses: two daughters and a son, Alexandre, who became a famous playwright himself. To avoid confusing them, most critics call the father Alexandre Dumas, père, and his son Alexandre Dumas, fils. In the summer of 1870, Dumas, père, became paralyzed as the result of a stroke. On December 5, 1870, he died at his son’s home in Puys, a small city on the coast of Normandy.

Alexandre Dumas Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The prince of storytellers, Alexandre Dumas, père (dew-MAH pehr), was born on July 24, 1802, in the town of Villers-Cotterêts, northwest of Paris, France. His name was officially altered in 1813 to Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie Dumas. Dumas was the son of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, a mulatto illegitimate son of a marquis. Thomas-Alexandre enlisted in the Queen’s Dragoons as a private in 1786, although he soon rose rapidly in rank. While on leave in Villers-Cotterêts he met and fell in love with Marie-Louise-Elizabeth Labouret, an innkeeper’s daughter. They were married on November 28, 1792. By that time Thomas-Alexandre had obtained commissioned rank, and by June, 1793, he had achieved the...

(The entire section is 761 words.)

Alexandre Dumas Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alexandre Dumas, pére (dyew-mah pehr), the most famous of the French Romantic novelists, was the son of General Dumas, who had been born in San Domingo, the illegitimate, mulatto son of the marquis de la Pailleterie, and who had taken his mother’s name and come to France early in the Revolution. Here he had entered the army and had a brilliant career, rising under Napoleon to the rank of major general of cavalry. He offended Napoleon by his outspoken criticism, however, and retired to Villers-Cotterets, where he died, leaving his widow and their four-year-old son in straitened circumstances.

Young Dumas received only a scanty education. While still quite young, he was writing plays in collaboration with a...

(The entire section is 854 words.)

Alexandre Dumas Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Alexandre Dumas was born on July 24, 1802, in Villers-Cotterets, a small village in France. His grandfather was a nobleman, the Marquis de la...

(The entire section is 398 words.)

Alexandre Dumas Biography

(Novels for Students)

One of the most prolific writers of all time, Alexandre Dumas was born on July 24, 1802, in Villers-Cotterêts in France. He was the third...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Alexandre Dumas Biography

(Novels for Students)
Alexandre Dumas Published by Gale Cengage

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...

(The entire section is 589 words.)