Alexandre Dumas Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

0111204747-Dumas.jpg Alexandre Dumas, père (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Alexandre Dumas, père, wrote a large number of historical novels, achieving great fame in 1844 with the publication of Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers, 1846) and the beginning episodes of the serialized Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (The Count of Monte-Cristo, 1846). The novels grew out of his great interest in the history of France; throughout his career he published historical accounts, beginning with a few scènes historiques in 1831 and including two larger historical compilations, Gaule et France in 1833 (The Progress of Democracy, 1841) and the important Chroniques de France (chronicles of France), which began in 1836.

Dumas enjoyed travel, and he produced numerous travelogues. Many of these appeared in the various newspapers and magazines that he published and edited and for which he frequently wrote much of the material. He also published his memoirs, and in 1837 he and Gérard de Nerval collaborated on a comic opera, Piquillo, for which the music was composed by Hippolyte Monpou. At the time of Dumas’s death, he was writing a cookbook, Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine, which was completed for him by Anatole France.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Alexandre Dumas, père, was the most prolific author and the most popular author of his time. He wrote more than one hundred plays, succeeding notably in both drama and comedy; he also wrote many major fictional works, including two of the most famous novels in history. At the height of his success he was called “the uncrowned King of Paris.”

His dramatic career was meteoric. While still in his twenties he wrote two plays that helped to revolutionize the drama of Paris, and within a few more years, he produced some of the most popular plays of the entire century. Before he wrote Henry III and His Court in 1829, Dumas was virtually unknown; within hours of the final curtain of this drame historique, France’s first historical drama, he was the sensation of Paris and was being lauded as the champion of the French Romantics. Although Victor Hugo’s Hernani (pr., pb. 1830; English translation, 1830) is generally considered the play that issued the Romantics’ challenge to French classicists, Dumas’s romantic drama of adultery, revenge, and political hatred came a year before Hernani.

Two years later, Dumas duplicated his previous success and inspired new controversy with Antony, the first drame moderne (modern drama). In this story of adulterous passions, period costuming was replaced by modern dress, and the setting, language, and characterization were all contemporary. Antony was a dramatic triumph for Dumas, but...

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Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Other novels are attributed to Alexandre Dumas, père (dyew-MAH pehr), that some scholarship, such as that by Douglas Munro, Gilbert Sigaux, and Charles Samaran, credits more to his collaborators. Of the many editions of Dumas’s works, the standard edition, uvres complètes (1846-1877), in 301 volumes by Calmann-Lévy, is not always authoritative. The best editions of the novels are those in uvres d’Alexandre Dumas (1962-1967; 38 volumes), published by Éditions Rencontre, with excellent introductions to the novels by Sigaux. Munro lists at least fifteen English editions of Dumas prior to 1910, and countless others have appeared since. The Romances of Alexandre Dumas, published by Little, Brown and Company, has been updated several times. Virtually all of Dumas’s novels are available in English and many other languages.

Dumas also wrote many plays, several in collaboration with other authors and a number based on his novels. A total of sixty-six are generally ascribed to him, among them Henri III et sa cour (pr., pb. 1829; Catherine of Cleves, 1831, also known as Henry III and His Court, 1904), Christine: Ou, Stockholm, Fontainebleau, et Rome (pr., pb. 1830), Kean: Ou, Désordre et génie (pr., pb. 1836, with Théaulon de Lambert and Frédéric de Courcy; Edmund Kean: Or, The Genius and the Libertine, 1847), Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle (pr., pb. 1839; English translation, 1855), Un Mariage sous Louis XV (pr., pb. 1841; A Marriage of Convenience, 1899), Les Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr (pr., pb. 1843; The Ladies of Saint-Cyr, 1870), and L’Invitation à la valse (pr., pb. 1857; adapted in English as Childhood Dreams, 1881). The plays are available in the uvres complètes, occupying twenty-five volumes in the Calmann-Lévy edition. The best contemporary edition is Théâtre complet, edited by Fernande Bassan.

Dumas’s other writings include histories, chronicles, memoirs, travel notes, articles, and essays. Among the more interesting of these are “Comment je devins auteur dramatique” (“How I Became a Playwright”), “En Suisse” (in Switzerland), Quinze Jours au Sinai (1838; Impressions of Travel in Egypt and Arabia Petraea, 1839), Excursions sur les bords du Rhin (1841, with Gérard de Nerval; excursions on the banks of the Rhine), Le Midi de la France (1841; Pictures of Travel in the South of France, 1852), Le Spéronare (1842; travels in Italy), Le Corricolo (1843; travels in Italy and Sicily), Mes Mémoires (1852, 1853, 1854-1855; My Memoirs, 1907-1909), Causeries (1860), Les Garibaldiens (1861; The Garibaldians in Sicily, 1861), Histoires de mes bêtes (1868; My Pets, 1909), and Souvenirs dramatiques (1868; souvenirs of the theater).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The Larousse Grand Dictionnaire du XIX siècle of 1870 described Alexandre Dumas, père, as “a novelist and the most prolific and popular playwright in France.” Today his novels are regarded as his most durable achievement; they are known to every French person and to millions of other people through countless translations. Indeed, for innumerable readers, French history takes the form of Dumas’s novels, and seventeenth century France is simply the France of the Three Musketeers. Dumas was an indefatigable writer, and his production is impressive by its volume alone: more than one hundred novels, including children’s stories and tales. Although Dumas worked with many collaborators—the most famous being Auguste Maquet, Paul Meurice, Hippolyte Augier, Gérard de Nerval, and Auguste Vacquerie—a Dumas novel is readily distinguishable by its structure and style, sparkle, wit, rapid action, and dramatic dialogue.

Dumas’snarratives teem with action and suspense; like the works of Eugène Sue, Frédéric Soulié, Honoré de Balzac, and Fyodor Dostoevski, most of Dumas’s novels were first published in serial form, appearing in La Presse, Journal des débats, Le Siècle, and Le Constitutionnel, and later in his own journals, such as Le Mousquetaire and Le Monte-Cristo. He thus attracted a continuation. Sometimes he himself was uncertain what direction the plot of a given novel...

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Although Alexandre Dumas, père, was an extremely prolific playwright and novelist, he owes his fame largely to Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844; The Three Musketeers, 1846) and Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (1844-1845; The Count of Monte-Cristo, 1846). In these works, Dumas made use of well-known events in French history to tell fascinating and well-structured tales. These two romances have remained popular both in France and elsewhere since their publication. }

In his biography of Dumas, Richard S. Stowe stressed similarities between The Count of Monte-Cristo and works in other literary genres, specifically mystery and detective fiction. Stowe’s insight reveals an important element of The Count of Monte-Cristo: Edmond Dantès, the main character in this novel, does in fact become a private investigator after his escape from a prison near Marseilles. Dantès first seeks to identify and then to punish those responsible for his unjust imprisonment. He uses numerous disguises, obtaining relevant documents from unsuspecting individuals. This information enables Dantès to prove the treachery committed against him. He then prepares and carries out a systematic and fearful revenge against the four men whose actions brought about his fourteen years of imprisonment.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Investigate the complex social codes in Alexandre Dumas, père’s The Three Musketeers.

Show how The Count of Monte-Cristo both fulfills and defies the writer’s devotion to historical reality as a basis for fiction.

Compare the attitude to history reflected in the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Dumas.

By what techniques does Dumas make convincing larger-than-life characters?

Discuss the more memorable aspects of Paris found in Dumas’s novels.


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Beaujour, Elizabeth Klotsky. “Dumas’s Decembrists: Le Maitre d’Armes and the Memoirs of Pauline Annenkova.” Russian Review 59, no. 1 (2000): 38-51. Describes Dumas’s meeting with the Russian subjects of a historical novel he had written eighteen years previously, and considers the relationship between history and fiction in his works.

Bell, A. Craig. Alexandre Dumas: A Biography and Study. London: Cassel, 1950. As the subtitle suggests, Bell pays significant attention to both the life and the work. The introduction deals succinctly with the phenomenon of Dumas’s popularity and the need for a careful treatment of his entire body of work. Still a helpful and thorough guide....

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