Saturday, February 4, 2017

Celebrating Black History Month: Alexander Dumas

Author Alexander Dumas came into this world as Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, July 24, 1802 in Picardy, France.  He is best known for his works, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo.  He lost his father to cancer when he was only 4 years old.  Since his mother could not provide an education for his son and older sister, Alexander read voraciously. 

He moved to Paris at age 20, being advanced by his father’s distinguished reputation and aristocratic rank, and got a position as a scribe at the Palais Royal for the Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans.  He began using his slave grandmother’s surname of Dumas and found success writing plays. Dumas became successful enough to write full-time and started writing novels. 

He collaborated with many assistants including August Maquet, who outlined the plot to The Count of Monte Cristo and contributed to The Three Musketeers and its sequels, published as serials in 1840.  Dumas’ novels brought him money but he spent much of it on women and a lavish lifestyle, oftentimes become insolvent.  He is known to have 40 mistresses although married to actress Ida Ferrier.

In 1851, Dumas fled France after King Louis-Philippe was ousted by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, and went to Brussels, Belgium.  Another reason to leave France was to escape his creditors.  He moved to Russia in 1859, where his novels in French were extremely popular.  Dumas traveled to Italy in 1861 and founded a newspaper in support of the unification of Italy.  He returned to Paris in 1864.

Although a successful author and aristocratic background, he still faced discrimination related to his being of mixed ancestry.  He addressed issues of race in a short novel, Georges.  When insulted about his African ancestry, Dumas responded:

My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.

Dumas passed away in December 1870, but his last unpublished novel The Last Cavalier was published by a Dumas scholar in English in 2006.  

The best Three Musketeers movie ever starred Michael York, Faye Dunaway, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Charlton Heston and Raquel Welch.

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