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On the Shoulders of Giants: Alexandre Dumas


On July 24th, 1802, Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was born in Villers-Cotterêts, France, to parents Thomas-Alexandre Dumas and Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret. Thomas-Alexandre was the son of a French nobleman and an African woman enslaved in Haiti. Dumas began his writing career in 1822 after moving to Paris, France. He then became the scribe for the Duke of Orleans, Louis-Philippe during the revolution of 1830. While working for Louis-Philippe he also began writing his magazine articles and plays; in 1829, at the age of 27, he produced his first play Henry III and His Courts. His play was well received and critically acclaimed by his audiences and critics. In 1830, he produced his second play Christine which was also met with critical acclaim and allowed him to make money as a writer. Dumas followed in the footsteps of his grandmother and father by changing his last name from de la Pailleterie to Dumas to connect more with his family’s African roots.

Following his success as a play writer, Dumas began writing novels, essays, and short stories surrounding the topics of crime and humiliations and became known as a serial novelist. In 1838, Dumas published his first serial novel Le Capitaine Paul, which was a reworking of one of his plays. He also created a production studio to help him write many more novels. Celebrated Crimes is an eight-volume essay collection written by Dumas and others between 1839 and 1841. The novel The Fencing Master was published in 1840, it highlighted the fencing master Augustin Grisier and what he witnessed during the Russian Decembrist Revolt. Because of the content and popularity of The Fencing Master, Dumas was banned from Russia, and The Fencing Master was outlawed by then Czar Nicholas I. In 1844, Dumas published some of his most famous works The Count of Monte Cristo, The Corsican Brothers, and The Three Musketeers.

In 1843, Dumas published the novel, Georges, to address the many issues associated with his African heritage; Dumas became knowledgeable of his African ancestry and was proud of who he was. The popularity of his novels led to them being translated into many different languages and mountains of money coming in. He was able to support his lifestyle which was said to include many women and much spending; his homes Le Port-Marly and Chateau de Monte-Cristo were examples of his opulent lifestyle and gregarious nature. The downside to the way he lived was he spent a lot of his money entertaining people, and when financial troubles arouse, he was forced to sell his properties and his “friends” were nowhere to be found.

Soon Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France and was not fond of Dumas’ writings; by that time Dumas published his widely read travel books, Dumas left France in 1851 for Brussels, Belgium before moving to Russia in 1859; some people say Dumas escaping from creditors was part of the reason he left France. Because the Russian elite spoke French as a second language Dumas was able to continue earning money from his many writings. It is believed that Dumas wrote over one hundred thousand pages in his life. In 1861, Dumas traveled to Italy after Victor Emmanuel II became the King of Italy, and he  became involved in the unification of Italy and founded the newspaper the Indipendente before returning to France in 1864.


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