One of the most famous
French writers of the 19th century. Dumas is best known for
the historical novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of
Monte Cristo, both written within the space of two years, 1844-45,
and which belong to the foundation works of popular culture.
He was among the first, along with Honoré de Balzac and
Eugène Sue, who fully used the possibilities of roman
feuilleton, the serial novel. Dumas is credited with revitalizing
the historical novel in France, although his abilities as a
writer were under dispute from the beginning. Dumas' works are
fast-paced adventure tales. They are not faithful to the historical
facts, but blend skillfully history and fiction.
Dumas was born in Villes-Cotterêts, France. His grandfather
was a French nobleman, who had settled in Santo Domingo; his
paternal grandmother, Marie-Cessette, was a Creole, who had
been a creole slave in the French colony. Dumas's father was
a general in Napoleon's army, who had fallen out of favor. After
his death in 1806 the family lived in poverty. Dumas worked
as a notary's clerk in Villers-Cotterêtes and went in
1823 to Paris to find work. Due to his elegant handwriting he
secured a position with the Duc d'Orléans - later King
Louis Philippe. He also found his place in theater and as a
publisher of some obscure magazines. An illegitimate son called
Alexandre Dumas fils, whose mother, Marie-Catherine Labay, was
a dressmaker, was born in 1824.
Dumas did not generally
define himself as a black man, and there is not much evidence
that he encountered overt racism during his life. However, his
works were popular among the 19th-century African-Americans,
partly because in The Count of Monte-Cristo, the falsely imprisoned
Edmond Dantès, may be read as a parable of emancipation.
In a shorter work, GEORGES (1843, George), Dumas examined the
question of race and colonialism. The main character, a half-French
mulatto, leaves Mauritius to be educated in France, and returns
to avenge himself for the affronts he had suffered as a boy.