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Tue, 09.08.2009

Alexandre Dumas, Writer born

Alexandre Dumas was born on this date in 1802.  He was a Black French writer and one of the prolific writers in the 19th-century theater world.

Born a quarteron in Villers-Cotterêts near Paris, Dumas' grandfather was the Marquis Antoine-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, and his grandmother was Marie-Céssette Dumas, a Black slave from Jérémie, Saint-Domingue (Haiti). Young Alexandre grew up in Villers-Cotterêts. Dumas's father, Thomas Alexandre Dumas, was a general in Napoleon's army who had fallen out of favor.  After his father died in 1806, the family lived in poverty.  Dumas worked as a clerk and went to Paris to find work in 1823.  During this time, he had an illegitimate quarteron child with Marie-Laure-Catherine Labay, a dressmaker, and Alexandre Dumas Fils.

Because of his stylish handwriting, he got employed by the Duc d'Orléans, later King Louis Philippe. He also began working in theater and as a magazine publisher. By age 25, he had his first success as a playwright with "Henri III et Sa Cour" (1829), produced by the Comedie Francaise.  It was successful enough that Dumas went on to write additional plays. "La Tour de Nesle" (1832), his "The Tower of Nesle," is considered the greatest masterpiece of French melodrama.  He constantly wrote, producing a steady stream of plays, novels, and short stories.

Dumas wrote many interesting observations about the world during his life. Much can be found in his piece “Mes Mémoires.” Dumas also wrote several children's stories and a culinary dictionary.  He also did not hesitate to collaborate with other authors or rewrite older stories.

Writing brought Dumas enormous fortune, but he spent money faster than he made it.  He produced 250 books with his 73 assistants, especially with the history teacher Auguste Maquet, who worked independently.  His most successful novels contained vivid adventures with action and bigger-than-life characters.  He took great liberty with the truth to achieve a good story.

His son, Alexandre Dumas Fils, wrote several important novels, including "La Dame aux Camélias," the basis of Verdi's opera "La Traviata." Dumas’ life as a writer was filled with years of traveling and carousing. Some of his writings were "The Count of Monte-Cristo," "The Man in the Iron Mask," and "The Three Musketeers." In a shorter piece, “Georges” (1843), Dumas examined the question of race and colonialism. The main character, a half-French Mulatto, leaves Mauritius to be educated in France and returns for revenge for the affronts he had suffered as a boy.

Alexandre Dumas died in Puys, near Dieppe, on December 5, 1870.

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