Authors: Alexandre Dumas, père

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

French novelist, playwright, and nonfiction writer

July 24, 1802

Villers-Cotterêts, France

December 5, 1870

Puys, France

Biography

Alexandre Dumas, pére, the most famous of the French Romantic novelists, was the son of General Dumas, who had been born in San Domingo, the illegitimate, mixed-race son of the marquis de la Pailleterie, and who had taken his mother’s name and come to France early in the Revolution. Here he had entered the army and had a brilliant career, rising under Napoleon to the rank of major general of cavalry. He offended Napoleon by his outspoken criticism, however, and retired to Villers-Cotterets, where he died, leaving his widow and their four-year-old son in straitened circumstances.

Alexandre Dumas, père

(Library of Congress)

Young Dumas received only a scanty education. While still quite young, he was writing plays in collaboration with a Swedish friend. In 1823 he went to Paris and became a clerk in the secretariat of the duc d’Orleans. He continued to write vaudeville sketches and melodramas, and he entered into a liaison with a dressmaker, Marie Catherine Labay, by whom he had a son, the younger Alexandre Dumas.

As a dramatist, Dumas was much influenced by seeing some of William Shakespeare’s plays that were being produced in Paris at this time. Some critics have called his Henry III and His Court the first great triumph of the romantic drama in France, and through it he won the friendship of Victor Hugo and Alfred de Vigny. It was at the end of this period that he married the actress Ida Ferrier.

Dumas’s novel Captain Paul was serialized in 1838, but it was during the 1840s that he began working with several collaborators, particularly Auguste Maquet, and produced the novels on which his fame rests. It is unclear how much he owed to his collaborators, though it is significant that none of these men ever did original work, and their function seems to have been to find plot material and to sketch the broad outlines of the story. The element that gave life to the books was Dumas’s genius.

The first of his major novels, and probably the greatest “cloak and sword” story ever written, was The Three Musketeers. Using some seventeenth-century memoirs as a source, Dumas created the immortal figures of D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, who have won the affection of generations of readers. The novel won wide acclaim throughout Europe and was a particular favorite of William Makepeace Thackeray and later of Andrew Lang and Robert Louis Stevenson. Realizing his success, Dumas continued the adventures of his heroes, carrying them, in four more stories, from the time of Louis XIII and Richelieu to their old age in the early reign of Louis XIV with the great mystery of The Man in the Iron Mask. By skillfully introducing such actual figures as Anne of Austria, the duke of Buckingham, Jules Mazarin, and Nicolas Fouquet, he succeeded in giving an air of verisimilitude to the novels; readers gain a genuine feel of living in the period and sharing the adventures of the swashbuckling guardsmen. Unlike most historical novelists, Dumas was able to create characters who achieve growth, and he possessed a real sense of history.

Though not nearly so well known, the series of novels dealing with the France of the last Valois kings is almost the equal of the Musketeer series. Dumas was especially fascinated by the court of Henry III and gave a strangely sympathetic portrait of this last, degenerate member of a once virile house. In these novels the two great antagonists are Henry of Navarre and Catherine de Médicis, and the popular conception of the latter as the embodiment of subtle and relentless cruelty probably stems from these books, just as the portrait of Richard III has been indelibly fixed by Shakespeare. Dumas created one of his greatest characters in Chicot, gentleman-jester to Henry III and an incomparable swordsman. Many consider the secondary figure of Dom Gorenflot second only to Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff among comic creations. In the midst of these historical novels appeared The Count of Monte-Cristo, which became equally famous for its suspenseful, clever plot.

Dumas’s later life was remarkably like that of Sir Walter Scott. Dumas, too, built a huge country house, “Monte-Cristo,” and toiled equally hard to meet his expenses. He founded a theater for the production of his own plays, but its failure added to his financial woes. In spite of his preoccupation as a writer with the French monarchy, he remained a Republican in politics and hailed the Revolution of 1848. The coup d’état of 1851 coincided with his need to flee his creditors, but he always alleged that his expatriation to Brussels was political. Having lived a life as romantic as that described in any of his novels, Dumas spent his last years at the mercy of his creditors and died at the home of his son at Puys, near Dieppe, in 1870.

Dumas’s prodigious literary productivity can be gauged from the fact that the French edition of his works fills 277 volumes. It is as a novelist, however, that he has survived. He had an acute sense of plot construction and historical reality; above all, an irrepressible gaiety pervades his books.

Author Works Long Fiction: Acté, 1838 (English translation, 1904) Le Capitaine Paul, 1838 (Captain Paul, 1848) La Salle d’Armes, 1838 (includes Pauline [English translation, 1844], Pascal Bruno [English translation, 1837], and Murat [English translation, 1896]) La Comtesse de Salisbury, 1839 (English translation, 1840) Le Capitaine Pamphile, 1840 (Captain Pamphile, 1850) Othon l’Archer, 1840 (Otho the Archer, 1860) Aventures de Lyderic, 1842 (Lyderic, Count of Flanders, 1903) Le Chevalier d’Harmental, 1843 (with Auguste Maquet; The Chevalier d’Harmental, 1856) Ascanio, 1843 (with Paul Meurice; English translation, 1849) Georges, 1843 (George, 1846) Amaury, 1844 (English translation, 1854) Une Fille du Régent, 1844 (with Maquet; The Regent’s Daughter, 1845) Les Frères corses, 1844 (The Corsican Brothers, 1880) Gabriel Lambert, 1844 (The Galley Slave, 1849; also known as Gabriel Lambert, 1904) Sylvandire, 1844 (The Disputed Inheritance, 1847; also known as Sylvandire, 1897) Les Trois Mousquetaires, 1844 (The Three Musketeers, 1846) Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, 1844-1845 (The Count of Monte-Cristo, 1846) La Reine Margot, 1845 (with Maquet; Marguerite de Navarre, 1845; better known as Marguerite de Valois, 1846) Vingt Ans après, 1845 (with Maquet; Twenty Years After, 1846) La Guerre des femmes, 1845-1846 (Nanon, 1847; also known as The War of Women, 1895) Le Bâtard de Mauléon, 1846 (The Bastard of Mauléon, 1848) Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge, 1846 (with Maquet; Marie Antoinette: Or, The Chevalier of the Red House, 1846; also known as The Chevalier de Maison-Rouge, 1893) La Dame de Monsoreau, 1846 (Chicot the Jester, 1857) Les Deux Diane, 1846 (with Meurice; The Two Dianas, 1857) Mémoires d’un médecin, 1846-1848 (also known as Joseph Balsamo; with Maquet; Memoirs of a Physician, 1846) Les Quarante-cinq, 1848 (with Maquet; The Forty-Five Guardsmen, 1847) Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, 1848-1850 (wih Maquet; The Vicomte de Bragelonne, 1857; also as 3 volumes: The Vicomte de Bragelonne, 1893; Louise de la Vallière, 1893; and The Man in the Iron Mask, 1893) La Véloce, 1848-1851 Le Collier de la reine, 1849-1850 (with Maquet; The Queen’s Necklace, 1855) La Tulipe noire, 1850 (with Maquet and Paul Lacroix; The Black Tulip, 1851) Ange Pitou, 1851 (Six Years Later, 1851; also known as Ange Pitou, 1859) Conscience l’Innocent, 1852 (Conscience, 1905) Olympe de Clèves, 1852 (English translation, 1894) Isaac Laquedem, 1852-1853 (English translation, 1953) La Comtesse de Charny, 1853-1855 (The Countess de Charny, 1858) Catherine Blum, 1854 (The Foresters, 1854; also known as Catherine Blum, 1861) Ingénue, 1854 (English translation, 1855) Le Page du Duc de Savoie, 1854 (Emmanuel Philibert, 1854; also known as The Page of the Duke of Savoy, 1861) El Saltéador, 1854 (The Brigand, 1897) Les Mohicans de Paris, 1854-1855, and Salvator, 1855-1859 (The Mohicans of Paris, 1875; abridged version) Charles le Téméraire, 1857 (Charles the Bold, 1860) Les Compagnons de Jéhu, 1857 (Roland de Montrevel, 1860; also known as The Companions of Jéhu, 1895) Les Meneurs de loups, 1857 (The Wolf Leader, 1904) Ainsi-soit-il!, 1858 (also known as Madame de Chamblay, 1862; Madame de Chamblay, 1869) Le Capitaine Richard, 1858 (The Twin Captains, 1861) L’Horoscope, 1858 (The Horoscope, 1897) Le Chasseur de Sauvagine, 1859 (The Wild Duck Shooter, 1906) Histoire d’un cabanon et d’un chalet, 1859 (The Convict’s Son, 1905) Les Louves de Machecoul, 1859 (The Last Vendée, 1894; also known as The She Wolves of Machecoul, 1895) Le Médecin de Java, 1859 (also known as L’île de Feu, 1870; Doctor Basilius, 1860) La Maison de Glace, 1860 (The Russian Gipsy, 1860) Le Père la Ruine, 1860 (Père la Ruine, 1905) La San-Felice, 1864-1865 (The Lovely Lady Hamilton, 1903) Le Comte de Moret, 1866 (The Count of Moret, 1868) La Terreur prussienne, 1867 (The Prussian Terror, 1915) Les Blancs et les bleus, 1867-1868 (The Whites and the Blues, 1895) The Romances of Alexandre Dumas, 1893-1897 (60 volumes) The Novels of Alexandre Dumas, 1903-1911 (56 volumes) Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine, 2005 (published posthumously with edits and final chapters by Claude Schopp; The Last Cavalier, 2008) Drama: La Chasse et l’amour, pr., pb. 1825 (with Adolphe de Leuven and P.-J. Rousseau; Love and the Chase, 1929) La Noce et l’enterrement, pr., pb. 1826 (The Wedding and the Burial, 1929) 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 Napoléon Bonaparte: Ou, Trente Ans dans l’histoire de France, pr., pb. 1831 Antony, pr., pb. 1831 (English translation, 1904) Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux, pr., pb. 1831 (Charles VII at the Homes of His Great Vassals, 1991) Richard Darlington, pr. 1831 (English translation, 1922) Teresa, pr., pb. 1832 (based on a draft by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois) Le Mari de la veuve, pr., pb. 1832 La Tour de Nesle, pr., pb. 1832 (redrafted from a manuscript by Frédéric Gaillardet; English translation, 1906) Le Fils de l’émigré: Ou, Le Peuple, pr. 1832 Angèle, pr. 1833 La Vénitienne, pr., pb. 1834 Catherine Howard, pr., pb. 1834 (English translation, 1859) Cromwell et Charles 1, pr., pb. 1835 (with E.-C.-H. Cordellier-Delanoue) Don Juan de Marana: Ou, La Chute d’un ange, pr., pb. 1836 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) Piquillo, pr., pb. 1837 (libretto; with Gérard de Nerval) Caligula, pr. 1837 (Caligula, 2000) Le Bourgeois de Gand: Ou, Le Secrétaire du duc d’Albe, pr., pb. 1838 (with Hippolyte Romand) Paul Jones, pr., pb. 1838 (English translation, 2003) Bathilde, pr., pb. 1839 (with Auguste Maquet) Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle, pr., pb. 1839 (English translation, 1855) L’Alchimiste, pr., pb. 1839 (with Nerval) Léo Burckart, pr., pb. 1839 (with Nerval) Jarvis l’honnête homme: Ou, Le Marchand de Londre, pr., pb. 1840 (originally credited to Charles Lafont) Un Mariage sous Louis XV, pr., pb. 1841 (A Marriage of Convenience, 1899) Jeannic le Breton: Ou, Le Gérant responsable, pr. 1841 (with Eugène Bourgeois) Lorenzino, pr., pb. 1842 Le Séducteur et le mari, pr., pb. 1842 (with Lafont) Halifax, pr. 1842 (with Adolphe D’Ennery?) Le Mariage au tambour, pr., pb. 1843 (with Leuven and Léon Lhérie) Les Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr, pr., pb. 1843 (The Ladies of Saint-Cyr, 1870) L’École des princes, pr. 1843 (with Louis Lefèvre) Louise Bernard, pr., pb. 1843 (with Leuven and Lhérie) Le Garde forestier, pr., pb. 1845 (with Leuven and Lhérie) Un Conte des fées, pr., pb. 1845 (with Leuven and Lhérie) Sylvandire, pr., pb. 1845 (with Leuven and Louis-Émile Vanderburch; English translation, 2001) Les Mousquetaires, pr., pb. 1845 (with Maquet; adaptation of Dumas’s novel Vingt ans aprés) Une Fille du Régent, pr., pb. 1846 (The Regent's Daughter, 1878) Échec et mat, pr., pb. 1846 (with Octave Feuillet and Paul Bocage) La Reine Margot, pr., pb. 1847 (with Maquet; based on Dumas’s novel) Intrigue et amour, pr., pb. 1847 (adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s play Kabale und Liebe) Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge, pr., pb. 1847 (with Maquet; The Chevalier de Maison-Rouge, 1859) Hamlet, prince de Danemark, pr. 1847 (with Paul Meurice; adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play) Monte-Cristo, parts 1 and 2, pr., pb. 1848 (with Maquet; Monte-Cristo, part 1, 1850) Catilina, pr., pb. 1848 (with Maquet) La Jeunesse des mousquetaires, pr., pb. 1849 (with Maquet; based on Dumas’s novel Les Trois Mousquetaires; The Musketeers, 1850) Le Chevalier d’Harmental, pr., pb. 1849 (with Maquet; based on Dumas’s novel) La Guerre des femmes, pr., pb. 1849 (with Maquet; based on Dumas’s novel) Le Connétable de Bourbon: Ou, L’Italie au seizième siècle, pr., pb. 1849 (with Eugène Grangé and Xavier de Montépin) Le Testament de César, pr., pb. 1849 (with Jules Lacroix) Le Comte Hermann, pr., pb. 1849 Le Cachemire vert, pr., pb. 1849 (with Eugène Nus) Urbain Grandier, pr., pb. 1850 (with Maquet) Le Vingt-quatre février, pr., pb. 1850 (adapted from Zacharias Werner’s play Der 24 Februar) Les Chevaliers du Lansquenet, pr., pb. 1850 (with Grangé and Montépin) Pauline, pr., pb. 1850 (with Grangé and Montépin; based on Dumas’s novel) La Chasse au chastre, pr., pb. 1850 (with Maquet?; based on Dumas’s novel) Le Comte de Morcerf, pr., pb. 1851 (with Maquet; part 3 of Monte-Cristo) Villefort, pr., pb. 1851 (with Maquet; part 4 of Monte-Cristo) Romulus, pr., pb. 1854 L’Orestie, pr., pb. 1856 L’Invitation à la valse, pr., pb. 1857 (adapted in English as Childhood Dreams, 1881) Le Roman d’Elvire, pr., pb. 1860 (with Leuven) L’Envers d’une conspiration, pr., pb. 1860 La Veillée allemande, pr. 1863 (with Bernard Lopez) Madame de Chamblay, pr. 1868 Les Blancs et les bleus, pr., pb. 1869 (adaptation of part of his novel) Théâtre complet, pb. 1873–1876 (25 volumes) The Great Lover, and Other Plays, pb. 1979 Nonfiction: Gaule et France, 1833 (The Progress of Democracy, 1841) Impressions de voyage, 1833, 1838, 1841, 1843 (Travels in Switzerland, 1958) La Vendée et Madame, 1833 (The Duchess of Berri in La Vendée, 1833) Guelfes et Gibelins, 1836 Isabel de Bavière, 1836 (Isabel of Bavaria, 1846) Napoléon, 1836 (English translation, 1874) Quinze Jours au Sinai, 1838 (Impressions of Travel in Egypt and Arabia Petraea, 1839) Crimes célèbres, 1838–1840 (Celebrated Crimes, 1896) Excursions sur les bords du Rhin, 1841 (with Gérard de Nerval) Le Midi de la France, 1841 (Pictures of Travel in the South of France, 1852) Chroniques du roi Pépin, 1842 (Pepin, 1906) Jehanne la Pucelle, 1429–1431, 1842 (Joan the Heroic Maiden, 1847) Le Spéronare, 1842 (The Speronara, 1902) Le Corricolo, 1843 Mes mémoires, 1852, 1853, 1854–1855 (My Memoirs, 1907–1909) Souvenirs de 1830 à 1842, 1854–1855 Causeries, 1860 Les Garibaldiens, 1861 (The Garibaldians in Sicily, 1861) Histoires de mes bêtes, 1868 (My Pets, 1909) Souvenirs dramatiques, 1868 Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine, 1873 (with Anatole France) On Board the “Emma,” 1929 The Road to Monte-Cristo, 1956 Children’s/Young Adult Literature: La Bouillie de la Comtesse Berthe, 1845 (Good Lady Bertha’s Honey Broth, 1846) Histoire d’un casse-noisette, 1845 (Story of a Nutcracker, 1846) Le Roi de Bohème, 1853 (also known as La Jeunesse de Pierrot, 1854; When Pierrot Was Young, 1924) Le Sifflet enchanté, 1859 (The Enchanted Whistle, 1894) Translation: Mémoires de Garibaldi, 1860 (of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Memorie autobiografiche) Miscellaneous: Œuvres complètes, 1846–1877 (301 volumes) Œuvres d’Alexandre Dumas, 1962–1967 (38 volumes) Bibliography 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 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. Bell, David F. Real Time: Accelerating Narrative from Balzac to Zola. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004. Treats Dumas’s representations of time, communication, and speed and compares him to other French authors. Bibliographic references and index. Castelar, Emilio. “Alexandre Dumas.” In The Life of Lord Byron, and Other Sketches. Translated by Mrs. Arthur Arnold. New York: Harper & Row, 1876. A chapter of rhythmic prose on Dumas in a collection composed of a lengthy life of Lord Byron and brief treatments of Dumas, Hugo, and three lesser-known writers. Fabre, Michel. “International Beacons of African-American Memory.” In History and Memory in African-American Culture, edited by Genevieve Fabre and Robert O’Meally. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Considers Dumas’s African heritage. Galan, F. W. “Bakhtiniada II, The Corsican Brothers in the Prague School: Or, The Reciprocity of Reception.” Poetics Today 8, nos. 3/4 (1987): 565-577. Approaches Dumas’s The Corsican Brothers using the critical apparatus of Mikhail Bakhtin. Gorman, Herbert. The Incredible Marquis. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1929. Remains a reliable and very readable biography. Hemmings, F. W. J. Alexandre Dumas: The King of Romance. New York: Scribner’s, 1979. A well-illustrated, popular biography, with detailed notes. Lucas-Dubreton, J. The Fourth Musketeer: The Life of Alexandre Dumas. New York: Coward-McCann, 1938. Less detailed and scholarly than Bell, but a lively introduction to Dumas’s life and career. No illustrations or bibliography. Maurois, André. The Titan: A Three-Generation Biography of the Dumas. Translated by Gerard Hopkins. 1957. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971. A classic in Dumas studies by a seasoned biographer. Includes notes, bibliography, and illustrations. Maurois, André. Alexandre Dumas: A Great Life in Brief. Translated by Jack Palmer White. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964. For the first reader of the life of Dumas, provides the basic facts in readable and limited fashion. Maurois is one of the recognized authorities on Dumas. Munro, Douglas. Alexandre Dumas père: A Bibliography of Works Published in French, 1825-1900. New York: Garland, 1981. A discussion of Dumas’s original popularity and his reception in the francophone world. Nesci, Catherine. “Talking Heads: Violence and Desire in Dumas père’s (Post-)Terrorist Society.” SubStance 27, no. 2 (1998): 73-92. A poststructuralist reading of two of Dumas’s novels of the French Revolution, The Thousand and One Ghosts and The Woman with a Velvet Necklace. Schopp, Claude. Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life. Translated by A. J. Koch. New York: Franklin Watts, 1988. A detailed, lively narrative. Stowe, Richard S. Alexandre Dumas père. Boston: Twayne, 1976. The best short introduction in English, with chapters on Dumas’s dramas, novels, and other fiction. Includes notes, chronology, and annotated bibliography.

Categories: Authors