“Nothing succeeds like success.”
Alexandre Dumas, born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (July 24, 1802 – December 5, 1870), is considered to be one of the most widely read French authors. His works have been translated into nearly 100 languages.
Many of his historical novels of high adventure were originally published as serials, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. His novels have been adapted since the early twentieth century for nearly 200 films. Dumas’ last novel, The Knight of Sainte-Hermine, unfinished at his death, was completed by a scholar and published in 2005, becoming a best seller. It was published in English in 2008 as The Last Cavalier.
Prolific in several genres, Dumas began his career by writing plays, which were successfully produced from the first. He also wrote numerous magazine articles and travel books; his published works totalled 100,000 pages. In the 1840s, Dumas founded the Théâtre Historique in Paris.
His father, General Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, was born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) to a French nobleman and an enslaved African woman. At age 14 Thomas-Alexandre was taken by his father to France, where he was educated in a military academy and entered the military for what became an illustrious career.
Dumas’ father’s aristocratic rank helped young Alexandre acquire work with Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans. He later began working as a writer, finding early success. Decades later, in the election of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1851, Dumas fell from favour and left France for Belgium, where he stayed for several years. Upon leaving Belgium, Dumas moved to Russia for a few years before going to Italy. In 1861, he founded and published the newspaper L’Indipendente, which supported the Italian unification effort. In 1864, he returned to Paris.
Though married, in the tradition of Frenchmen of higher social class, Dumas had numerous affairs (allegedly as many as forty). In his lifetime, he was known to have at least four illegitimate or “natural” children; although twentieth-century scholars found that Dumas fathered another three “natural” children. He acknowledged and assisted his son, Alexandre Dumas, to become a successful novelist and playwright. They are known as Alexandre Dumas père (father) and Alexandre Dumas fils (son). Among his affairs, in 1866, Dumas had one with Adah Isaacs Menken, an American actress then less than half his age and at the height of her career.
The English playwright Watts Phillips, who knew Dumas in his later life, described him as “the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill – once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself.”