Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers

"I pardon you, monseigneur!" said Bonacieux, hesitating to take the purse, fearing, doubtless, that this pretended gift was only a joke. "But you are free to have me arrested, you are free to have me tortured, you are free to have me hung. You are the master, and I should not have the least word to say about it." (The Three Musketeers)

Alexandre Dumas the elder, known as "Dumas père" (his writer son had the same Christian name), was born in the town of Villers-Cotterets, near Soissons. He was the grandson of the marquis Antoine-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie and Marie Dumas. Dumas's father, Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie was a fighter in the French revolutionary armies and rose to the rank of general. He fell on hard times, however, and died in poverty in 1806. Alexandre himself gained a somewhat slight education but managed to forge a career nonetheless due to his reputedly beautiful handwriting, initially in the service and of the Duc d'Orléans. Before this he had briefly worked as a solicitor clerk.

In the household of the duke, Dumas read widely and rapaciously. Authors favoured by the young Dumas and whose influence upon his writing is clear were Walter Scott, Shakespeare and the poet and dramatist Johann Schiller. Good fortune allowed him entry into one of the Cenacles (groups formed around the leaders of the Romantic movement) and he began to write. Dumas's initial successes were in the realm of France drama in the 1820s and 1830s. Many of these were historical in their subjects, notably Henry III et sa cour (1829), Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux (1831), Antony (1831), La Tour de Nelse (1832) and Kean (1836). He achieved great popularity with these plays and is considered to be one of the pioneers of Romantic theatre in France and was influenced by the work of certain experimental pre-Romantics such as Nepomucene Lemercier (1771-1840). He is best known now, especially outside France, for historical novels that he began writing around 1839.

With Eugene Sue (1804-59) he helped create the vogue of 'feuilletons', which were novels published in instalments in the daily papers that would usually be detachable from the main sheets. Dumas often worked with collaborators such as Auguste Maquet but they would only supply plots, which he would then enliven with his great gifts for narrative and dialogue. The most famous examples of his work in this area are Les Trois Mousquetaires ("The Three Musketeers", 1844-5), Vingt ans après ("Twenty Years After", 1845) and Le Vicomte de Bragelonne (1848-50). These novels were set in the seventeenth century and concern the adventures of d'Artagnan who joins the Louis XIII's musketeers in Paris having travelled from Gascony. The eponymous "three musketeers" are Porthos, Athos and Aramis, and the first novel is set over their exploits over twenty years. His wrote other novels about sixteenth century France such as La Reine Margot (1845) and the revolution (e.g. Le Collier de la Reine (1849-1850) and at the end of his life he had a startling 272 works to his name.

Dumas's other famous work is the non-historical Le Comte de Monte Cristo ("The Count of Monte Cristo", 1844-5) and is an adventure tale about Edmond Dantes who is wrongly imprisoned in the Chateau d'If for a number of years. He wrote prolifically, though, and twenty-two volumes of Mes Memoires (1852-5) exist as well as a number of travel books (Impressions de Voyage books for various places) and a "dictionary" of cooking in 1873. Dumas is still very popular, his books containing as they do great mystery, heroic actions and adventure. Critics balk, however, at his romantic readings of history to serve the purposes of his plots, but there is much to recommend in his Walter Scott-influenced writing. His good-humoured style is often more than enough to offset the somewhat far-fetched storylines he tends to offer. Interestingly, that same good humour was shown to his literary friend Roger de Beauvoir when Dumas found him in bed with his wife and is reported to have commented merely, "It's a cold night. Move over and make room for me".

Links Extensive resource site on the author, containing a brief biography, works, a picture gallery, and links, etc.
The Ricochet-Jeunes Organisation A detailed biography in French and English

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