Reference Entry

Dumas, Alexandre

Peter E. Carr

in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619-1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195167771
Dumas, Alexandre

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Alexandre Dumas was born Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie in Villers-Cotteràts, northeast of Paris. His father was Thomas-Alexandre Dumas and his mother was Marie-Louise Elisabeth Labouret. Born in the French Caribbean, Thomas-Alexandre was the offspring of the Marquis Antoine Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie and one of his black house slaves, Marie Céssette Dumas, who was from Jérémie, Saint Domingue. She died when ThomasAlexandre was young; he was eventually brought to Paris at the age of fourteen. As Thomas-Alexandre's grandfather did not wish his mulatto grandson to officially use the name Davy de la Pailleterie, he enlisted in Napoleon's army as Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, at length attaining the rank of general. The death of his father in 1806 left the young Alexandre Dumas and his mother in very bad financial circumstances. At the age of fourteen he apprenticed as a clerk with a local notary in Villers-Cotteràts. In 1822 he traveled to Paris, where he met François-Joseph Talma. Talma had attained influence and renown as an actor and inspired Dumas to seek success in the theater. After writing several minor dramas, Dumas achieved fame in 1829 with the opening of his play Henry III and His Court. This production changed the course of French theater and was, in effect, the first French drama of the romantic movement. Although Dumas wrote several novels in the 1840s for which he became well-known to a broader audience, such as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, it was as a playwright that he initially gained fame. Dumas apparently did not see himself as a black man, but the ridicule directed toward him at an early age for his manner of dress may have been an indirect form of racism. His colonial African French ancestry made his works popular among many nineteenth-century African American abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass. This was especially true of his 1843 novel Georges, in which Dumas examines colonialism through the eyes of a half-French mulatto in Mauritius. Suffering rejection by the ruling white elite, Georges seeks revenge against those who have ostracized him from their society. Douglass saw his own struggle for freedom and that of the black race in many of the characters of Dumas's stories. In The Count of Monte Cristo, the themes of emancipation and escape from captivity inspired African Americans in their struggle for freedom. Such themes, of course, were central to most of Douglass's speeches and editorials. Douglass had endured a struggle similar to that of Georges; rejection by the majority of American society pushed Douglass to travel in an effort to seek acceptance. Dumas wrote numerous novels, plays, serialized stories, and travelogues as well as a culinary dictionary. After more than fifty years of writing, Dumas died in Puys, France, in 1870. See also Literature.

Reference Entry.  524 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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