Alexandre Dumas Pere as we know him, was born in the village of Villers-Cotterets in Picardy, just outside Paris, on July 24, 1802. He grew up to be a hugely successful and prolific writer and a bit of a rascal with the ladies who would surely have approved of Raquel Welch playing the lead in one of his most famous stories – The Three Musketeers…
His mother, Marie Louise Labouret, was the daughter of an inn keeper, and his father Thomas Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie was a military General under Napoleon. His grandfather had been a nobleman, the Marquis Alexandre Davy de La Pailleterie who had married a slave he fell in love with in Haiti, her name was Marie Louise Césette Dumas and it was her name that Thomas took when he enlisted with the French army and he passed the name down to his son. The General fell out with Napoleon when he criticised him, was sacked from his job and died in finacial straits when Alexandre was four years old; his mother managed to have him educated but it is said that he was not an enthusiastic pupil.
Dumas went to Paris in 1822 and worked as a clerk but later he said he always knew he would be a writer one day. He wrote plays and stories in his spare time and not long after, joined the military. He carried on writing and some of his plays were performed but it wasn’t until the mid 1840s that he produced his celebrated The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. These books made him a household name and one of the most popular writers in Europe alongside Victor Hugo. He was a prolific writer, producing hundreds of stories that were printed in newspapers but Dumas’ style of writing was to say the least controversial. Long before having a ghost writer was normal, Dumas had his assistants come up with ideas and write outlines in his style. He then reviewed their work, added his own touch and published under the name Dumas. When the news got out Dumas was tried in court but despite this, his work captivated vast amounts of readers.
As he said “Nothing succeeds like success”.
He was a colourful character who was always in financial trouble despite his success. He was said to have had numerous romances and affairs and fathered a son, also Alexandre Dumas (fils), a well-known writer in his own right, hence we know the older Dumas as Pere – senior or father; fils means junior or son.
Alexandre Dumas Pere died in 1870 at the age of 68, he had led a fascinating life of passion and vigour and left a legacy of literature that has made him one of the most popular French writers ever. His books have been turned into films and TV series and continue to win him fans to this day. Who can ever forget the Hollywood version of the Three Musketeers 1973? Described as “A young swordsman comes to Paris and faces villains, romance, adventure and intrigue with three Musketeer friends”; featuring a host of stars including Raquel Welch, Faye Dunnaway, Richard Chamberlein, Oliver Reed and Michael York, the film perfectly translated the fun and energy of Dumas’ writing. Although the film may not have been entirely factual, the story of the Three Musketeers was in fact based on a true story involving a Queen of France, her maid, two lovers and three musketeers…
The Alexandre Dumas Paris Métro station is named in his honour and his country home outside Paris (Port-Marly) the Château de Monte-Cristo, has been restored and is open to the public as a museum from April to November.
More great French writers
Victor Hugo – who it is said used to carve furniture with his teeth as a hobby!
Honoré de Balzac – who used to make little dolls of his characters to help him write his stories!
Colette – who “discovered” Audrey Hepburn – her Gigi…
The favourite French writers of The Good Life France writing team!