Biography: Alexandre Dumas

DUMAS_PEREIn my opinion, Alexandre Dumas is one of the best authors of all time. It’s not just because he wrote my favorite story, The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s not that he looked like a morbidly obese Mark Twain. It’s not because he lived a rapper’s lifestyle. It’s because he found a way to make history interesting by making it the backdrop of his adventures. That and his style of prose.

Dumas’ father was a General under Napoleon. He spent years as a prisoner of war and died when Alexandre was four years old. Even though Dumas’ grandfather was a nobleman, Dumas spent most of his life poor. Perhaps it’s because Dumas’ grandmother was an African slave. More likely, however, it’s because Dumas’ father and grandfather didn’t get along well. Still, the fact that someone of mixed race could rise so high in the military was quite profound, especially in that period of history.

Alexandre Dumas began writing plays. The first one that was made was when he was 27 and proved to be very successful. Later, he moved onto fictional stories and finally travel guides. Due to his excessive traveling, Alexandre was able to write stories of specific locations with an amazing attention to detail. I recently did a Google Maps search for a building in one of his stories. I used the Street View and looked at the building. It was exactly as Dumas described. Sure the drapery was different, but the crown molding and intricate brickwork was identical.

One of the best parts of reading Dumas is it’s effect on me. I find myself more poetic and eloquent. People notice my normal verbosity increase, and know that I’ve recently reread the Count of Monte Cristo for the 3534262654325th time.

I’ve learned so much about French History from Dumas. A few years ago, I got a chance to talk to someone from France. I asked her how accurate Dumas’ histories were. It turns out that most French children learn Dumas in not only literature class, but history class as well. Dumas’ French History spans from 1309 with the Valois Romances to the post Napoleonic era. That’s 500 years of French History. It includes royalty, battles, intrigue, political and military descriptions, betrayal, infidelity, and love.  It’s not just one series of French History. The Three Musketeers takes place in the 1600s. The Count of Monte Cristo takes place in the 1840s. The Black Tulip’s main plot is someone wanting to make the darkest blackest tulip ever seen. All with the rise of William, Prince of Orange in 1672 as the background. So you’d go in expecting a story about sward fighting and flowers, and you get a historically accurate setting.

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Character relationships in The Count of Monte Cristo (click to enlarge)

The Count of Monte Cristo, is my favorite story of all time. It was based on a true story of a shoe maker who was falsely imprisoned and later sought his revenge. The intricate web of intrigue the Count spins is truly incredible. He rarely does anything directly. Instead, he manipulates people. His understanding of human nature allows him to get a few pieces started, and then just sit back and watch as the corrupt destroy themselves. Look at this image. They are all pawns in his game of revenge. It’s like the Butterfly Effect, where ordinary actions can have extraordinary consequences. A simple conversation with a woman about medication can turn her into a poisoner a decade later.

Side rant: Fuck the 2002 movie. As a movie, it was fine. It was not “The Count of Monte Cristo”, and it sure as fuck wasn’t “Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo”. That movie raped and pillaged the noble story. They went so far as to change character names. Why? Who the fuck knows. They changed the ending, which was the best part of the tale. They cut out scenes, which to be honest, I understand. It’s a long story and many scenes were unnecessary for the overall plot. The only good thing about the movie is the speech the Count gives Albert Mondego. That speech was worthy of the poetic Dumas. The rest was not.

Anyway. By now, Dumas was making enough money to focus on writing full time. Sadly, he spent more than he made and after building a nice country house outside of Paris and named it the Château de Monte-Cristo, after his most successful story, was forced to sell it two years later. I also mentioned that he lived a rapper’s lifestyle. He had four children by four different women whom he chose out of his estimated 40 mistresses. He married an actress. So really, he’s a blend of Kanye West and Eazy E.

At some point he went to war to remove King Charles X and replace him with Dumas’ former boss, King Louis Philippe I.  That dynasty lasted 18 years and then Napoleon III came to power in the Second French Republic. Napoleon III didn’t like Dumas, so Dumas fled to Belgium.

Eventually Dumas died and he was buried in his home town. 130 years later, in 2002 (Dumas’ 200th birthday), French President Jacques Chirac moved his body to the Pantheon to be among some of the greatest French artists, soldiers, and politicians. In a moving speech filled with emotion, Chirac said, “With you, we were d’Artagnan, Monte Cristo, or Balsamo, riding along the roads of France, touring battlefields, visiting palaces and castles—with you, we dream.”

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My collection of Dumas books. (the top three shelves)

Dumas’ poetry and phrasing has always been one of the things to which I have been drawn. He never ended sentences with prepositions. This forced him to rephrase his sentences in a more structured manner. Instead of saying “Where did you come from”, with “from” being the preposition, you should change the sentence to “From where did you come?” Dumas would phrase it, “From whence did you arrive?” He added that extra spin of elegance.

This is my prized collection of Dumas books. The top three shelves are all Dumas except one book. All of the brown books with the goldish labels were printed in 1902. I found them on eBay for $150 and, while I didn’t have the money, I did have a credit card and bought them as quickly as I could. On the second shelf from the top, on the right hand side, you can see three books that do not match the others. The one with the green label is an 1898 print of the Count of Monte Cristo. Next to that is a modern print of the Count of Monte Cristo that I actually use to read, rather than damaging the antique copies. Next to that is Dumas’ autobiography. All told, I have three copies of the Count of Monte Cristo. I have the complete d’Artagnan Romances [The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After,  and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (more commonly known as The Man in the Iron Mask)]. I have the Valois Romances which includes one of the most humorous tales, Chicot the Jester. I also have many many many more stories. All for $150. Maybe $200.

Dumas is a pleasure to read, and it’s a travesty that more authors do not imitate him. Our literary skills have diminished and now we sit in profound sadness while novelists such as Stephenie Meyer rob our youth of their intellect by catering to their hormones with her simi illiterate drivel. Gone are the days of nobility and honor. Gone are the tales of political romances. Gone are the days of Byronic heroes.

At least Dumas’ stories live on and are now in the Public Domain. Thus they are available for free in most online book stores. If you want to know what astounding things can be done through the written word, I implore you to try Alexandre Dumas. I hope you will feel as much inspiration as I have felt.

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  1. […] been a while since I’ve done one of these. Some of you don’t recognize this name. Those of you who do will have very polarized opinions […]

  2. […] It was literally the first name to come to me. Everyone who knows me, knows I am an obsessed Alexandre Dumas fan. Edmond Dantes was the main character in my favorite Dumas story, the Count of Monte […]

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