Alexandre Dumas and His Life in Paris

French author Alexandre Dumas is most well known for his classic novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Have you read them yet?! If not I suggest you get to your local bookstore and pick them up. Do you speak French? If you can, reading them in their original form is even better!

The author spent a lot of his life in, you guessed it, the City of Lights! Keep reading to learn more about Alexandre Dumas and his life in Paris.

Alexandre Dumas’ beginnings

Dumas was born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie in 1802 in Villers-Cotterêts in Northern France. The writer changed his name to simply Alexandre Dumas early on in his career. Dumas is an homage to his grandmother, a former Haitian slave, who’s last name was Dumas. Dumas’ father was born in Haiti and was then brought to France by his father, a Frenchman.

Alexandre Dumas by Achille Devéria

Sketch of Alexandre Dumas by Achille Devéria in 1829 – WikiCommons

His father, Thomas-Alexandre, was a celebrated war hero and was the first Black man to have earned the rank of general in any European army at the time.

Dumas moved to Paris when he was 20 years old. This is when Dumas really started to show an interest in writing, and he soon began to absorb himself in the world of literature. He worked as a scribe for the future King Louis Philippe, the duc d’Orléans. He also began writing comedies and dramas. This was just the beginning of Dumas’ successful writing career!

Alexandre Dumas’ early writing career

Dumas wrote and put on his first play, Henry III and His Courts, while he was still working as a scribe when he was just 27 years old! It was warmly accepted by the public and he soon released another, Christine. After the success of these 2 plays Dumas had accumulated enough money so that he could pursue writing full time.

Alexander Dumas père by Nadar

Alexander Dumas père by Nadar – WikiCommons

Dumas wrote plays, novels, essays and travelogues. His stories usually focused on drama, crime and scandal. If you’re into that kind of thing (like me!), you’re sure to love his work! Dumas also specialized in Romantism, and was the rival of Victor Hugo.

Dumas teamed up with a few of his friends to write a series of essays called Celebrated Crimes, which focused on famous criminals in Europe. Dumas actually frequently hired co-authors to help him, which became a source of conflict for him later in life. One co-author in particular, Auguste Maquet did a lot of work on many of his books and plays. Maquet eventually took Dumas to court so that his name would appear on the book covers as well. Dumas refused and paid Maquet a large settlement instead.

Alexandre Dumas’ later life

As I’ve already mentioned, his most famous works are The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. His story called “The Man in the Iron Mask” is also among his most well known works. When his books began to be translated into other languages, specifically English, Dumas started to make a substantial amount of money, and was considered to be fairly well-off.

The Three Musketeers

Illustration from the Appleton edition of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas – WikiCommons

Although Dumas was making a lot of money he often splurged on parties and women. He was known to have had at least 40 mistresses! He also had 4 children, one of whom went on to be an author himself. That is why sometimes Dumas is referred to as Alexandre Dumas, père (father, in French), and his son, Alexandre Dumas, fils (son, in French).

Dumas also spent a lot of his money on the construction of the Château de Monte Cristo in Le Port-Marly, a western Paris suburb. It was massive and free loaders often set up house for long periods of time and took advantage of his generosity.

Dumas wrote his successful travelogues on places that he had visited himself. These included Italy, Spain, Germany and Russia. Later in life, Dumas fled to Russia to escape French creditors.

In addition to problems with creditors, Dumas often faced discrimination due to his mixed race. He even wrote a novel called Georges, which spoke on the negative effects of colonialism and racial discrimination.

Dumas died in 1870 in his son’s home in Puys, France.

Where to find Alexandre Dumas in Paris

château de Monte-Cristo

The Château de Monte-Cristo in Le Port-Marly by Renaud Camus – Flickr

Have you ever heard of the Panthéon? It’s located in the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement. It was originally a church dedicated to Sainte-Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. In 1791, the building was changed into a massive mausoleum, which houses famous French citizens.

Why am I telling you about the Panthéon?! Well, it’s because it is one of the places where you can find Dumas! In 2002, in honor of his 200 year birthday, President Jacques Chirac had a ceremony to celebrate his ashes being moved into the Panthéon. President Chirac said of Dumas,

“Alexandre Dumas will finally take his place beside Victor Hugo and Émile Zola, his brothers in literature. With you, it is childhood, hours of reading relished in secret, emotion, passion, adventure and panache that enter the Pantheon. With you we dreamed. With you we still dream.”

You can still visit the Château de Monte Cristo today, which is located not too far from Paris! There is a small museum dedicated to the author, and it is really beautiful inside the castle. Dumas’ writing studio, the Château d’If, is on the grounds as well.

There is also the Alexandre Dumas metro station on the line 2, which was named for the author in 1970. There is a bust dedicated to Dumas just outside the metro station! In the mythic theatre, the Comédie-Française, there is also a bust of Dumas. Don’t miss the massive statue of Dumas located at the place du Général Catroux in the 17th arrondissement.

Conclusion

I hope feel like you have learned a lot about the famous French author Alexandre Dumas! He’s definitely one of my favorites. He lived a pretty interesting life, and I respect him so much for standing up in front of racial discrimination in a time where he could have been rejected.

Do you want to learn about more famous French citizens, a little bit about the Panthéon, or anything else about Paris from one of our amazing local guides?! I don’t blame you! Click here to learn more!

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