When reading The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte-Cristo, we often wondered how their author came up with such plots and were able to achieve such thrilling stories that became big hits during his life time.
Alexandre Dumas the elder was in fact a larger than life type of character. Born in 1802 to a father general (General Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie) in the French Napoleon army, himself born in present-day Haiti to a French nobleman and an enslaved African woman. His father (the general) died when he was 4 years old leaving him and his family in extreme poverty suppressing all possibilities to follow a correct education. But young Alexandre liked to read and was curious and at 20, decided to go to Paris where all the action took place.
Due to his aristocratic origin, he found work with Louis-Philippe Duc d'Orléans as a writer for magazines and plays for the theatre. No wander he acquired a deep understanding of the material. He found success as a playwright when he was only 27 years old with his first play Henri III.
In 1830, Charles X is expelled, replaced by the same Louis Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, allowing Dumas to seat on the good side of the fence. In 1838, he started switching to novelist in rewriting one of his play as a novel. Following this adventure, Dumas set up a real production studio with writers working days and nights under his direction and editing. Now we understand a bit more how 1000 pages novels were produced: The writer had the entrepreneurial spirit to translate ideas and dialogues on paper.
Although born poor, Alexandre Dumas was never a savvy financier and was working most of the time to reimburse debts. Apparently very generous, he never counted when it came to satisfy his 40 something mistresses and a lavish train de vie.
In 1844, on top of his game with the recent publication of the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte-Cristo, he decided to have a castle built along the Seine river on the slopes of Port-Marly. The château de Monte-Cristo was inaugurated the 25th July 1847, in 1848 due to debts Dumas was forced to sell but was able to stay till 1851 when he had to leave France for Belgium, Napoleon the 3rd was back in power and lots of creditors closer and closer...
In 1859, he moved to Russia where his novels were very successful, French being the second language amongst the elite, in 1861 went to Italy participating the unification of the country, founding and leading the newspaper Indipendente. He returned to France in 1864.
Although a very successful writer, he died quite poor at his son's place and was buried in December 1870 in Villers-Cotterets. At that time, the Franco-Prussian war overshadowed his death and his popularity decreased.
In 1970, a metro station in Paris was named in his honour and in 2002 his ashes were reinterred at the mausoleum of the Pantheon of Paris, along fellow authors Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. In his speech, President Chirac said:
"With you, we were D'Artagnan, Monte Cristo, or Balsamo, riding along the roads of France, touring battlefields, visiting palaces and castleswith you, we dream."
Alexandre Dumas is the most widely read French writer with novels translated into nearly 100 languages and having inspired more than 200 motion pictures.