Alexandre Dumas, père, 1802 - 1870

portrait of Alexandre Dumas, <em>père</em>
Photo by Nadar, November 1855
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Born: 24 July 1802, Villers-Cotterêts, Aisne, France
Died: 5 December 1870, Puys (near Dieppe, Seine-Maritime), France

Born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, Alexandre Dumas, père was the grandson of a French nobleman and a Haitian slave and the son of one of Napoleon's generals. His family fell into disfavor and his father died when he was young, but his mother's tales of his father's heroism during the Napoleonic Wars fueled his appetite for tales of adventure and he grew up reading constantly.

In 1822, after the restoration of the French monarchy, Dumas worked in an office at the Palais Royal by day and wrote magazine articles and plays during his free time. His first play, Henry III and His Court, was produced in 1829, and he went on to write several more successful plays, quitting his job to write full-time. He participated in the 1830 Revolution which led to the ouster of Charles X and helped set up his former employer, the Duke of Orléans, as Louise-Philippe, the Citizen King.

In 1838, he turned his hand to writing serial novels, published in parts in the newspapers of the time, and formed a production studio that created hundreds of serial novels. From 1839 until 1841 he and several friends produced Celebrated Crimes, an eight-volume series of essays about famous criminals and crimes of European history. In 1840, he published The Fencing Master, a novel based on the experiences of Augustin Grisier in the Decembrist Revolution in Russia. This novel, and its author, were banned in Russia until the death of Czar Nicholas I.

In 1851, Dumas fled France to escape his creditors. He traveled to Belgium and Russia and then to Italy, where he became involved in creating a united Italy. He returned to France in 1864. Despite his literary success, Dumas spent most of his life in debt, thanks to his womanizing and love of luxury. His home was usually inhabited by a motley crew of strangers and acquaintances, and he had at least four illegitimate children, the best-known of whom followed in his footsteps to become the playwright and novelist Alexandre Dumas, fils.

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