Alexandre Dumas, who lived a life as dramatic as any depicted in his more than three hundred volumes of plays, novels, travel books, and memoirs, was born on July 24, 1802, in the town of Villers-Cotterets, some fifty miles from Paris. He was the third child of Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie (who took the name of Dumas), a nobleman who distinguished himself as one of Napoleon's most brilliant generals, and Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Labouret. Following General Dumas's death in 1806 the family faced precarious financial circumstances, yet Mme. Dumas scrimped to pay for her son's private schooling. Unfortunately he proved an indifferent student who excelled in but one subject: penmanship. In 1816, at the age of fourteen, Dumas found employment as a clerk with a local notary to help support the family. A growing interest in theater brought him to Paris in 1822, where he met Francois-Joseph Talma, the great French tragedian, and resolved to become a playwright. Meanwhile the passionate Dumas fell in love with Catherine Labay, a seamstress by whom he had a son. (Though he had numerous mistresses in his lifetime Dumas married only once, but the union did not last.) While working as a scribe for the duc d'Orleans (later King Louis-Philippe) Dumas collaborated on a one-act vaudeville, La Chasse et l'amour ( The Chase and Love, 1825). But it was not until 1827, after attending a British performance of Hamlet, that Dumas discovered a direction for his dramas. 'For the first time in the theater I was seeing true passions motivating men and women of flesh and blood,' he recalled. 'From this time on, but only then, did I have an idea of what the theater could be.'
Dumas achieved instant fame on February 11, 1829, with the triumphant opening of Henri III et sa cour (Henry III and His Court). An innovative and influential play generally regarded as the first French drama of the Romantic movement, it broke with the staid precepts of Neoclassicism that had been imposed on the Paris stage for more than a century. Briefly involved as a republican partisan in the July Revolution of 1830, Dumas soon resumed playwriting and over the next decade turned out a number of historical melodramas that electrified audiences. Two of these worksAntony (1831) and La Tour de Nesle (The Tower of Nesle, 1832)stand out as milestones in the history of nineteenth-century French theater. In disfavor with the new monarch, Louis-Philippe, because of his republican sympathies, Dumas left France for a time. In 1832 he set out on a tour of Switzerland, chronicling his adventures in Impressions de voyage: En Suisse ( Travels in Switzerland, 1834-1837); over the years he produced many travelogues about subsequent journeys through France, Italy, Russia, and other countries.
Around 1840 Dumas embarked upon a series of historical romances inspired by both his love of French history and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. In collaboration with Auguste Maquet, he serialized Le Chevalier d'Harmental in the newspaper Le Siecle in 1842. Part history, intrigue, adventure, and romance, it is widely regarded as the first of Dumas's great novels. The two subsequently worked together on a steady stream of books, most of which were published serially in Parisian tabloids and eagerly read by the public. He is best known for the celebrated d'Artagnan trilogyLes trois mousquetaires ( The Three Musketeers, 1844), Vingt ans apres (Twenty Years After, 1845) and Dix ans plus tarde ou le Vicomte de Bragelonne ( Ten Years Later; or The Viscount of Bragelonne, 1848-1850)and the so-called Valois romancesLa Reine Margot (Queen Margot, 1845), La Dame de Monsoreau ( The Lady of Monsoreau, 1846), and L
"We read The Three Musketeers to experience a sense of romance and for the sheer excitement of the story," reflected Clifton Fadiman. "In these violent pages all is action, intrigue, suspense, surprise--an almost endless chain of duels, murders, love affairs, unmaskings, ambushes, hairbreadth escapes, wild rides. It is all impossible and it is all magnificent."
First published in 1844, Alexandre Dumas's swashbuckling epic chronicles the adventures of D'Artagnan, a gallant young nobleman who journeys to Paris in 1625 hoping to join the ranks of musketeers guarding Louis XIII. He soon finds himself fighting alongside three
heroic comrades--Athos, Porthos, and Aramis--who seek to uphold the honor of the king by foiling the wicked plots of Cardinal Richelieu and the beautiful spy "Milady."
"Dumas will be read a hundred, nay, three hundred years on," wrote John Galsworthy. "His greatest creation is undoubtedly D'Artagnan, type at once of the fighting adventurer and of the trusty servant, whose wily blade is ever at the back of those whose hearts have neither his magnanimity nor his courage. Few, if any, characters in fiction inspire one with such belief in their
individual existences. . . . To one who made D'Artagnan all shall be forgiven." Clifton Fadiman agreed: "Dumas enjoyed writing his stories. . . . The pleasure he must have felt in
creating D'Artagnan's troubles and triumphs
flashes out of these pages. . . . Dumas rampaged through the history of France, inventing, changing, distorting--doing whatever was needed to produce a tale to hold the reader breathless."