History of Literature

Alexandre Dumas


Alexandre Dumas, pere



Alexandre Dumas, père

French author [1802-1870]

born July 24, 1802, Villers-Cotterêts, Aisne, Fr.
died Dec. 5, 1870, Puys, near Dieppe

one of the most prolific and most popular French authors of the 19th century. Without ever attaining indisputable literary merit, Dumas succeeded in gaining a great reputation first as a dramatist and then as a historical novelist, especially for such works as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. His memoirs, which, with a mixture of candour, mendacity, and boastfulness, recount the events of his extraordinary life, also provide a unique insight into French literary life during the Romantic period. He was the father (père) of the dramatist and novelist Alexandre Dumas, called Dumas fils.

Dumas’s father, Thomas-Alexandre Davy de La Pailleterie—born out of wedlock to the marquis de La Pailleterie and Marie Cessette Dumas, a black slave of Santo Domingo—was a common soldier under the ancien régime who assumed the name Dumas in 1786. He later became a general in Napoleon’s army. The family fell on hard times, however, especially after General Dumas’s death in 1806, and the young Alexandre went to Paris to attempt to make a living as a lawyer. He managed to obtain a post in the household of the Duke d’Orléans, the future King Louis-Philippe, but tried his fortune in the theatre. He made contact with the actor François-Joseph Talma and with the young poets who were to lead the Romantic movement.

Dumas’s plays, when judged from a modern viewpoint, are crude, brash, and melodramatic, but they were received with rapture in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Henri III et sa cour (1829) portrayed the French Renaissance in garish colours; Napoléon Bonaparte (1831) played its part in making a legend of the recently dead emperor; and in Antony (1831) Dumas brought a contemporary drama of adultery and honour to the stage.

Though he continued to write plays, Dumas next turned his attention to the historical novel, often working with collaborators (especially Auguste Maquet). Considerations of probability or historical accuracy generally were ignored, and the psychology of the characters was rudimentary. Dumas’s main interest was the creation of an exciting story set against a colourful background of history, usually the 16th or 17th century.

The best known of his works are Les Trois Mousquetaires (published 1844, performed 1845; The Three Musketeers), a romance about four swashbuckling heroes in the age of Cardinal Richelieu; Vingt ans après (1845; “Twenty Years After”); Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1844–45; The Count of Monte Cristo); Dix ans plus tard ou le Vicomte de Bragelonne (1848–50; “Ten Years Later; or, The Vicomte de Bragelonne”); and La Tulipe noire (1850; “The Black Tulip”).

When success came, Dumas indulged his extravagant tastes and consequently was forced to write more and more rapidly in order to pay his creditors. He tried to make money by journalism and with travel books but with little success.

The unfinished manuscript of a long-lost novel, Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine (The Last Cavalier), was discovered in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in the late 1980s and first published in 2005.




The Three Musketeers

Alexandre Dumas


The Three Musketeers is the most famous of around two hundred and fifty books to come from the pen of this prolific author and his seventy-three assistants. Dumas worked with the history professor Auguste Maquet, who is often credited with the premise for, and even the first draft of Les Trois Mousquetaires, although the text, like all his others, plays very fast and loose with the historical narrative.
D'Artagnan, the hero, is a Gascon, a young man who embodies in every aspect the hotheaded stereotype of the Bearnais people. Armed only with a letter of recommendation to M.deTreville, head of King Louis XlV's musketeers, and his prodigious skill with a sword this incomparable youth cuts a swathe through seventeenth-century Paris and beyond, seeking his fortune.The enduring quality of Dumas's texts lies in the vitality he breathes into his characters, and his mastery of the roman feuilleton, replete as it is with teasers and cliffhangers. The Three Musketeers is a romance par excellence, and the pace of the narrative carries the reader on a delirious joumey. The strength of the characters, from the "Three Musketeers" themselves, to Cardinal Richelieu and the venomous "Milady," need scarcely be highlighted, so entrenched have they all become in Western culture.The charisma of Dumas's swaggering young Gascon certainly remains undimmed.






La Reine Margot

Alexandre Dumas


Published shortly after The Three Musketeers, La Reine Margot confirmed Alexandre Dumas as the master of historical romance. History professor Auguste Maquet wrote the first draft, Dumas then elaborating the book with dialogue and descriptive passages. The violent action, vivid characters, and potential for lavish Renaissance period decor have attracted several filmmakers, most recently Patrice Chereau in 1994.
The novel is set in one of the most dramatic periods of French history: the Religious Wars of the sixteenth century. The country's nobility are split into warring factions, with Catholics fighting the Protestant Huguenots. Proud, cultured, and beautiful, Marguerite de Valois—the "Reine Margot"—is sister of the Catholic King Charles IX. The novel opens in 1572 with her arranged marriage to Huguenot leader Henri of Navarre. This loveless wedding is the occasion for the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, in which Huguenots are slaughtered in their thousands. The plot follows Margot's doomed romance with her Catholic lover, amid the murderous intrigues of the French court. Torture, execution, and poisoning ensure an ending littered with corpses.
La Reine Margot is the first volume of a loosely connected trilogy known as the Valois Romances. The other two volumes are rarely read today, but La Reine Margot has held its own through the strength of its characterization and the vivacity of its storytelling. Irresistibly readable, it also offers a painless lesson in French history.


The Count of Monte-Cristo

Alexandre Dumas


Alexandre Dumas'very well-known serialized novel begins with the incarceration of the hero, Edmond Dantes, in the Chateau d'lf, as a result of the denunciation by his rivals of his purported Napoleonic allegiance just before Napoleon's return from Elba in 1815. During his fourteen-year imprisonment, the hero fortuitously meets the Abbe Faria, who educates him and reveals to him the secret of the great wealth hidden in the Island of Monte-Cristo. Edmond is able to make a dramatic escape, substituting himself for the Abbe's dead body, which—enclosed in a bag—is thrown into the sea. The transformation of Edmond into the Count of Monte-Cristo begins.
Now wealthy, the Count is able to make his denouncers suffer for their evil slander. Each of them will be subjected to a series of imaginative punishments, as the setting of the novel moves from Rome and the Mediterranean to Paris and its surroundings. The ingenious plots involve concealment and revelation, sign language, use of poisonous herbs, and all manner of other things. But beyond the exciting narrative, Dumas focuses on the corrupt financial, political, and judicial world of France at the time of the royal restoration, and the marginal figures, such as convicts, that infiltrate it.
Finally, the Count wonders if his program of retribution has not led him to usurp God's power in order to see justice done. This apparently fantastic and passionate tale of revenge, is a historical narrative in the manner of Walter 5cott; that is, one that is not wholly accurate. Unfolding gradually, The Count of Monte-Cristo offers an unusual reflection on happiness and justice, omnipotence, and the sometimes fatal haunting return of the past.




Тyре of work: Novel
Author: Alexandre Dumas, pere (1802-1870)
Type of plot: Historical romance
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: France
First published: Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, 1844-1845 (English translation, 1846)

The Count of Monte-Cristo tells the story of a young man on the threshold of a bright career and a happy marriage who is imprisoned in a dungeon for years on a false political charge. When he escapes and finds a treasure which makes him wealthy, he sets upon an implacable course of revenge against his old enemies. If the characterizations are sometimes set in conventional molds, the story is unforgettable for its suspenseful plot and the intriguing figure of the Count.


Principal Characters

Edmond Dantes (ed-mori' dan-tes'), a young man unjustly imprisoned in the grim Chateau D'If. He escapes fourteen years later, after he has learned where a vast fortune is amassed. He secures the fortune and assumes the title of Count of Monte-Cristo. He then sets about avenging himself on those who were instrumental in having him imprisoned.
M. Morrel (тэ-syoe' то-гёТ), a merchant and shipowner, the friend of young Dantes and the benefactor of Edmond's father. He is later saved by Monte-Cristo from bankruptcy and suicide.
M. Danglars (тэ-syoe' dan-glar'), an employee of M. Morrel. He helps to betray Edmond Dantes to the authorities because of professional jealousy. He later amasses a fortune which Monte-Cristo causes him to lose. He is further punished by being allowed to starve almost to death as he had allowed Edmond's father to starve.
Mercedes (тёг-sa-dez'), the betrothed of young Edmond Dantes. Believing him to be dead, she marries his rival, Fernand Mondego. In the end she leaves her husband's house, gives his fortune to charity, and lives on the dowry Edmond had saved for her in his youth.
Louis Dantes (lwe' dan-tes'), Edmond's father. He dies of starvation after his son is imprisoned.
Gaspard Caderousse (gas-par' ka-daroos'), a tailor, innkeeper, and thief. One of Edmond's betrayers, he is killed while robbing Monte-Cristo's house.
Fernand Mondego, Count de Morcerf (fer-nan' moii-ds-go', kont' dgmor-ser'), a fisherman in love with Mercedes. He mails the letter which betrays Edmond to the authorities. He later marries Mercedes, becomes a soldier and a count. Monte-Cristo later brings about the revelation that Fernand got his fortune by selling out the Pasha of Janina to the enemy. His wife and son leave him and he commits suicide.
The Marquis and Marchioness de Saint-Meran (da san'ma-ran'), the father and mother of M. Villefort's first wife, poisoned by his second wife.
Renee (гэ-па'), the daughter of the Marquis and Marchioness de Saint-Meran. She married Villefort.
M. Villefort (тэ-syoe' vel-for'), a deputy prosecutor, later attorney general, and a royalist. He causes Edmond to be imprisoned because he fears involvement in a Napoleonic plot. Monte-Cristo later discovers an attempted infanticide on the part of Villefort and causes this secret to be revealed publicly at a trial Villefort is conducting. After this public denunciation and the discovery that his second wife has poisoned several members of his household, then her son and herself, Villefort goes mad.
The Abbe Faria (a-ba' fa'rya, Edmond's fellow prisoner, who dies of a stroke after educating Edmond and revealing to him the whereabouts of the vast lost fortune of the extinct family of Spada in the caverns of the isle of Monte-Cristo.
Emmanuel Herbaut (a-ma-nu-ёТ-ёг-Ьб'), a clerk in Morrel's business establishment. He marries Julie Morrel.
Julie Morrel (zhu-le' тб-гёГ), the daughter of the merchant Morrel. She finds the purse in which Monte-Cristo had put money to repay the loan that Morrel had given his father, old Dantes, and thus saves her own father from bankruptcy. She later marries Emmanuel Herbaut.
Maximilian Morrel (mak-se-mel-yan' тб-гёГ), the son of the merchant, a soldier and a loyal friend of Monte-Cristo. He marries Valentine de Villefort.
Viscount Albert de Morcerf (al-beV d3 mor-ser'), the son of Fernand and Mercedes. He leaves his disgraced father's house, gives his fortune to charity, and seeks his own fortune as a soldier.
Baron Franz d'Epinay (frans da-рё-па'), the friend of Albert, about to be betrothed to Valentine de Villefort when the betrothal is called off after Franz discovers that her grandfather had killed his father.
Luigi Vampa (lwe'je vam'pa), a Roman bandit and friend of Monte-Cristo. He kidnaps Albert but frees him at Monte-Cristo's order. Later he also kidnaps Danglars, robs, and almost starves him.
Peppino (pa-рё'пб), also known as Rocca Priori (ro'ka ргё-6-гё'), one of Vampa'sband. Monte-Cristo saves him from being beheaded.
Countess Guiccioli (gwet'cho-le), the friend of Franz and Albert in Rome and later in Paris.
Giovanni Bertuccio (jo-van'ne ber-toot'chyo), the steward of Monte-Cristo, who reveals to his master Vil-lefort's attempted infanticide. Unknown to Villefort, he saves the child's life.
Lucien Debray (lii-syan' ds-bre'), a friend of Albert, secretary to the Internal Department, and the lover of Mme. Danglars.
M. Beauchamp (тэ-syoe' bo-shari'), Albert's friend, a newspaper editor.
Count Chateau-Renaud (sha-to' гэ-по'), another of Albert's friends.
Eugenie Danglars (oe-zha-пё' dan-glar'), the daughter of Danglars, about to be betrothed, first to Albert, then to Andrea Cavalcanti. She later runs away with her governess to go on the stage.
Assunta (a-siin'ta), Bertuccio's sister-in-law. She claims Villefort's child from the foundling home where Bertuccio had placed it.
Benedetto (ba-na-da'to), also Andrea Cavalcanti (an-dra-a' ka-val-kah'te), the illegitimate son of Villefort and Mme. Danglars. He does not know who his parents are, and they believe him to be dead. He is a forger, a thief escaped from the galleys, and the murderer of Caderousse. He discovers that Villefort is his father and reveals this fact at the trial. It is implied that the court will find "extenuating circumstances" in his new trial.
Haidee (ё-da'), the daughter of Ali Tebelen, Pasha of Janina and Basiliki, captured and sold as a slave by Fernand Mondego after he betrays her father. She is bought by Monte-Cristo, and they fall in love with each other.
Baptistin (ba-tes-taii'), the servant of Monte-Cristo.
Hermine Danglars (er-men' dan-glar'), Danglars' wife and the mother of Benedetto and Eugenie.
Heloise de Villefort (a-16-ez' d9 veTfor'), the second wife of Villefort. She poisons the Saint-Merans and tries to poison Noirtier and Valentine so that her son may inherit their vast wealth. Her guilt discovered, she kills her son and herself.
Edouard de Villefort (a-dwar' da vel-for'), the spoiled, irresponsible son of Heloise and Villefort. He is killed by his mother.
Valentine de Villefort (va-lan-ten' d9 veTfor'), the daughter of Villefort and Renee Saint-Meran Villefort. She is poisoned by the second Mme. Villefort but is saved by Noirtier and Monte-Cristo after being given a sleeping potion that makes her appear dead. After her rescue she marries Maximilian Morrel.
Noirtier de Villefort (nwar-tya' da vel-for'), the father of Villefort and a fiery Jacobin of the French Revolution. Completely paralyzed by a stroke, he communicates with his eyes.
The Marquis Bartolomeo Cavalcanti (bar-to-lo-ma-o' ka-val-kan'te), the name assumed by a man pretending to be Andrea Cavalcanti's father.
Barrois (ba-rwa'), a faithful servant of old Noirtier, poisoned by drinking some lemonade intended for Noirtier.
Ali Tebelen (a-le tab-Ian'), the father of Haidee, betrayed by Fernand.
Louise d'Armilly (lwez' dar-тё-уё'), the governess to Eugenie Danglars. Together they run away in hopes they can go on the stage as singers.
Lord Wilmore and Abbe Busoni (a-ba' bii-zo'-ne), aliases used by the Count of Monte-Cristo.


The Story

When Edmond Dantes sailed into Marseilles harbor that day in 1815, he was surrounded by enemies. His shipmate, Danglars, coveted his appointment as captain of the Pharaon. Ferdinand Mondego wished to wed Mercedes, who was betrothed to Edmond.
Danglars and Ferdinand wrote a note accusing Edmond of carrying a letter from Elba to the Bonapartist committee in Paris. Caderousse, a neighbor, learned of the plot but kept silent. On his wedding day, Edmond was arrested and taken before a deputy named Villefort, a political turncoat, who, to protect himself, had Edmond secretly imprisoned in the dungeons of the Chateau D'If. There Dantes' incarceration was secured by the plotting of his enemies outside the prison, notably Villefort, who wished to cover up his own father's connections with the Bonapartists.
Napoleon came from Elba, but Edmond lay forgotten in his cell. The cannonading at Waterloo died away. Years passed. Then one night Edmond heard the sound of digging from an adjoining cell. For days later, a section of the flooring fell in, and Edmond saw an old man in the narrow tunnel below. He was the Abbe Faria, whose attempt to dig his way to freedom had led him only to Edmond's cell. Thereafter the two met daily, and the old man taught Edmond history, mathematics, and languages. In Edmond's fourteenth year of imprisonment, Faria, mortally ill, told Edmond where to find a tremendous fortune should he escape after the old man's death. When death did come, the abbe's body was placed in a sack. Edmond conceived the idea of changing places with the dead man, whom he dragged through the tunnel into his own bed. Jailers threw the sack into the sea.
Edmond ripped the cloth and swam through the darkness to an islet in the bay.
At daybreak he was picked up by a gang of smugglers with whom he worked until a stroke of luck brought him to the island of Monte-Cristo, where Faria's fortune awaited him. He landed on the island with the crew of the ship. Feigning injury in a fall, he persuaded the crew to leave him behind until they could return for him. Thus, he was able to explore the island and to find his treasure hidden in an underground cavern. He returned to the mainland and sold some small jewels to provide himself with money enough to carry out his plans to bring his treasure from Monte-Cristo. There he learned that his father had died and Mercedes, despairing of Edmond's return, had married Ferdinand.
Disguised as an abbe, he visited M. Caderousse to seek information of those who had caused his imprisonment. M. Villefort had gained fortune and station in life. Dan-glars was a rich banker. Ferdinand had won wealth and a title in the Greek war. For this information, Edmond gave Caderousse a diamond worth fifty thousand francs.
He also learned that his old shipping master, M. Mor-rel, was on the verge of bankruptcy. In gratitude, because Morrel had given the older Dantes money to keep him from starvation, Edmond saved Morrel's shipping business.
Edmond took the name of his treasure island. As the Count of Monte-Cristo, he dazzled all Paris with his fabulous wealth and his social graces. He and his mysterious protegee, a beautiful girl named Haidee whom he had bought during his travels in Greece, became the talk of the boulevards.
Meanwhile he was slowly plotting the ruin of the four men who had caused him to be sent to the Chateau DTf. Caderousse was the first to be destroyed. Monte-Cristo had awakened his greed with the gift of a diamond. Later, urged by his wife, Caderousse had committed robbery and murder. Now, released from prison, he attempted to rob Monte-Cristo but was mortally wounded by an escaping accomplice. As the man lay dying, Monte-Cristo revealed his true name—Edmond Dantes.
In Paris, Monte-Cristo had succeeded in ingratiating himself with the banker, Danglars, and was secretly ruining him. Ferdinand was the next victim on his list. Ferdinand had gained his wealth by betraying Pasha Ali in the Greek revolution of 1823. Monte-Cristo persuaded Danglars to send to Greece for confirmation of Ferdinand's operations there. Ferdinand was exposed, and Haidee, daughter of the Pasha Ali, appeared to confront him with the story of her father's betrayal. Albert, the son of Mercedes and Ferdinand, challenged Monte-Cristo to a duel to avenge his father's disgrace. Monte-Cristo intended to make his revenge complete by killing the young man, but Mercedes came to him and begged for her son's life. Aware of Monte-Cristo's true identity, she interceded with her son as well. At the scene of the duel, the young man publicly declared his father's ruin had been justified. Mother and son left Paris. Ferdinand shot himself.
Monte-Cristo had also become intimate with Madame Villefort and encouraged her desire to possess the wealth of her stepdaughter, Valentine, whom Maximilian Morrel, son of the shipping master, loved. The count had slyly directed Madame Villefort in the use of poisons, and the depraved woman murdered three people. When Valentine herself succumbed to poison, Maximilian went to Monte-Cristo for help. Upon learning that his friend Maximilian loved Valentine, Monte-Cristo vowed to save the young girl. Valentine, however, had apparently died. Nevertheless, Monte-Cristo promised future happiness to Maximilian.
Meanwhile Danglars' daughter, Eugenie, ran off to seek her fortune independently, and Danglars found himself bankrupt. He deserted his wife and fled the country. When Villefort discovered his wife's treachery and crimes, he confronted her with a threat of exposure. She then poisoned herself and her son Edward, for whose sake she had poisoned the others. Monte-Cristo revealed his true name to Villefort, who subsequently went mad.
Monte-Cristo, however, had not deceived Maximilian. He had rescued Valentine while she lay in a drugged coma in the tomb. Now he reunited the two lovers on his island of Monte-Cristo. They were given the count's wealth, and Monte-Cristo sailed away with Haidee, never to be seen again.


Critical Evaluation

The Count of Monte-Cristo, Alexandre Dumas' best-known novel after The Three Musketeers (1844), is, as improbable as it might seem, based on a true story. Dumas, who has become almost legendary for his prolific literary output of nearly three hundred volumes, maintained a corps of collaborators who were engaged in searching through earlier writers of memoirs for suitably exciting plots. Through this process, a volume entitled Memoires tires des archives de la Police de Paris by Jacques Peu-chet, the Keeper of the Archives at the Prefecture of Police, came to Dumas' attention.
In Peuchet's memoirs, which contained a treasure of potential plots for novels, was a record of a case of wrongful imprisonment and vengeance which strongly appealed to the French author. In 1807, there had been living in Paris a young shoemaker, Frangois Picaud, who was engaged to marry Marguerite Vigoroux, a beautiful orphan with a fortune of one hundred thousand gold francs. Four of Picaud's friends, jealous of his good fortune, accused him of being an English agent. Picaud was spirited away in the night by the police, who at the time were worried about certain insurrectionary movements. The unfortunate man's parents and his betrothed made inquiries, but failed to obtain any satisfaction and resigned themselves to the inevitable. In 1814, with the fall of the Empire, Picaud was released from the castle of Fenestrelle where he had all that time been imprisoned. While in captivity, he had, with great devotion, looked after an Italian prelate who had been imprisoned on a political charge and had not long to live. The dying man bequeathed to Picaud a treasure hidden in Milan. After his release, the shoemaker recovered the treasure and returned under an assumed name to the district in which he had been living. Making inquiries, he soon discovered the plot against him by his jealous friends and spent ten years of his life engaged in an elaborate plot against the perpetrators of his suffering that resulted in the eventual destruction of his former friends.
Dumas delighted in the idea of creating a character possessed of a fabulous fortune and of making that character an avenger in some great cause. This impulse was natural, for Dumas, despite his exuberant exterior, harbored within himself many grievances against society at large, and individual enemies in particular. His father had been persecuted; he himself was harassed by creditors and slandered. He shared with other major writers, who had been unjustly treated, that longing for vengeance which has engendered so many masterpieces. The experiences of Picaud gave him the story for which he had been longing. Normal imagination, however, was not responsible for the stroke of genius that produced the name "Count of Monte-Cristo," which has come to be so romantically imbedded in the memories of countless readers. The mysterious creative forces which cause the birth of great works had been enriched one day when Dumas had gone boating among the islands which lie about Elba and his guide pointed out a beautiful island named Monte-Cristo.
The Count of Monte-Cristo had a greater success than any book which Dumas published prior to The Three Musketeers. Like most of Dumas' major novels, it was first serialized in the daily newspaper. In this way, he kept his public excited from one day to the next by means of romantic love affairs, intrigues, imprisonments, hairbreadth escapes, and innumerable duels. Dumas had great gifts of narrative and dialogue and a creative imagination but only a limited critical sense and an even smaller concern for historical accuracy. He did have a knack for seizing situations and characters that would render a satisfactory historical atmosphere. He wrote with a sincere gusto that action and love were the two essential things in life and thus in fiction. His writing was never complicated by analysis or psychological insights, and his best works, such as The Count of Monte-Cristo and The Three Musketeers, can be read with effortless enjoyment.
Critics point to the excessive melodrama of Dumas' work and his lack of psychological perception and careless style. The characters are one-dimensional, stranded in the conventional molds the author has set for them. There is no change, no sudden insight, and no growth in the players upon Dumas' stage. Despite many defects, however, this novel remains a great work in literature, for it is a breathtaking experience, a dramatic tale filled with mystery and intrigue. For thousands of years, the unhappy human race has found release in cathartic tales such as this one. The most popular characters have been the magician and the dispenser of justice. The injured and weak live with the hope, which no ill-success can weaken, of witnessing the coming of the hero who will redress all wrongs, cast down the wicked, and at long last give the good man his desserts.
At the time Dumas was writing, the magician had been confused with the rich man, with great vaults filled with jewels, whose wealth permits him to indulge his every whim and to use his treasure to provide justice for the innocent man and to punish the guilty. Dumas dreamed of becoming just such a distributor of earthly happiness, and The Count of Monte-Cristo gave him the framework for which he was looking: The hero is an implacable avenger who obtains his justice and disappears. The Count of Monte-Cristo, then, finds its audience among people of all ages and of all times who like a romantic adventure tale with a larger-than-life hero.




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