Alexandre Dumas the Elder

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Alexandre Dumas the Elder,
photograph by Nadar , 1855
Alexandre Dumas Signature.svg

Alexandre Dumas the Elder (also Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie or Alexandre Dumas père; * July 24, 1802 in Villers-Cotterêts , Département Aisne ; † December 5, 1870 in Puys near Dieppe , Département Seine-Maritime ) was a French writer . Today he is best known for his history novels, such as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Christo, which have become classics .

Life and work

General Thomas Alexandre Dumas (1762–1806), father of Alexandre Dumas


Dumas was the grandson of the Marquis Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, who around 1760 stayed for a long time with a younger brother who owned a plantation on Saint-Domingue (today Haiti ). There he fathered four children with the black slave Marie-Césette Dumas. Around 1775 mother and children were pawned as slaves. Davy de la Pailleterie returned to France. A little later he released the youngest child, Thomas Alexandre (* 1762), brought the boy to France and adopted him as a legitimate son.

In 1786 Thomas Alexandre fell out with his father shortly before his death. He entered the army as a simple dragoons under the name of Thomas Alexandre Dumas . During a long stay of his regiment in Villers-Cotterêts, he met the innkeeper, Marie Labouret, whom he married in 1792. In numerous wars in the following years he rose to general. During the Egyptian campaign , he fell out of favor with Napoleon and was captured in the enemy kingdom of Naples while attempting to return to France early . After his release, he soon became the father of a boy, Alexandre Dumas.

In 1812 the mother succeeded in having her ten-year-old son's title of nobility confirmed. He hardly seems to have used it himself.

Today there are only a few descendants of Dumas, including in the United States and Germany .


Dumas monument in Paris

Dumas did not receive a good school education; rather, at the age of 14 he had to accept the position of clerk at a notary. However, he discovered his talent as a writer at an early age and tried his hand at writing a play with a friend. In 1822 he went to Paris , where his beautiful handwriting (which was a capital at the time) and the mediation of a colleague of his father's general gave him a post in the office of the Duc d'Orléans, who later became the “citizen king” Louis-Philippe . In 1824 he became the father of an illegitimate son: the later author Alexandre Dumas the Younger . In 1825 he earned his first fee as a co-author of a play, in 1826 he participated in the writing of a vaudeville that was also listed . In addition, he worked as a poet and journalist. At least since 1828 he had access to the salon of the author Charles Nodier , where he met the first generation of romantics , including Victor Hugo . A first historical play about Queen Christine of Sweden was accepted in 1828, but not performed.

Dumas became suddenly known in 1829 for his romantic drama Henri III et sa cour ( Heinrich III. And his court). This was followed by numerous other pieces, which he wrote more and more in collaboration with others, for example in 1837 and 1839 with Gérard de Nerval . The plays Antony (1831), which revolves around the familiar scandalous subject of adultery, and the successful Kean, ou Désordre et génie (Kean or Disorder and Genius, 1836), in which Dumas takes on the role of the famous English actor Edmund Kean, were more autobiographical projected ( reworked by Jean-Paul Sartre 1953). His greatest stage success was Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle in 1839 , which was performed over 400 times by 1844.

In 1830 Dumas was actively involved in the July Revolution . As early as 1832, however, he distanced himself from his former protector, King Louis-Philippe . This did not prevent him from demonstrating his new status as a successful author with a party for his Parisian literary colleagues in 1833. In 1835 he had begun to try his hand at narration in the fashionable genre of novels. In 1838 he met the young, now less well-known author Auguste Maquet (1813–1888), with whom he focused on novels. He became really popular after 1840, when he began to produce exciting adventure novels (approx. 600 volumes in total) first with Maquet and more and more in series production with additional employees , which as a rule first appeared as feature novels before being printed and published as books partly adapted for the stage (and filmed in the 20th century).

In addition, Dumas pursued a wide range of political, entrepreneurial and private activities, so that despite his considerable income he often got into debt, which he tried in part to evade through longer stays abroad, including 1851–53 in Belgium , 1858/59 in Russia or 1860– 64 in Italy , where he moved around Giuseppe Garibaldi . In turn, he used to process his travels in travel reports, which were popular with the press and publishers at the time, which he then also published in book form. He also marketed his eventful life, namely in the multi-volume Mémoires (published in Brussels 1852–54).

In 2002, on the two hundredth anniversary of his birth, his bones were transferred to the Paris Pantheon . The honor was understood as a political signal against racism, because Dumas was often reviled during his lifetime because of his dark skin color and his origins.


Alexandre Dumas the Elder,
photograph by Étienne Carjat

A hallmark of Dumas' novels are fictional or pseudo-historical protagonists (for example the Musketeer d'Artagnan), whose adventures are set in the context of historical events (for example the siege of La Rochelle in 1627/28) and historical figures (for example Cardinal Minister Richelieu ). The best-known novels that have been published again and again and are not only read by young people are: Les trois mousquétaires ( The Three Musketeers , 1844), Vingt ans après ( Twenty Years Later , 1845), La reine Margot ( Queen Margot , 1845), Le comte de Monte-Christo ( The Count of Monte Christo , 1845–46), Le Vicomte de Bragelonne ou L'homme au masque de fer (The man in the iron mask) and Le collier de la reine ( The Queen's collar , 1848–50 ). Many of the major episodes and personalities in his work have been inspired by his father's life and military career.

Plays (selection)

  • Henri III et sa cour
  • La Tour de Nesle (The Nesle Tower [in the old Paris city walls])
  • La Reine Margot
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Antony
  • Kean, ou désordre et génie ( edited by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1953 )
  • Caligula (with Gérard de Nerval )
  • L'Alchimiste (with Gérard de Nerval )
  • La tulipe noire (the black tulip)
  • Histoire d'un casse-noisette (The story of a nutcracker)
  • La Belle Isabeau (The beautiful I.)
  • Les Quarante-Cinq (The 45)
  • Les demoiselles de Saint Cyr ( edited as an opera by Engelbert Humperdinck under the title The Marriage Against Will ; first performance in 1905 in Berlin under the musical direction of Richard Strauss )

Adventure novels (selection)

  • Le Capitaine Pamphile. (1839); originally (1834) started as a collection of short stories, later published as a loosely composed novel (afterword)
    • after almost 150 years (Kollmann Leipzig 1847) again in 2007 in German translation under the title Captain Pamphile. available from Manesse-Verlag; ISBN 978-3-7175-2112-9 .
  • Georges. (Dumont, Paris 1843)
    • German: George (Verlag J. Gnadenfeld Berlin 1890; new edition under the title Georges with a current foreword. Comino Verlag, Berlin 2020, ISBN 978-3-945831-28-1 ).
  • Les trois mousquetaires. (1843/44)
  • Louis XIV. Et son siècle . (1844)
    • German: Ludwig XIV. and his century , translated by Strahlheim , Druck und Verlag des Verlags-Comptoirs, Grimma 1845, German first edition
  • Vingt ans après. (1845); German twenty years later.
  • Le Vicomte de Bragelonne. (1845/46); German under the titles The Viscount of Bragelonne , Ten Years Later and The Man with the Iron Mask .
  • La pure Margot. (1845); Template for the French of the same name. Film, dubbed in German as The Bartholomew Night . , dt under the titles Die Queen Margot and Die Bartholomäusnacht
  • Le comte de Monte-Cristo. (1845/46); The Count of Monte Christo . (First German complete edition 1847, translated by A. Moshamer, publisher: Hartleben's Verlags-Expedition).
  • La Dame de Monsoreau. (1846); German The Lady of Monsoreau . From the French by August Zoller , 4 vols. Stuttgart: Verlag der Franckh'schen Buchhandlung 1846
  • Mémoires d'un médecin. (1846/55); Memoirs of a Doctor . (immediately translated into German).
  • La Tulipe Noire. (1850); The black tulip . ISBN 978-3-945796-20-7 .
  • Histoire d'un casse-noisette.
  • La Belle Isabeau.
  • Les Quarante-Cinq. ISBN 2-221-06456-9 .
  • Joseph Balsamo (1853); also Giuseppe Balsamo, (his pseudonym was Count Alessandro von Cagliostro * 1743– † 1795)
  • Le chevalier de Sainte-Hermine. as a feature novel in the Moniteur universel. appeared and long regarded as lost, although one could even doubt the existence of the work; First published in French in 2005, since April 2009 also available in German as Der Graf von Sainte-Hermine, ISBN 3-7645-0227-4 .
  • La terreur prussienne . (1867); published as a featurenovelin La Situation ; German retelling Der Schleier im Main (2004) ISBN 3-453-47028-1 .
  • Les Compagnons de Jéhu. (1856); Filming in Germany as The Secret of the White Masks.
  • Horror in Fontenay. (German first edition 1977 Diogenes-Verlag).

Historical novels (selection)

  • Caesar. German first edition Bastei Lübbe 2000.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte. Translated by Heinrich Elsner, publishing house by Th. Knaur Nachf .; that. edited v. Max Pannwitz , Berlin 1910, reprint, Bremen 2010.
  • Lady Hamilton. Schreitersche Verlagbuchhandlung.
  • Eppstein Castle. 1st edition. Frankfurt 2010, historical novel. ISBN 978-3-7973-1227-3 .
  • Les Drames de la Mer. (1852); German shipwrecks. True stories. Translated from the French by Nicola Denis, Matthes & Seitz Berlin 2012.
  • La Terreur prussienne. (1867, serialized novel in the journal "La Situation"); German The veil in the Main , 2 vol. 1868; Abridged retelling by Clemens Bachmann, Frankfurt 2004.

Travel literature (selection)

  • A trip to the banks of the Rhine in 1838. (German first edition 1999 Diana Verlag).
  • Travel memories from Switzerland. (Gutenberg-Verlag Hamburg 1928).
  • Trip to the Caucasus. (Gutenberg-Verlag Hamburg 1928).
  • To Spain and North Africa. (Hoffmann & Campe-Verlag Hamburg 1969).
  • Journey through Russia. (Rütten & Loenig Berlin 1968).

Short stories (selection)

  • Gabriel Lambert. (autobiographical appendix).
  • The story of the church robber Artifaille . Translated from the French and provided with an afterword by Ulrich Klappstein. JMB publishing house. ISBN 978-3-940970-23-7

To French cuisine

  • Gourmandises / delicacies from the encyclopedia of the kitchen. dtv, Munich 1969/1982 , ISBN 3-423-09070-7 .
  • In 2002 dtv published a selection: From the dictionary of the culinary arts (original title: Le Grand dictionnaire de cuisine 1871, translated by Joachim Schultz) dtv, Munich 2002, ISBN 978-3-423-20535-1 .
  • The great dictionary of culinary arts. (Original title: Le Grand dictionnaire de cuisine , translated by Veronika Baiculescu, edited by Veronika and Michael Baiculescu), Mandelbaum, Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-85476-196-1 ; New edition 2019, ISBN 978-3-85476-855-5 ( "The most unheard of and sparkling anecdotes about the cuisine of the peoples ... should find their way here and yet not scare off practitioners too much" ).


  • Guy Endore : King of Paris. Novel. (Original title: King of Paris , translated by Hans Joachim Störig), JG Cotta'sche Buchhandlung, Stuttgart 1956.
  • André Maurois : The three Dumas. (Original title: Les trois Dumas. Translated by Rodolfo Selke). Claassen, Hamburg 1959.
  • Hans-Jörg Neuschäfer : Popular novels in the 19th century. From Dumas to Zola. Fink, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-7705-1336-3 .
  • Michael Hohmann: Knowledge and seduction : narrative strategies and narrated history in the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Die Blaue Eule, Essen 1992, ISBN 3-89206-507-1 (= FORA , Volume 4, also a dissertation at the University of Mannheim 1992).
  • Günter Berger: Alexandre Dumas. dtv 31061, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-423-31061-8 .
  • Dominique Fernandez : The twelve muses of Alexandre Dumas. Essay (original title: Les douze muses d'Alexandre Dumas. Translated by Manfred Flügge), structure TB 8082, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-7466-8082-4 .
  • Ralf Nestmeyer : French poets and their homes. Insel-TB 3093, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-458-34793-3 .

Web links

Commons : Alexandre Dumas  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Alexandre Dumas  - Sources and full texts (French)
Wikisource: Alexandre Dumas père  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. See Tom Reiss : The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo , London 2012, z. BS 12 ff.
  2. Review of Deutschlandfunk [1]