Dumas, the Prodigious: A Profile of Alexandre Dumas

By Grenier, Cynthia | The World and I, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Dumas, the Prodigious: A Profile of Alexandre Dumas


Grenier, Cynthia, The World and I


WRITERS AND WRITING debuted in October 1997 with the promise of portraits of writers past and present. What better time to examine the creative life of author Alexander Dumas than when a new Hollywood version of The Man in the Iron Mask, with the latest teen heartrob cast in the central role, carries the 19th-century author's work to yet another generation.

The nineteenth century has surely given the world more prolific writers than any other, but none perhaps was to prove more productive than the grandson of a French marquis and a black slave: Alexander Dumas. His collected works run to something over three hundred titles, two of which--The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo--have been internationally beloved since their initial publication some 150 years ago.

Dumas' life was quite as extraordinary and outsized as his literary output. He was born on July 24, 1802, in Villers-Coterets, a small town to the north of Paris, to a general in Napoleon's army, also named Alexander, and the daughter of a local hotelkeeper. His father died when Dumas was only four. General Dumas, having fallen out of favor with Napoleon--not being sympathetic with Bonaparte's imperial ambitions--was dead at 40, leaving no pension or any other means of support for his family. (Napoleon was not of a forgiving nature.)

Dumas' formal education was patchy, to say the least. His mother, older sister, and a neighbor, widow of an army surgeon, taught him to read and write. Fortunately, as it would turn out, young Alexandre developed a very handsome, florid, and highly legible handwriting. An athletic youth, he spent more of his adolescence in the forest near his home, hunting and fishing, than at his books studying with a local abbe who ran a private school in the town.

When he was 16, Dumas acquired two friends who were to have a determining effect on his life. Vicomte Adolphe Ribbing de Leuven, the son of a Swedish nobleman recently moved to Villers-Cotterets, yearned to be a playwright and shared his ambitions and interests with young Dumas. At about the same time, Dumas also became friendly with a youthful officer of the hussards, Amedee de La Ponce, who was highly cultivated and fluent in both German and Italian. In no time, de La Ponce was teaching young Dumas Italian and encouraging him to read both the classics and more recent fiction. Dumas eagerly absorbed the learning and interests of his two new friends. Although he shortly became a clerk at a local notary, he devoted much of his spare time to working with de Leuven on a play.

Thanks to a recommendation from General Foy, a comrade in arms of his late father and now a deputy, and to his own splendid handwriting, Dumas found himself appointed as a clerk in the offices of the duc d'Orleans (who later became King Louis-Philippe) in Paris. Fortunately for him, his immediate superior, noting the young man's interest in writing, told him if he had literary ambitions, it was incumbent on him to start reading and rereading the giants of the past: Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and Moliere. After absorbing those great works, he should move on to the study of Euripedes, Seneca, Racine, Voltaire, Schiller, Terence, Plautus, and Aristophanes. If the novel interested him as a form, then the young man must read Homer, Virgil, Dante, gradually progressing to more modern authors such as Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, Byron, Victor Hugo. Daunted but not the least discouraged, Dumas undertook this ambitious reading program with all the energy and drive that were to characterize his entire life.

But at the same time, he pursued his interest in the theater by attending as many plays as he could and making friends--industriously networking as it were--in the Paris theater and social world. Tall--six and a half feet--blond, blue-eyed, and well built, Dumas had an exuberant charm and verve that aided him greatly in his social ventures. His personal charm also endeared him to a young washerwoman, who shared the same landing in the modest apartment building where he had found lodging. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dumas, the Prodigious: A Profile of Alexandre Dumas
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.