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Alexandre Dumas | Biography

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Alexandre Dumas was born July 24, 1802, in Villers-Cotterêts, Aisne, France. The son of Marie-Louise Labouret, an innkeeper's daughter, and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a general in Napoleon's army, he became one of France's most popular authors. His father died when he was four years old, and his mother struggled to support the family. As a young man, Alexandre obtained employment in Paris with the Duke d'Orléans, who later became King Louis-Philippe. He began to write plays, and his work became so popular that he was able to support himself by writing. Soon he branched out into writing magazine articles and novels as well.

Dumas's mother told him stories about his father's daring military exploits, and these stories had a lasting effect on him. His father was born in Sainte Domingue (now Haiti), and was the son of a French nobleman and a black slave. An expert swordsman and a heroic leader known for his daring exploits, he became France's first black general at the age of 31. While on a mission, he was betrayed, poisoned, and imprisoned in a dungeon for two years. The larger-than-life personality and the adventures of Dumas's father are strongly reflected in the character of Edmond Dantès, protagonist of The Count of Monte Cristo, who confronts betrayal, poisoning, and imprisonment as he pursues his enemies and seeks justice.

Like many of the characters in his novels, Alexandre Dumas loved luxury and high living, and his extravagant lifestyle often led him into debt. To keep up with his bills he churned out novels, working with collaborators such as Auguste Maquet, a history professor who did research, outlined plots, and wrote drafts. Dumas, making good use of his playwriting expertise, wrote the dialogue, provided dramatic details, and wrote key chapters.

Dumas married an actress in 1840. He had many affairs and several illegitimate children, including a son named after him who also became a novelist and playwright. Dumas died in Normandy on December 5, 1870. He was buried three times. First, he was buried in Normandy. Two years later, his body was moved to the cemetery in his home town of Villers-Cotterêts. Finally, in 2002 his body was moved with great ceremony and fanfare to the Pantheon of Paris, where he rests along with the other giants of 19th-century French literature such as Émile Zola and Victor Hugo. French president Jacques Chirac said in his eulogy, "With you we dreamed. With you we still dream."

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