“Oh my god! My god! What have I done?” – General Dumas, 1806
This week, I’m continuing my mini-series about the three men named Alexandre Dumas: Alexandre Dumas the war hero; his son, Alexandre Dumas the author; and his grand-son, Alexandre Dumas the playwright. Together, all three men rose to the top of their professions, garnering tremendous fame and respect, all while struggling to overcome the racial boundaries of their times. As paintings and portraits were discreetly touched up, as biographies were edited, the world forgot an essential fact of the Dumas family: these great cultural titans were biracial men, descended from aristocrats and slaves, and their contemporaries never let them forget it.
This week, we’ll conclude the story of Alexandre Dumas, the general – having risen to the top of the French revolutionary army, no one could have foreseen the ways in which this 18th century Superman – and the nation of France itself – would collapse.
Episode 18: “The Three Alexandres, Part 2”
First and foremost, Tom Reiss’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, The Black Count.
John G. Gallaher, General Alexandre Dumas: Soldier of the French Revolution.
Laura Foner, “The Free People of Color in Louisiana and St. Domingue: A Comparative Portrait of Two Three-Caste Slave Societies”, Journal of Social History. (JSTOR)
Further Reading (Alexandre Dumas, duh):
Now that you know the story of General Dumas, it’s time to check out a copy of his son’s masterpiece The Count of Monte Cristo. If you’ve read it before, revisit the text with new perspective – how does this book reflect the life of General Dumas in his search for justice? for dignity? If you don’t have time (it’s a long read, but an easy one), the 2002 film adaptation showcases terrific storylines and terrific cheekbones (hay-o).
Also, in case you don’t normally check out the sources, I’m going to emphasize again just how terrific The Black Count is.