This week’s inspiring biography is that of an author with hundreds of novels, plays and even more poems under his belt. What comes to your mind when you hear the name Alexandre Dumas? “The three Musketeers”, “Count of Monte-Cristo” or “Queen Margot”? It depends which Alexandre Dumas you mean, because there were three of them.
The first one, the son of a Marquise and a black slave woman, became a general in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. Disgracefully discharged because of a dispute with Napoleon, and after being imprisoned, he was left poor and sick with a wife and two children. Despite his famous and enormous physical strength – which was why they had called him Hercules – he died of the consequences of his imprisonment combined with a hunting accident at a young age.
The second Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie is the one most people remember today and have read and he was not only the most prolific author of the three Dumas but it could be argued that he was the most prolific author of the 19th century. This is the one I’m talking about in this blog post – although Alexandre Dumas III and his novel “Camille” hold a special place in my book shelve. Reading “Alexandre Dumas – A Great Life in Brief” by Andre Maurois, in itself a wonderfully written book with excerpts of letters and historic facts, gave me some inspirational lessons as a writer, a mother, and human being in general.
“For Alexandre wish meant action”
What? Dumas had a day job? Oh yes, and it had been quite difficult for him to even get one in Paris, at the beginning. Growing up in very humble circumstances with his mother in the French country side at the beginning of the 19th century, he learned how to hunt but had no academic education. In fact, the skill that got him his job in Paris as a clerk in the service of the Duke d’Orléans, the future King Louis-Philippe, was his beautiful handwriting. It was a stable job with a high salary for him, at the time, and he stayed with it for many years. But there never seemed to be enough time to self-study the great dramas and works of the authors who had come before him, and to go to the theatre – much less write. Although he was promoted later on and received better tasks, it was essentially ferocious writing on endless amounts of paper and lack of sleep that got stuff done. Throughout the biography it seems as if he never let go of this habit – being able to write his way out of poverty whenever he needed to and even writing when he was on top of the world, living in a huge villa with many friends, lovers, and exotic pets around him. It was the habits he had formed at the beginning that remained even after he had quit his day job.
That, and the fact that he had paper and parchment in different colors, with each color assigned to poems, plays or novels.
“My finest work – dear child – is you.”
Although he had never married his son’s mother, Alexandre Dumas had acknowledged his son and loved him dearly – at one point calling him “his finest work” in one of his letters. Their relationship is described as one that was very close. So close that they often shared mistresses and spent a lot of time together, but the prodigal father involuntarily taught the son the lesson to be more careful with his money and not to live beyond his status.
Maybe this is how it always goes – a father’s life teaching his son a lesson or imprinting in him a sentiment without even realizing or intending it, just by example. Maybe that is why Alexandre Dumas II was drawn to historic themes of injustice, vengeance and triumph of the heroes over their enemies because his own father had been so mistreated by the military forces.
And maybe this is also why his son, Alexandre Dumas III, in return eventually distanced himself from the prodigal life style of his father and pursued something more stable, financially independent and secure.
This stuck with me and I am wondering what my son, being only one year old today, will think of his mother in the future. Will the biggest lessons I taught him be of a positive nature, like characteristics or beliefs he would aspire to have as well, or would I lead by negative example? I dare say that all parents – Dumas included – teach their children a mixture of both, but I would surely want it to be an overall positive mixture rather than a negative.
If I want my son to grow up to be a self-secure and loving man, who does not shy away from hard work but still dares to dream and pursue those dreams, I need to teach him to value these things and, hopefully, how to achieve them. Will I manage to teach him by example? I may never realize my dreams – but this eventually doesn’t matter. What matters is that I try and that I give him the environment and possibility to try as well, knowing that love isn’t bound to success.
“This was the case with Alexandre Dumas”
What I noticed throughout the biography was the description of his character. Self-assured to the point of arrogance, loving the pleasures of life and women, generous to his friends and everyone else, never holding a grudge, very good at earning money but very bad at keeping it – this description never changes up until the day he died. Many people – myself included – tend to change their views on life and/or behavior after they’ve been disappointed or treated unjustly. Not this man. He stayed true to his core values and “original” character and if he was in trouble or needed money, he just wrote a dozen other novels and he was back in the game.
Now, not everyone has this wonderful ability that never fails us. And all things considered, I have learned so many positive and re-assuring lessons and changed myself and my beliefs (about myself) to the better in the past fifteen years. But there is still a truth in there that’s worth considering. Hardship in life can lead to bitterness and seclusion, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes the best vengeance – in true Dumas fashion – is to be the hero of the story who “came surging up again after the most dreadful downfalls, victoriously wielding swords against a host of enemies and promptly leaping in through windows after being thrown out of doors.”