What are the best novels by Alexandre Dumas

A writer's life like an adventure novel

On the 150th anniversary of the death of Alexandre Dumas the Elder

By Manfred Orlick

Discussed books / references

"One for all - all for one" - with this motto, the heroes of Alexandre Dumas plunged into the fray. He was one of the most successful, popular and productive writers of his time, the adventure storyteller of the 19th century. He didn't just invent The three musketeers but also the fairytale campaign of revenge Counts of Monte Christo. Generations of readers have grown up with his coat-and-sword stories - often in abridged editions for young people - and they have been made into films countless times.

When Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was born on July 24, 1802 in Villers-Cotterêts in the French department of Aisne, he was the son of the first dark-skinned general of the French army and the daughter of an innkeeper. The grandfather was a wealthy plantation owner on Saint Domingue (now Haiti) and had four children with the slave Marie-Césette. Throughout his life, Alexandre Dumas was often discriminated against because of his Creole origin. Even before he was with The three musketeers and The earl of Monte Christo became known far beyond France, he had therefore in 1843 in the early novel Georges dealt with colonialism and racism.

Dumas ‘father died in 1806, so little Alexandre received no proper schooling. At the age of fourteen he was already working as a clerk in a notary's office, where he discovered his talent as a writer at an early age. In addition there was his pronounced thirst for education. At twenty he left the province and went to Paris, where he received a post in the office of the Duke of Orléans, who later became the “citizen king” Louis-Philippe. In addition, Dumas tried his hand at playwright. Initially with little success, but at the premiere of his historical drama Henry III. and his court (1829) there was thunderous applause. The literary ambition of the little clerk Dumas received a new impetus. Numerous other successful pieces followed, often in collaboration with other authors, but which have now been forgotten even in France.

During the July Revolution of 1830, Dumas fought on the Paris barricades: According to his own account, he even became the savior of the revolution, as he allegedly managed with a hussar stroke to get gunpowder from Soissons, a hundred kilometers away. In addition to his dramatic works, Dumas turned to prose from 1835. First he wrote numerous travel pictures, which were printed by the newspapers as "picturesque and poetic travel guides".

The events of the failed revolution caused Dumas to study French history intensively, which led him to the then fashionable genre of historical stories and novels. The daily newspapers made tremendous efforts to expand their readership. The best way to achieve this was with the feature section, which became the mainspring of the serialized novel. Dumas mastered the technique of the feature pages like no other; as a playwright, his sense of the dramatic came in handy here. He also knew how to captivate his readers with effective dialogues and dazzling local flavor, and with tense moments at the end of the chapter he made them curious about the next issue of the newspaper. Pauline and Le Capitaine Paul (both 1838) were his first historical novels, which were very well received by the reading public.

Dumas, already forty years old and now a literary star, had not yet written a single line of the novels that would later establish his world fame. That changed fundamentally over the next decade. He won the historian Auguste Maquet (1813–1888) as a reliable and well-read employee for his novel productions. The two complemented each other perfectly. For Dumas, overflowing with new ideas, Maquet was a brilliant supplier with his research in archives and libraries. Ten glorious years began, in which the Dumas-Maquet team broke all records and reached a climax that was unique in the history of literature. The feature pages of several large newspapers were literally hogged down with novels in several volumes before the stories were printed as books and some of them were then adapted for the stage.

Dumas wanted to introduce his audience to French history in a fun way. He cared little about historical facts, rather he let his imagination run wild. New texts had to be produced every day. That could only be done with a whole team of anonymous employees. An enormous series production that amounted to a literary assembly line work. The three musketeerse, The earl of Monte Christo, Twenty years after that, Queen Margot,The man in the iron mask or The queen's collar were only the best-known works of this grandiose creative period, to which we still owe the most gripping novels in world literature. Sometimes Dumas worked on several novels at the same time. In 1845/46 he published no fewer than sixty books. The extremely fruitful collaboration ended in 1851 with a bitter and longstanding dispute over the authorship of the works. Maquet was finally awarded a financial stake of 20 percent in court, but was not named as an author.

But not only the novels were enriched with adventures, intrigues, love affairs or deadly duels, Dumas ‘life was also like a true adventure. He dueled several times, supported the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi and had several affairs. Despite his huge income, his extravagant lifestyle kept getting into financial hardship. He always had a crowd of guests around him and he was always generous towards the women. His “Théâtre Historique”, with which he wanted to realize his dream of his own stage, finally drove into financial ruin. On the run from his creditors, Dumas often traveled across Europe. He then marketed the stays as travel reports. He also published his eventful life in multi-volume memoirs and ventured into a project that as a gourmet had long been in mind: The greatDictionary of culinary arts, which only appeared posthumously. In the last years of his life, Dumas lived with his son Alexandre (Dumas the younger and author of the famous Lady of the Camellias). He died in Puys on December 5, 1870, deeply in debt. Due to the chaos of the war, his death was barely noticed by the public.

In 2002, on his 200th birthday, his bones were transferred to the Paris Pantheon. A belated appreciation, which he was always denied during his lifetime, and probably also a political symbol against racism in our day and age. Since then, a broad reappraisal and rediscovery of the writer has begun, not only in France. Dumas ‘work is estimated at around 500 to 600 volumes, populated with around 37,000 fictional characters. He is said to have once said that he never read his own works in full. He concentrated on writing, leaving reading largely to his audience.

For this year's 150th anniversary of his death, cultural scientist Ralf Junkerjürgen has with him Alexandre Dumas - The fourth musketeer presented a remarkable biography, which connects the most important stages of life with the literary work. It illuminates the path from “typist to poet”, the conquest of the theater stage and finally with the turn to the historical novel to the “first superstar” of the emerging mass public. The close interlinking of literature, society and history in the middle of the 19th century is also shown. Friends of many well-known personalities, Dumas was at the center of society and thus directly experienced the upheavals of his time. The eventful life of his father, who made a steep career after the revolution, is also briefly outlined. Junker Jurgen Dumas ‘memoirs, his correspondence and travel reports as well as numerous testimonies from the press and companions served as sources. The subtitle of the biography may be a bit surprising, since there are already four musketeers in the novel with d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, but the book title Three Musketeers went back to a suggestion by the newspaper publisher. Dumas finally agreed, as absurd titles promised greater sales success. The biography of Junkerjürgen also closes a gap in the German-speaking area, because since 2002 (Günter Berger: Alexandre Dumas, dtv) an appreciation was sorely missed.

Anaconda Verlag has an anniversary cassette with the three novels of the MusketeersSeries appeared. On 2000 pages you can immerse yourself in the numerous adventures of the three inseparable friends Athos, Porthos and Aramis. They have to fight numerous fencing duels and battles together with the young hottie d’Artagnan; The aim is to thwart the murderous intrigues of the power-obsessed Cardinal Richelieu and the unscrupulous Lady de Winter in order to save the Queen's honor. The trilogy ends with the tragic death of the daredevil d’Artagnan shortly after the King appointed him Marshal of France.

"Strange," said d'Artagnan, "I neither see the king's flag on the walls, nor do I hear the shame strike."
Then he picked up the box. It was his, he had deserved it.
He was already reaching out to her when a bullet coming from the fortress struck d'Artagnan in the middle of the chest; he collapsed as the lily stick fell from the box and rolled to the floor.
D’Artagnan tried to straighten up. A startled outcry had risen from the ranks of the officers. The marshal was covered in blood. The pallor of death was already bleaching his features.
Propped up on one arm, he looked over at the fortress, and now he saw the white banner. His ear, already half deaf to the sounds of life, could still hear the beat of the drums proclaiming victory.
He clasped his hand around the marshal's baton and sank back, mumbling a few words none of his soldiers understood. “Athos, Porthos, goodbye! Aramis, goodbye! "

Porthos and Athos had died before d'Artagnan. Dumas is said to have cried when he wrote her death on paper. Only Aramis, meanwhile the Spanish ambassador, survived. The jewelry edition (a reprint by Rütten & Loening, 1955 and 1971, or Aufbau Taschenbuch Verlag 1998) is supplemented by an extensive afterword Alexandre Dumas - writer and adventurer by Christine Wolter.

The dtv paperback edition of the Three Musketeers in a revision by the translator Michaela Meßner, which also enriches the Dumas anniversary. As early as 2011, an unabridged edition (almost 1500 pages) of The earl of Monte Christowhich has seen six editions in the past few years. The young seaman Edmond Dantès is arrested on the day of his wedding. Falsely accused of loyalty to Napoleon (the year is 1815), he was incarcerated for ten years on the infamous prison island Île d‘If. After an adventurous escape and in possession of an enormous treasure, he takes revenge on his adversaries for injustice suffered:

Farewell, goodness, philanthropy, gratitude ... farewell, all of you feelings that make the heart open! I took the place of Providence to reward the good ... Now may the God of vengeance relinquish his office to me to punish the wicked!

In his afterword Money, money, money ... - Alexandre Dumas ’novel" The Count of Monte Christo "(1844/1846) The Germanist Thomas Zirnbauer shed light on the story of how the novel came about, the historical background and its numerous adaptations for theater, film and television.

There is nothing to suggest that Dumas will be forgotten anytime soon. Figures like d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis or the Count of Monte Christo are known to everyone to this day and will continue to delight generations of readers they are seemingly immortal.

Ralf Junkerjürgen: Alexandre Dumas. The fourth musketeer.
wbg Theiss, Darmstadt 2020.
271 pages, EUR 28.00.
ISBN-13: 9783806241273

More reviews and information about the book

Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers / Twenty Years Later / Man in the Iron Mask - 10 Years Later. With an afterword by Christine Wolter.
Translated from the French by Herbert Bräuning / Christine Hoeppener / Edmund Th. Kauer (edited by Susanne Döbert).
Anaconda Verlag, Cologne 2020.
Box with three volumes. 2000 pages, 19.95 EUR.
ISBN-13: 9783730609156

More reviews and information about the book

Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers.
With an afterword by Joachim Schultz.
Translated from the French by A. Zoller (revised by Michaela Meßner).
Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 2020.
752 pages, EUR 13.90.
ISBN-13: 9783423147651

More reviews and information about the book