Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (later known as Alexandre Dumas) was born July 24, 1802 in Villers-Cotterêts in the department of Aisne, in Picardy, France. He had two older sisters, Marie-Alexandrine (born 1794) and Louise-Alexandrine (1796–1797) Their parents were Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret, the daughter of an innkeeper, and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas.
Thomas, who had purchased Marie-Louise and her children, sold them all except for Alexandre to return to France to claim a family estate and title. Alexandre was given his freedom and an education.
Alexandre acquired work with Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, as a writer, a career which led to early success. Decades later, after the election of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1851, Dumas fell from favour and left France for Belgium, where he stayed for several years, then moved to Russia for a few years before going to Italy. In 1861, he founded and published the newspaper L’Indépendent, which supported Italian unification, before returning to Paris in 1864.
Though married, in the tradition of Frenchmen of higher social class, Dumas had numerous affairs (allegedly as many as 40). He was known to have had at least four illegitimate children, although twentieth-century scholars believe it was seven. He acknowledged and assisted his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, to become a successful novelist and playwright.
English playwright Watts Phillips, who knew Dumas in his later life, described him as “the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill – once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself.
His works have been translated into many languages and he is one of the most widely read French authors. Many of his historical novels of adventure were originally published as serials, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. Since the early 20th century, his novels have been adapted into nearly 200 films. Prolific in several genres, Dumas began his career by writing plays, which were successfully produced from the first. He wrote numerous magazine articles and travel books; his published works totalled 100,000 pages. In the 1840s, Dumas founded the Théâtre Historique in Paris.
On 5 December 1870, Dumas died at the age of 68 of natural causes, possibly a heart attack. At his death in December 1870, Dumas was buried at his birthplace of Villers-Cotterêts in the department of Aisne. His death was overshadowed by the Franco-Prussian War. Changing literary fashions decreased his popularity. In the late twentieth century, scholars such as Reginald Hamel and Claude Schopp have caused a critical reappraisal and new appreciation of his art, as well as finding lost works.