If this had simply been the biography of a man described by contemporaries as the greatest soldier and general of his era — the French Revolution and early Republic — it would have been enough. If it had simply been the biography of the father of one of Europe’s greatest novelists (Alexandre Dumas pere), it would have been enough. If it had simply been the biography of the son of a marquis and a slave, it would have been enough. If it has simply been the biography of a “colored” man in late 18th century/early 19th century France, it would have been enough. If this had been the biography of what it was like to be the pampered son of a French aristocrat (whose father had sold his mother and siblings to raise funds), it would have been enough. If it had been the biography of one general’s experience through the early French Republic and Napoleon’s folly expeditions, it would have been enough. If it had been the biography of a man kept (and possibly poisoned) in a literal dungeon for two years, it would have been enough. If it had been the story of a bereft son’s absolute devotion to the father he lost — but remembered — at the age of four, it would have been enough.
If it had been the story of French slavery; the complicated interracial social history of Saint-Domingue (Haiti); the codified laws around blacks in France and French dominions; the complete emancipation of enslaved and freed French blacks; the French Revolution; the several different governments and policies that followed; the rise of and betrayals of Napoleon; his treacherous treatment of French blacks; the return of slavery; the failed but deadly attempt to retake Haiti... It would have been enough.
(Contemporary Portrait of General Dumas)
While reading this book, all I wanted to do was stop people to tell them about what I was reading. “Did you know that freed bi-racial (“colored”) people in some parts of Saint-Domingue often surpassed their white neighbors economically and socially (also on the backs of plantation slaves)? Did you know that Europes greatest fencer (who also happened to be one of France’s best violinists and composers), Chevalier de Saint-George, was black? That the French Republic was the first to emancipate French slaves and offer equal opportunities to black citizens? That the very young son of “King Henri of Haiti”, who had been sent to study at an integrated school in Paris, was mercilessly tossed into an orphanage where he died at age 12 following Napoleon’s complete rollback of rights for French blacks?”
And that’s even before we get to the main subject of the book, who was the inspiration for his son’s novels, including The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Christo. In this case, truth is far more incredible than fiction.
(Photo of the novelist Alexandre Dumas.)
In short, read this book.