The Black Count

Love. Loss. Betrayal. Glory. And, most importantly, sword play — lots and lots of swordplay. The writer Alexandre’ Dumas is known for these themes in his writing. His classic novels The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and most especially The Count of Monte Cristo, feature all of these and more. Only recently did I find out that several characters and events he describes are heavily drawn from his own father’s life story. In the biography, The Black Count, Author Tom Reiss attempts to separate fact from fiction as he walks us through the life of Alex Dumas.

Alexandre’ Dumas was born to a French sugar plantation owner and his black slave/wife on the island of Saint-Domingue (later this island would become Haiti). The French laws at the time were such that Alex’s father could either claim him as a son, or deny him and Alex would become a slave like his mother. (Read more of my thoughts on this practice HERE.) I’m sure Alex felt much relief when his father took Alex home with him to France in his early teens. Turmoil filled France in the late 1700’s. History buffs among us will note that the French Revolution was just a few years off, along with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Strong, handsome, and full of equal doses of wisdom and bluster, Alex Dumas quickly rose through the ranks of the French military. In his adventures — and misadventures — we catch glimpses of the fictional Count of Monte Cristo, D’Artagnan the musketeer, and all of the other swashbuckling heroes his son would one day write about.

So, do I recommend this book? Yes, I do. It took me awhile to get through it — partly because I needed a spread sheet to keep everyone straight, and partly because a few places get a little dry. On the whole it is a fascinating look at Revolutionary France and an intriguing glimpse of the little known man who would inspire one of my favorite authors. Also, the fact that he is little known is a tragedy. Alex Dumas broke social norms left and right, he rose from slavery to becoming a French general, and he was an honorable and trustworthy man.  

Cautions and Caveats: Frank discussion about some battlefield horrors, as well as the brutality of slavery. There is also discussion about some of the immoral sexual practices of France in the 1700’s.