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Dreams of his father

It was not an auspicious start. Dumas was a " batarde " - the product of a relationship between his aristocratic French father, Marquis Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, and a freed slave, Marie-Cesette Dumas.

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Her surname, meaning "of the farm", was bestowed on her because managing a sugar plantation was her occupation as a freewoman. Reiss is excellent on the colonial attitudes to race exemplified by Alex's father, who, after Marie-Cesette died when the boy was 12, though proud of his strapping son, sold him into slavery to pay for his passage back to Normandy.

After six months of Alex's servitude, the marquis purchased his freedom and duly shipped him to France, to commence an education befitting a gentleman.

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Alex proved adept at the skills expected of a young French aristocrat: especially fencing and horsemanship. His father remarried, however, and, possibly ashamed of his mulatto son, cut Alex off without a centime. Undaunted, the young man joined the army. During the French revolution he fought alongside other black men in a unit called the African Legion. Dumas's military abilities were quickly recognised and he rose through the ranks from corporal to general in a little over two years, commanding a division of 53, soldiers when he was just He fought in the many wars waged against revolutionary France and captured a key fortress in the Alps from the Austrians, who dubbed him Der schwarze Teufel the "Black Devil" after he scaled an ice-covered rock wall in boots he had fitted with crampons.

In his speech President Chirac said:.

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A few of these works:. Although best known now as a novelist, Dumas first earned fame as a dramatist. It had fifty performances over the next year, extraordinary at the time. Other hits followed.

Marie Cesette

Dumas wrote many more plays and dramatized several of his own novels. Dumas was also a prolific writer of non-fiction.

He wrote journal articles on politics and culture, and books on French history. It is a combination of encyclopedia and cookbook. Dumas was both a gourmet and an expert cook.

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