There was romance in Dumas's origins. He grew up in the country, the son of a general who fought under Napoleon in Egypt and Italy and whose own parents were a French marquis and a slave from Haiti. As a boy, Dumas's closest friends were local poachers and a gardener whom he once watched cut open a grass snake to liberate a frog. The world was full of magical possibilities, and, in his twenties, after moving to Paris and working as a clerk under the Duc d'Orleans, Dumas established himself, with Victor Hugo, as one of the leading Romantic playwrights.
In its scope and richness, Dumas's life bears comparison to those of his fictional heroes. Drawing on Dumas's memoirs and surviving correspondence, Professor Hemmings constructs a fascinating story, first published in 1979, of a writer whose novels continue to excite our imagination.
In its limitation to his years of youth, the Mémoires of Dumas resemble that equally delightful book, the long autobiographical fragment by George Sand. Both may contain much Dichtung as well as Wahrheit: at least we see the youth of the great novelists as they liked to see it themselves. The Mémoires, with Mes Bêtes, possess this advantage over most of the books, that the most crabbed critic cannot say that Dumas did not write them himself. In these works, certainly, he was unaided by Maquet or any other collaborator. They are all his own, and the essential point of note is that they display all the humour, the goodness of heart, the overflowing joy in life, which make the charm of the novels. Here, unmixed, unadulterated, we have that essence of Dumas with which he transfigured the tame "copy" drawn up by Maquet and others under his direction. He told them where to find their historical materials, he gave them the leading ideas of the plot, told them how to block out the chapters, and then he took these chapters and infused into them his own spirit, the spirit which, in its pure shape, pervades every page of the Mémoires. They demonstrate that, while he received mechanical aid from collaborators, took from their hands the dry bones of his romances, it was he who made the dry bones live. He is now d'Artagnan, now Athos, now Gorenflot, now Chicot,—all these and many other personages are mere aspects of the immortal, the creative Alexandre.