The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
Who was the real Count of Monte Cristo? In this extraordinary biography, Tom Reiss traces the almost unbelievable life of the man who inspired not only Monte Cristo, but all three of the Musketeers: the novelist’s own father.
Born in St Dominigue in 1762, the son of a French nobleman and a sugar plantation slave, General Alexandre Dumas did not have an auspicious start in life. Things got worse when his father sold him into slavery to pay his passage back to Normandy. But six months later, Dumas’ fortunes changed. His father bought him out of slavery and raised him in France, where Dumas went to the nation’s finest schools and fencing academies, and having enrolled in the army became known as France’s most handsome and strongest soldier. By the time Napoleon invaded Egypt, Dumas was his top cavalry commander.
But Napoleon was threatened by the physical prowess and popularity of this black nobleman. He engineered his disgrace and imprisonment, and to please the sugar growers reintroduced slavery. A brief flowering of freedom and equality was over and forgotten, but Dumas’ legacy would live on in the novels of the son who adored him.
Reiss tells this tale with magisterial authority. Long years of research have led him across Europe, the Caribbean and the Middle East in search of forgotten documents. He has journeyed through the Alps where Dumas scaled unscalable ice cliffs. He has walked the streets of Cairo where Dumas’ intrepid cavalry charge is still remembered. The result is an enthralling book that entertains, astounds and triumphantly resurrects a lost hero from the world’s first multiracial society.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2012: Generations have been enthralled by Alexandre Dumas’ characters, especially the wronged hero in The Count of Monte Cristo and the daring swordsmen in The Three Musketeers. Yet few realize that these memorable characters were inspired by Dumas’ father, General Alex Dumas, the son of a French count and a black Haitian slave. Tom Reiss brings the elder Dumas alive with previously unpublished correspondence and meticulous research, providing the context necessary to understand how exceptional his life as a mulatto general in a slave-owning empire truly was. From single-handedly holding a bridge in the Alps against 20 enemies to spending years held captive in a fortress, Alex Dumas is a fascinating character that not even his son’s vivid imagination could have dreamed up. —Malissa Kent