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The coalition of tyrants will learn that they are loathed equally by men of all colors.
November 28, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Remember that what has once been done may be done again. Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were inspired by the life of his father, Alexandre. However, Alexandre Sr. was not just a handsome swashbuckler or a vengeful former prisoner. The boy who came from Haiti to France as “slave Alexandre” in 1776 had, by the age of 32, become commander-in-chief of the French revolutionary army in the Alps, eventually leading 53,000 troops to victory against formidably trained Austrian alpine forces.

Napoleon, much like Hitler with Rommel, eventually became distrustful and probably jealous of his talented, fiercely independent general. Dumas eventually found himself imprisoned in the then-Kingdom of Naples, where he is believed to have been poisoned. He died in poverty a few years after his release.

The first statue of General Dumas was torn down by Hitler’s Nazis, leaving his son’s novels as the best-known legacy of his spirit. He is recognized today as the first highly-ranked black officer in the armed forces of a predominantly white modern nation.

Tom Reiss’ new book, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, tells all. Via Harvard Magazine and 3quarksdaily.
posted by Currer Belfry (24 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
Napoleon ... dismantled France’s postracial experiment, imposing cruel race laws in France, reinstituting slavery in the colonies, and sending an invasion force to Saint-Domingue with orders to kill or capture any black who wore an officer’s uniform.

Wow. They managed to keep that out of the history books, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


While I knew the novelist Dumas was of mixed race, I'd never heard the story of his father. Thanks for sharing. The novel looks like a good read.
posted by shoesietart at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a huge fan of Dumas' work, so this is a must-buy for me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:20 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cool post! I didn't know anything about this stuff.

formidably trained Austrian alpine forces

Not to take anything away from General Dumas, but the Austrian army of the 1790s was considered to be formidable by the military experts of the day in the same way that the French army was widely considered to be formidable by the military experts of the late-1930s.

Wow. They managed to keep that out of the history books, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

I'm not sure anyone's ever written a history on the subject of the Haitian Revolution without mentioning that. It also appears regularly in the literature concerning Napoleon's rollback of the Revolutionary social program generally. It may not make it into the biopic movies or the great man hagiographies, but it's hardly a taboo or secret topic in history books on either side of the Atlantic.

Napoleon was an asshole. He just happened to be the most enlightened and progressive leader on a continent ruled by worse assholes than himself.
posted by snottydick at 10:25 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


He just happened to be the most enlightened and progressive leader on a continent ruled by worse assholes than himself.

Did the whole fighting-Napoleon-thing give British abolitionists a talking point? I know anti-slavery measures were snuck in as patriotic acts but was there any push to do the opposite of whatever the French were doing too?
posted by Phalene at 10:37 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The fact that France exorted Haiti into paying for its independence, which it had to do until well into the 20th century, has always seemed particularly galling to me.
posted by kmz at 10:59 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post, this is fascinating stuff.... ordered already for the holiday reading!
posted by djseafood at 11:15 AM on November 28, 2012


Great post!
posted by brundlefly at 11:47 AM on November 28, 2012


Whoa, I had no idea. Handsome swashbuckler, indeed.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:07 PM on November 28, 2012


A bit of wikipedia sleuthing reveals that not only did his grandson, Alexandre Dumas, fils, name his daughter Marie-Alexandrine-Henriette Dumas, but her son, one Alexandre Lippmann, did not just share the same first name but was also an Olympic epee fencer.
posted by ersatz at 12:16 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Black Count is Radio 4's book of the week at the moment - abridged, obviously, and the reading is wee a bit OTT, but I've been enjoying it so far.

Here it is on iPlayer (I think radio stuff works internationally - if not, sorry!)
posted by jack_mo at 12:57 PM on November 28, 2012


One fascinating thing in that story is that Thomas-Alexandre and his three siblings (his brother Adelphe and sisters Jeannette and Marie-Rose) were sold as slaves by their own father, under a clause called à réméré, i.e. with option of repurchase. But while his father did buy his favourite son back and took him to Paris, the fate of the three other siblings is unclear. They were left behind in Haiti and Thomas won a legal battle against his step-mother who eventually gave him "all property rights" on his own mother (who had died!), on his sisters and on their children. Adelphe has many descendants living today. These were strange times when members of the same family could own, sell and buy back each other...
posted by elgilito at 1:09 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to recommend the anime series Gankutsuo: The Count of Monté Cristo. It re-tells the story in a strange, but beautiful science-fictional take on 19th-Century France, and keeps much of the grandeur and intrigue of the original, while cutting it down just enough to stay dramatic and fresh. I really enjoyed it!
posted by Drexen at 1:15 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Did the whole fighting-Napoleon-thing give British abolitionists a talking point? I know anti-slavery measures were snuck in as patriotic acts but was there any push to do the opposite of whatever the French were doing too?

It was definitely one of the factors. Napoleon was trying to re-establish the Haitian colony as a stable source of revenue and as a base for projecting French strength in the Americas. The British banned the foreign slave trade in 1806, intending it as another front in the economic war with France. That bill helped to create the political space for the 1807 bill that banned the slave trade entirely.
posted by snottydick at 1:40 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that France exorted Haiti into paying for its independence, which it had to do until well into the 20th century, has always seemed particularly galling to me.
posted by kmz at 10:59 AM on November 28 [1 favorite +] [!]


You did that on purpose!
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:16 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Timely for me- I just finished The Count of Monte Cristo last night. Had to keep on plodding to finish. Bad. Really bad. Hope the real story is better.
posted by MtDewd at 4:02 PM on November 28, 2012


And now you know...the rest of the story.
posted by uosuaq at 5:08 PM on November 28, 2012


MtDewd, you insult the honor of this great book. Pistols at dawn!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:48 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


where he is believed to have been poisoned. He died in poverty a few years after his release.

He said so yes though there is no evidence and frankly no good motivation for a long drawn out slow poisoning. If someone wanted him dead there were better ways. He actually died of stomach cancer. A more reasonable explanation is he had stomach cancer before going into prison, but it was there under the stress and bad food that it began to spread and cause problems. Or, he contracted the cancer in prison from the bad food the same everyone was eating. Or, he was just sick in prison and used the opportunity to his advantage (which he did). He was a smart guy and creating a story of poisoning (treachery) was much more to his advantage. And the treachery was true, though of a different sort.
posted by stbalbach at 6:52 PM on November 28, 2012


Bad. Really bad. Hope the real story is better.

I gave up on it after he found the treasure etc.. that first part is fantastic, then he became rich and it was boring. I read Black Count and found it largely boring too! I learned a lot, just had long stretches of material that is forgettable and not important (the author wrote it following chains of letters often mundane military politics). The best stuff by Alexandre Dumas IMO no one reads, like the Celebrated Crimes series ("Massacres of the South"), a great way to learn about certain events in French history.
posted by stbalbach at 7:03 PM on November 28, 2012


If you ever want to spend a few days going "Goddammit, white people!" read a history of Haiti.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:54 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Time to lock computech away whileshe plots her elaboate revenge.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:43 PM on November 28, 2012


I have no idea about any of this. None. To be fair, I've never been interested in Dumas, but I have looked at Napoleon's tomb.

I enjoyed this post immensely. I know Napoleon was not so good as his tomb made out, but I had no idea.

If you ever want to spend a few days going "Goddammit, white people!" read a history of Haiti.

Oddly, there's a "Zombie Expert" from Haiti talking in my town this week. I had no idea.
posted by Mezentian at 2:44 AM on November 29, 2012


MtDewd, you insult the honor of this great book. Pistols at dawn!
You know, I am a crack shot, but I will allow you to shoot first and kill me.
Of course, I expect that in the morning, you will ride up at a full gallop and apologize, probably saying "Now, sir, if you think my apology sufficient, pray give me your hand. Next to the merit of infallibility which you appear to possess, I rank that of candidly acknowledging a fault. But this confession concerns me only. I acted well as a man, but you have acted better than man. An angel alone could have saved one of us from death—that angel came from heaven, if not to make us friends (which, alas, fatality renders impossible), at least to make us esteem each other."
posted by MtDewd at 6:22 PM on November 30, 2012


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