Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reisssubmitted by Rob
While it may ring of cliché, truth is indeed stranger than fiction at times, and Tom Reiss’ most recent book, The Black Count, would seem to vividly support this notion. To many, if not most, the name Alexandre Dumas is instantly recognizable and conjures images of valiant fighters, desperate times, and hard-won victories. How many of these same persons, I wonder, would also be familiar with the familial lineage that bore Mr. Dumas to this world? Before The Black Count, I freely admit that I would have been counted among those completely unaware, and as a result of having read this fascinating book, I shall nevermore have the same thoughts and experience whilst eating a favorite sandwich of mine, the Monte Cristo, and I am the better for it.
Several of Mr. Dumas’ ancestors have fascinating stories to be sure, but it is the tale of his father, Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, that so surpasses the rest, that Mr. Dumas looked no further than the details of that life for the inspiration of his novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Thomas-Alexandre was the son born of a wayward French aristocrat, Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, and his African-born slave and mistress, Marie-Cessette Dumas, in Saint-Domingue (modern Haiti) on March 25, 1762, a time when that region supplied much of the world with its sugar; the Davy de la Pailleterie family even utilized a local island by the name of Monte Cristo as a smuggling point during the Seven Years’ War with Great Britain.
The real adventure begins in 1776 when Alexandre Antoine sold his son in order to pay for his passage for a return to France to claim the title of Marquis, as his two elder brothers had both died. Once in France, he bought back his son, sold his family’s estate, and the two moved to Paris in 1777, where Thomas-Alexandre was provided an upper-class education and life of luxury funded by his father.
This situation changed considerably when in February of 1786 Alexandre Antoine married, and the generosity previously showered upon his son was greatly lessened. Subsequently, on June 2, 1786, Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie entered into the Queen’s Dragoons as a private under the name of Alexandre Dumas, taking the surname of his mother. Over the next few years, he advanced quickly eventually attaining the rank Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Alps, where, at the age of thirty-two, he led an army of over fifty thousand to victory.
After further campaigns in Europe and drawing the attention and admiration of not only his own men and Napoleon, but those of the enemy, he accompanied the French on the bold and reckless invasion of Egypt, but it was during this time that his luck began to fade, something that coincided with his open and public criticism of Napoleon.
Through the excellent writing of Mr. Reiss, the captivating journey of Thomas-Alexandre is told, and it is through this story that certain aspects of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, which may not be terribly familiar to the reader, are conveyed, and the context and impact of this time may be better and more fully understood.