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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 10:22 GMT
France remembers 'forgotten' Dumas
Residents of Dumas' home town pay homage before the Paris move
Residents of Dumas' home town pay homage before the Paris move

France is holding three days of tributes to author Alexandre Dumas before reinterring his remains in Le Pantheon, Paris - the resting-place of French literary heros.

On Saturday, Dumas' coffin will be transported through the streets accompanied by an elaborate parade. He will then be laid to rest alongside other French literary greats such as Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.

The ceremony - the culmination of three days of tribute-paying and begun in Dumas' home town Villers-Cotteręts - was authorised by French President Jacques Chirac, after lobbying from the Society of the Friends of Dumas.

And, in the view of many, the honour comes not a moment too soon.

Dumas titles
The Three Musketeers
The Count of Montecristo
The Man in the Iron Mask
The Viscount of Bragelonne
The Lady of Monsoreau
Queen Margot

Dumas, the creator of works such as The Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo, is one of France's most popular novelists to date.

But his contribution to French literary history has been neglected. When Dumas died in the winter of 1870, his passing was almost ignored.

Even his great friend Victor Hugo remarked with consternation that he learnt about the loss of Dumas in a German newspaper.

The pomp and circumstance with which France has now decided to right the wrong - in the 200th anniversary year of Dumas' birth - is typical of the reverence the country accords to its literary past.

However, paradoxically, this reverence is also the very reason why Dumas' importance was neglected.


Dumas, the grandson of a Haitian slave, was a true man of the people. He had an insatiable love of life and his literary crime was that his novels were just too popular.

Deemed too accessible, Dumas' swashbuckling historical novels were shunned by academics for lacking depth.

But, as his stories continue to delight well into the 21st Century, the French have conceded that Dumas was truly one of their great talents.

The Pantheon in Paris
The Pantheon is one of the most historic monuments in Paris

He was also one of France's most prolific writers and his library of work included a fair share of flops.

But these have been forgotten under the weight of his successes.

Apart from The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, the best known include The Man in the Iron Mask, Queen Margot, The Viscount of Bragelonne and The Lady of Monsoreau.

Dumas' literary background was steeped in a love of the theatre. As such, perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, his stories are rich with illustrative tableaux, romance and action scenes.

His enthusiasm and love of fantasy went against the literary trends of his time, as did his apparent disregard for accurate historical fact - another reason why academia brushed him off.

Undeterred by his critics, Dumas would retort that he used history only as a "peg" for his stories.


As well as a writer of fiction, Dumas produced memoirs, travelogues and even recipes.

These works are now accorded significant historical importance, recognised as having been written by a man in touch with the cultural and political upheavals of his time.

Actor Michael York and his wife
Michael York starred in one version of The Three Musketeers

The huge and continued popularity of Dumas' works has also made him the most widely read and translated French author.

As a result, Dumas is credited with spreading knowledge of and interest in France.

And Dumas' contribution to cinema, television and cartoons is plain to see.

There are currently more than 300 different film versions of The Count of Montecristo and The Three Musketeers.

And when his story The Chevalier of Maison-Rouge was published in cartoon form recently in a French paper, impatient Dumas fans queued around the block.

Dumas' stories exalted ideals such as friendship, loyalty and honour, characterised by the Musketeers' legendary catchphrase: "All for one and one for all."

And these are also now considered among the qualities of the greatest Republicans.

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