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                   main index    © Jeff Matthews   entry June 2008                     

Everything is related to Naples          
Number 7 in this series. Link to all items here.


Artos, Portos, the Château d'If, Tom, Jerry,
A
. Dumas and Naples


Insert:
Tom and Nibbles in a scene from MGM's
The Two Mouseketeers,
the 1952 animated
cartoon directed by Hanna & Barbera.

The New York Times reported on October 9, 1860, that “…All travelers, and particularly all lovers of archaeological researches, will be rejoiced to learn that Pompeii and Herculaneum have fallen into the hands of Alexander Dumas, and that he has the authority to reveal their beauties to the world.” (Late 1860 was a turbulent time for Naples; Garibaldi had taken the city—and kingdom—in September, and the final battle against the Bourbons at the siege of Gaeta would begin in November.) Indeed, Dumas had been awarded the cultural plum of Director of Antiquities—including the directorship of the National Museum—by his good friend, Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Wait—which Dumas are we talking about here? Answer: Alexandre Dumas, père (French for "father"—thus, Sr. or “the elder”) (1802-1870), the author of such popular historical adventure novels as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, as well as hundreds of other novels, non-fiction books, and magazine articles. His novels are still very popular, and he is one of the most widely read French writers of all time.*

(*Père is to be distinguished from his son, Alexandre Dumas, fils, the popular playwright, famous for, among other works, the 1848 novel, La dame aux camélias (Camille or The Lady of the Camellias). Verdi's opera, La Traviata, with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, was based on that novel.)

The elder Dumas had quite an interest in Naples. He first visited the city and kingdom in 1835. He came in on a false passport under the name of "Guichard" in order to avoid recognition; not only was he already a well-known author, but he was considered by the Bourbon rulers of Naples somewhat of a subversive because of his participation in 1830 in the revolution that had overthrown Bourbon cousin Charles X from the throne of France. Dumas’ state of incognito in Naples lasted about two weeks before someone ratted him out. He was expelled.

Dumas was certainly one of Europe’s great graphomaniacs. His two weeks in Naples sufficed (although he may have had help from his famous team of researchers and ghost writers) to crank out in serial form in France between 1841-44 a 500-page book about Naples called Le Corricolo. The corricolo, explains Dumas in the introduction, is similar to the English “Tilbury,” a light, open two-wheeled carriage drawn by one horse and able to carry two persons, but in Naples it’s usually 15 persons and this is just the way to get around and see all the sights—good fun! Indeed, The Corricolo was a delightful hodge-podge of the sights of Naples plus a good dose of tradition, culture and recent political history (such as the section dedicated to the late king, Ferdinand IV, the Re Nasone). Before The Corricolo came out, Dumas had already published a multi-volume series on 800 (sic—he liked to write) famous crimes in history, incorporating Naples’ own and infamous Joan I from the 1300s.


      Alexandre Dumas, père

Dumas’ dislike for Bourbon monarchies (whether French or the Neapolitan version on whom he blamed the death of his father) crops up much later in 1860. By this time, Dumas was outrageously famous and decided to put his outrageous fame at the disposal of Mr. Swashbuckle, himself, Giuseppe Garibaldi, a character whom Dumas would have been forced to invent for one of his many adventure novels had he (Dumas) not already met him (Garibaldi) and found out that such persons really do exist. Dumas gathered up one of his many young lady friends and sailed his yacht, the Emma, down to Sicily to join Garibaldi’s famous One Thousand on their way to oust the Bourbons of Naples and unite Italy. By then, Dumas was 58 years old and out-girthed (photo), yea, even the heftiest swashbuckle in the armory, but he and Garibaldi hit it off, so Dumas sailed back to Marseilles to pick up weapons for Garibaldi. He became a gun-runner for the invasion! That invasion was successful and Dumas was given his plush job at the museum and a beautiful home, an ex-royal casina (small house) in the Chiatamone section of Naples. (That building was torn down in 1921—amid protest, by the way—but a street near the Castel dell’Ovo is still called via Alessandro Dumas)

Dumas started his own newspaper in Naples called L’independente. (Benedetto Croce later called the journal “more Garibaldian than Garibaldi.”) Interestingly, Dumas had been in favor of an Italian confederation of sorts between north and south and spoke out against the outright annexation of the Kingdom of Naples by the north. This prompted some hostile reaction in Naples, but the paper survived and even did well for a while.

During this, his second stay in Naples, Dumas published The Memoirs of Garibaldi as well as his own Sanfelice, a novel based on the Neapolitan Republic of 1799. He also wrote The Bourbons of Naples, a history of the deposed dynasty in which Dumas claims to avail himself of recently discovered documents in the archives of Naples. As part of his cultural duties, Dumas then took Garibaldi up on the challenge of writing a new work describing the history, archaeology and culture of Naples and environs. Thus appeared Naples et ses provinces, serialized first in France in Le Monde in 1861; it was published two years later in serial form in Dumas’ own L’independente in Naples. At the same time, he squeezed in his Travel Impression: in Russia, based on the two years he had spent there in the late 1850s. The book contains a splendid tribute to Pushkin.

Dumas left Naples in 1864 and died in France in 1870. In 2002, his remains were removed from the cemetery in his home town of Villers-Cotterêts in northern France to the Panthéon in Paris to rest with the likes of Voltaire and Victor Hugo. It took a while for Dumas to receive that honor, some say, because of racial discrimination; Dumas' paternal grandmother, Marie-Cesette Dumas, was an Afro-Caribbean and had been a slave in Haiti. (Thus the name Dumas is a matronymic. A. Dumas' grandfather was Alexandre-Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie—a name as noble as it was long. He let his son, Thomas-Alexander (our Dumas' father) enlist in the French army on the condition that he not use the real family name. This son became a general in the army of Napoleon, and his son, our hero, was born on July 24—the fifth of Thermidor in the tenth year of the Republic—as "Alexander Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie.")

In speaking of Pushkin, Dumas might well have been writing his own epitaph: "A poet has not only two souls but two mothers. He goes down to one in the tomb, as Pushkin did; but one watches over his grave with jealous care, and desires to know how her son died; and the name of this second mother is POSTERITY."


Bibliography:

  • di Somma del Colle, Caro (2006). Album della Fine di un Regno, Naples, Electa.
  • Dumas, Alexandre (1950 repr. of 1841 orig.). Il Corricolo, Naples, Colonnese.
  • Dumas, Alexandre (1970 repr. of 1862 orig.). I Borboni di Napoli, Naples, Mario Miliano.
  • Lucas-Dubreton, Jean (1928). The Fourth Musketeer, trans. by Maida Castelhun Darnton, New York: Coward-McCann.



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