The Black Count is the eventful history of Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie (1762-1806), better known as Thomas-Alexandre (Alex) Dumas, hero of the French Revolutionary Wars and father of Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers).
The Black Count
The Black Count
Reviewed by Andre van Loon
Thomas-Alexandre Dumas was born in Saint-Dominique (today known as Haiti), the mixed race son of a French Marquis and sugar plantation slave. Father and son moved to France in 1780, where Dumas was schooled as a French aristocrat. After the French Revolution Dumas joined the army as a common soldier, intent on making his own way in the world. His sharp ascent to the rank of general was powered by his innate skill, bravery and ambition. It is one of the most remarkable aspects of the French Revolution that the army became briefly, intensely, meritocratic: many of its top leaders - Napoleon included - could not have expected to have started such illustrious careers without it. Dumas fought in Italy and Egypt with Napoleon, but incurred the latter’s disfavour for questioning the wisdom of the Egyptian campaign. Imprisoned for two years by the King of Naples on his attempted return to France, he never regained his previously high rank and died from cancer at age 43.
The Black Count is narrative history at its best, highly focused around colourful episodes and dynamic characters. Reiss is a knowledgeable guide; his extensive research into Dumas’ story shows through on every page. Some of the earlier chapters dealing with Dumas’ family background are slightly weaker, no doubt due to the sparse to non-existent documentation regarding, particularly, Dumas’ slave mother. Imagination can only go so far in filling in real-life biographical blanks. But overall the story is detailed and well-rounded. Reiss deserves praise for highlighting the often ignored success story of a mixed race man in revolutionary France.