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ALEXANDER DUMAS, the Younger, ranks as one of the three leading French dramatists of the last quarter of the 19th century. Although the theme of illicit love has always played an important part on the French stage, Dumas' obsession with the subject amounted almost to a mania. Eleven plays written before 1880 all have illicit love as the motif. Yet Dumas liked to regard himself as a moralist and teacher, a position that seems somewhat contradictory.
Perhaps a psychiatrist would find in the fact that he, like his father, was an illegitimate child, an explanation of his harping so constantly on the single theme. The torment of his school days when he was constantly taunted with his illegitimacy succeeded to a Bohemian comradeship with the father, who had publicly acknowledged his son as soon as his own literary reputation was sufficiently established to bring in a dependable income. This life eventually landed Dumas, fils, in debt to the tune of 50,000 francs. Finally, when only his pen stood between himself and disgrace, he brought forth in 1948 the famous Lady of the Camellias (or Camille), first as a novel, then in a dramatic version. This drama, however, had to wait three years before it was finally produced in 1852. It took for its subject the sorrows of "the professional light sister," a type of play of which hugo’s Marian Delorme was one of the earliest representatives. Its immediate and enthusiastic reception seemed to indicate that the public was ready and waiting to sympathize with that particular type of heroine.
Dumas' second play, Diana de Lys, had the same subject as the first. His third play, Le Demi-monde, which appeared in 1855, is rated as the best of all his dramatic works. Some critics go so far as to regard it as the model of 19th century comedy. This play varies the theme of the first two somewhat by depicting the attempts of a clever but socially discredited woman to reestablish herself in respectable society.
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