At the moment of his triumph the issue of his origins returned
with a vengeance. A journalist named Jacquot had written to Dumas
and failed to get a reply. The result was a bitter attack on the
"fiction factory". The terms are frankly racist - "Scratch
M. Dumas' hide and you will find the savage... He lunches on potatoes
taken burning hot from the ashes of the hearth and devours them
without removing the skins – a Negro!... To arrive at the
top he turned royalist in La Vendée, Bonapartist in 1830,
and republican in 1832. His works are only foundlings whose father
he has never been. But since he needs 200,000 francs a year... he
hires intellectual deserters and translators at wages that degrade
them to the condition of Negroes working under the lash of a mulatto!"
Jacqout was sentenced to six months in prison for libel. Dumas
made a new deal with his collaborators and remained as flamboyant
as ever. In 1846 he travelled to North Africa as a representative
of the French government. Apart from the other pleasures of the
trip, he found a vulture which he named Jugurtha, tamed it, and
brought it back to France, provoking an indignant debate in the
Chamber of Deputies about his extravagance at government expense.
Everyone was talking about Dumas, and to support his new eminence
he built an extravagant château near Saint-Germain which the
locals immediately dubbed Monte Cristo. In the following year Dumas
opened the Théâtre Historique. Even all this was not
enough, and after the Revolution of 1848 he decided to stand for
the National Assembly, but in spite of his popularity he found it
impossible to persuade any district to adopt him. At one meeting
he was greeted by cries of "The marquis! the aristocrat! the Negro!
If I had had enough money," he once remarked to a friend, "I should
have gone to Martinique to be elected from there"; and pointing
to his hair he added "This would be a representative's brevet...
but perhaps I shall send them a lock of my hair by post".
Guest-curated for the British Library by Mike Phillips
Next - 'The forgotten man'