Dumas’s Black Dad Inspired ’Monte Cristo’: Lewis Lapham

'The Black Count'
"The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo" is written by Tom Reiss. Source: Crown via Bloomberg

In writing action-packed novels like “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers,” Alexandre Dumas was inspired by the exploits of his father.

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Born in 1762 in Saint-Domingue, now Haiti, to Antoine, a renegade French nobleman, and Marie-Cessette, his black slave mistress, Thomas-Alexandre spent a carefree childhood riding wild horses and playing with his three mixed-race siblings on pristine beaches.

When Antoine decided to go back to France and claim his titles and property, he sold Marie-Cessette and three of his children to a man from Nantes.

To pay for his passage, Antoine also sold Thomas-Alexandre to a Captain Langlois in Port au Prince, but with the provision that he could be bought back.

Redeemed, Thomas-Alexandre arrived at Le Havre on Aug. 30, 1776. His father dressed him in silk and brocade, and making sure he was instructed in swordsmanship, history, classics, science, music and dance, turned him into a fashionable young aristocrat.

I spoke with Tom Reiss, author of “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo,” on the following topics:

1. Son of Renegade Noble

2. Sold Into Slavery

3. Revolutionary Hero

4. Clashes with Napoleon

5. Search for Justice

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

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