Friday, February 15, 2008

The History At Home | 15. Things My Dad Said That I Forgot

In keeping with Black music Friday during the 32 Days Of Black History Blogathon, I thought I would spend just a few more moments on Joseph de Bologne, Le Chevalier de Saint Georges. Simply because today I wish to remind everyone that The Three Musketeers were Black. Okay - I can't prove it...but...I can make you say, hmmm.

According to this on-line biography,

Members of the National Guard were asked to volunteer for active duty, so Saint-Georges enlisted on June 21, 1791 as an aide-de-camp to two generals. He soon received another call to duty. On September 1, 1791 a delegation of men of color, led by Julien Raimond of Saint-Domingue, asked the National Assembly to allow them to fight in defense of the Revolution and its egalitarian ideals. The next day, the Assembly approved a corps comprised mainly of men of color, with 800 infantry and 200 cavalry personnel. Saint-Georges was appointed to be its Colonel. Its official name was légion franche de cavalerie des Américains, but it soon became known to all as the légion Saint-George [Saint-George Legion]. The Colonel chose his friend and protege Alexandre Dumas as Lieutenant-Colonel. Like his Colonel, he was the son of a French aristocrat and an African slave. He later had a son, also named Alexandre Dumas, who won fame as author of The Three Musketeers.

I can only imagine young Alexandre Dumas growing up amongst the stories of these men-at-arms, these highly accomplished person who had lived such romantic interesting lives. Albeit, Dumas and Saint Georges eventually fell out with each other. But, the kind of comraderie they shared is the stuff which keeps an elder warm in the later years of life.

What I find interesting is that in school they never taught us two things - Dumas was Black and some of his lesser known work dealt explicitly with these themes. At home, I vaguely remember my dad saying something something in passing about Dumas being Black. Like many teenagers, with no visual proof, I dismissed it. And since The Three Musketeers" were not something about which I obsessed, I never gave them a second thought.

You may read more from the article below about Dumas and his life here:

Alexandre Dumas was born in Villes-Cotterêts. His grandfather was a French nobleman, who had settled in Santo Domingo (now part of Haiti); his paternal grandmother, Marie-Cessette, was an Afro-Caribbean, who had been a black slave in the French colony (now part of Haiti). Dumas's father was a general in Napoleon's army, who had fallen out of favor. After his death in 1806 the family lived in poverty. Dumas worked as a notary's clerk and went in 1823 to Paris to find work. Due to his elegant handwriting he secured a position with the Duc d'Orléans -- later King Louis Philippe. He also found his place in theater and as a publisher of some obscure magazines. An illegitimate son called Alexandre Dumas fils, whose mother, Marie-Catherine Labay, was a dressmaker, was born in 1824.
Called as "the king of Paris", Dumas earned fortunes and spent them right away on friends, art, and mistresses. Dumas died of a stroke on December 5, 1870, at Puys, near Dieppe. His son Alexandre Dumas fils, became a writer, dramatist, and moralist, who never accepted his father's lifestyle.
Dumas did not generally define himself as a black man, and there is not much evidence that he encountered overt racism during his life. However, his works were popular among the 19th-century African-Americans, partly because in The Count of Monte-Cristo, the falsely imprisoned Edmond Dantès, may be read as a parable of emancipation. In a shorter work, Georges (1843, George), Dumas examined the question of race and colonialism. The main character, a half-French mulatto, leaves Mauritius to be educated in France, and returns to avenge himself for the affronts he had suffered as a boy.

I am delighted however, that this lessor know work is now available. “Georges,” Modern Library, ISBN-10: 067964346X is finally back in print. One of my very favourite authors, Adrienne Kennedy says this about the book, “Georges is an illuminating, instructive, and enduring blueprint of racial conflict and strife, as compelling and relevant today as it was back in the 1840s, when it was first published.”

But, this striking title makes you put your finger to your mouth and say, “Hmmmm. As in Saint Georges? Georges? The way he signed his name during the French Revolution?

The book description reads:
“A major new translation of a stunning rediscovered novel by Alexandre Dumas, Georges is a classic swashbuckling adventure. Brilliantly translated by Tina A. Kover in lively, fluid prose, this is Dumas’s most daring work, in which his themes of intrigue and romance are illuminated by the issues of racial prejudice and the profound quest for identity.
Georges Munier is a sensitive boy growing up in the nineteenth century on the island of Mauritius. The son of a wealthy mulatto, Pierre Munier, Georges regularly sees how his father’s courage is tempered by a sense of inferiority before whites–and Georges vows that he will be different.
When Georges matures into a man committed to “moral superiority mixed with physical strength,” the stage is set for a conflict with the island’s rich and powerful plantation owner, Monsieur de Malmédie, and a forbidden romance with Sara, the beautiful woman engaged to Malmédie’s son.
Swordplay, a slave rebellion, a harrowing escape, and a vow of vengeance–Georges is unmistakably the work of the master who wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Yet it stands apart as the only book Dumas ever wrote that confronts the subject of race–a potent topic, since Dumas was of African ancestry himself.”

Sound familiar? What would have Saint-Georges life had been like, if he'd never gone to France. Who might he have been?

The book is on my wishlist, I’ll let you know how it is. In the meantime, if your school age children are being asked to read any of his other classics - please steer them towards this important - almost forgotten - piece of work.


Ferocious Kitty said...

Good morning, Christina! You've been tagged for the 3 Pieces of Writing Advice Meme:


tina said...

Cheers, Christina! I hope you'll enjoy GEORGES.