In a recent post Olivier talked about the General Dumas. This gave me the idea to return to an open space, a park-like square, called Place du Général Catroux (named after a general who joined Charles de Gaulle in London). On the place, you have the statues of Alexandre Dumas père (the father, the elder) and Alexandre Dumas fils (the son, the younger).
General Dumas was the father of Alexandre Dumas père and the grandfather of Alexandre Dumas fils. I will revert to them further down, but first I must say a few words about the life of General Thomas Alexandre Dumas, which is quite fantastic.
He was born a slave in Haiti, the son of a French nobleman and his slave servant Casette. When he was 8, his father returned to France and sold him, but later regretted it and made him come to France. In the meantime the mother had died. Thomas Alexandre got a reasonable education, enrolled the army. This is when he took the name Dumas (meaning “from the farm”, which was the nickname her mother had had). As we were then around 1789 and as the French Revolution left room for a non-nobleman to become an officer and thanks to his bravery he advanced quickly and was the first black man to become a general in the French Army in 1793. The Austrians nicknamed him “the Black Devil”. Slavery was abandoned in French colonies in 1794, but reinstated in 1802.
General Dumas participated in Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. On his way back he was captured, stayed in prison some three years and got seriously ill. He later refused to participate in an expedition to fight a rebellion at Haiti. That meant the end of his military career and he received no pension. He died in 1806 at the age of 44. His son Alexandre was then 4 years old.
Thanks to his wife, his son and grandson, General Dumas was later granted some recognition. He got a statue erected at this place which was however destroyed by the Nazi occupants during WW II.
So, we can find the statue of Alexandre Dumas père, author of - among tens of novels – “The Three Musketeers”, “The Count of Monte Cristo”... He had a rather complicated life also, but has at least received all the honours and is buried at the Pantheon (see previous post) together with other leading French personalities.
His (illegimate)son, Alexandre Dumas fils, has also his statue here. He’s buried at the Montmartre cemetery (see previous post).
Alexandre Dumas fils is more particularly known as the author of “The Lady of the Camelias” (“Camille”), inspired by his relationship with a courtesan, Marie Duplessis, who died young. Alexandre later adapted his novel to create a play which inspired Verdi’s opera “La Traviata”, first time performed at the Fenice theatre in Venice (see previous posts). Marie Duplessis has also her tomb at the Montmartre cemetery (see previous post).
To replace the destroyed statue of General Dumas, a new sculpture to his honour was installed at this place earlier this year (see also top picture). It symbolises the broken slave chains. So, now, it’s again the place of the “three Dumas”. (In the building you see behind lived Charles Gounod, composer of “Faust”, “Ave Maria”...)
There is a fourth statue on this place, of Sarah Bernhardt, who of course also played the role of “The Lady of the Camelias”. She lived for some time in the building you can see below (with some surprising decorations) in the neighbouring street, rue Fortuny (see previous post). Sarah is buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery (see previous post).
Another link between the personalities here is also that the statue of Alexandre Dumas père was created by Gusatve Doré, who had a love story with Sarah Bernhardt. Gustave was perhaps more known as an engraver and illustrator, including e.g. of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, “Tales of Mother Goose” (“Little Red Riding Hood”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Puss-in-Boats”... later retold by the Brothers Grimm).
Hopefully this picture can give you an idea of how the above personalities were linked to each other.
The Place du Général Catroux is surrounded – including the neighbour streets - by some magnificent mansions (hôtels particuliers). This includes more particularly maybe the “Hôtel Gaillard”, now belonging to the French National Bank (see previous post).