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AT the beginning of the last quarter of the nineteenth century three men, Augier, Dumas the younger, and Victorien Sardou were considered the leaders of dramatic activity in France. The influence of Strindberg and Ibsen, never at any time so powerful in France as elsewhere in Europe, had not yet even begun to make itself felt. Alexandre Dumas, son of the exuberant creator of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, was the author of a dozen or more important plays which had appeared between 1850 and 1875. La dame aux camélias, a dramatization of a novel by the young Dumas, had to wait three years for a stage performance, which was finally obtained in 1852. Its immediate success, not only in France but in other parts of Europe and in America, was one more indication that the theater-going public was eager to sentimentalize over the sorrows of the professional light sister. Hugo's Marion Delorme had been one of the earliest presentations of this class, as Nana, Zaza, Marguerite Gautier and others were among the later types. La dame aux camélias, while essentially vulgar and melodramatic, yet bears marks of imaginative and theatrical power.

Dumas' second play, Diane de Lys, had the same subject as the first; while the third and in many respects the best of all his plays, Le Demi-Monde, varied the theme slightly by depicting the attempts of a clever but socially discredited woman to reestablish herself in respectable society. It is regarded by certain critics and playwrights as the model nineteenth century comedy. Though his skill in construction sometimes failed him, yet Dumas always had a brilliant, diamond-like edge. He created genuine comic characters, also charming young women of the world, though many of his dramas have thoroughly disagreeable subjects. In his later works he regarded himself as a moral teacher, meanwhile asserting that the stage, by its very nature, is immoral. His theories, as stated in his prefaces and dramatic essays, seem contradictory and puzzling; and his obsession with sex amounted almost to mania. In eleven plays, written before 1880, the subject of illicit love was the theme. All his genius, undoubtedly of a marked character, was turned towards the contemplation and analysis of seduction, adultery, and the passions which oftenest conflict with honor and faithfulness.

This article was originally published in A Short History of the Drama. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1927. pp. 299-300.


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