| Jacques Chirac bows in front of the coffin containing the remains of Alexandre Dumas. (Reuters)
Paris, Dec. 1 (Reuters): France has buried Alexandre Dumas, the fast-writing, fast-living author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, in the crypt of the Pantheon in Paris, reuniting him with his friend Victor Hugo.
France’s best-known writer of romantic adventures, equally renowned for his own torrid love life, was reburied in the state’s official tomb of honour alongside his fellow novelist Hugo, Rousseau, Voltaire and dozens of other French luminaries.
Dumas, who died in 1870, was transferred under a decree issued by President Jacques Chirac from a cemetery in the town of Villers-Cotterets north of Paris, where he was born in 1802.
“Today, Alexandre Dumas is no longer alone,” Chirac said at the reburial ceremony. “With him, our popular memory and our collective imagination enter the Pantheon.”
The coffin carrying Dumas’s remains was draped in a deep blue flag bearing the most famous line from his fictional band of fiery musketeers —“All for one and one for all”.
Dumas, grandson of a female Haitian slave, enchanted readers worldwide with more than 250 plays and novels of romance and adventure, churned out with an army of assistants. But his own life was perhaps wilder than those of his most fabled heroes.
He is said to have drawn much of his inspiration from the Caribbean escapades of his father, a mulatto general in Napoleon’s army who died when Dumas was four years old. His best loved works — the adventures of the swashbuckling musketeers and the epic tale of love-smitten vengeance in The Count of Monte Cristo — were rushed out in just two years in the mid-1850s.
In March, Chirac decreed that Dumas’s remains should be transferred to the Pantheon, the grave of more than 60 luminaries of arts, politics and science.
But his plan met resistance last year from intellectuals, feminists and historians. They accused Dumas, renowned for extra-marital affairs and rakish behaviour, of sexism and questioned whether a writer who employed 60 helpers to produce commercially successful adventure stories deserved to lie beside the giants of French literature.
He earned a fortune from his work but spent it just as fast on friends and mistresses. He once fled to Brussels to escape creditors and only returned when a friend paid his bills. One quotation attributed to Dumas epitomised his life: “The chains of wedlock are so heavy it takes two people to carry them, sometimes three.”
Dumas is best known abroad for The Three Musketeers, which tells the adventures of four heroes living during the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV.
He was widely credited with reviving the French romantic novel through serialisation and had a huge story-telling talent that blended fiction and fact until they were indistinguishable.
Self-educated, he worked in his hometown as a clerk and left for Paris at a young age. He briefly stopped writing to join the revolution of July 1830, travelled to Russia, and then to Italy at the invitation of the insurgent Giuseppe Garibaldi.
One of the last stops on his three-day, posthumous journey to Paris was the Chateau de Monte Cristo, the castle he had built in honour of the hero of his novel. As he made his way to the Pantheon, French Senate president Christian Poncelet quoted a comment Victor Hugo once made after Dumas paid him a visit during a period of exile on the island of Guernsey: “I will return the visit at his grave.”