The Dumas Puzzle: The 150-Year Problem to Fit a Biracial Icon into the French Pantheon
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Alexandre Dumas, writer of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, was among the most famous nineteenth-century French writers. He was descended from a Norman noble and a black slave from Saint Domingue. Newspaper articles, memoirs, anecdotes, and Dumas's own reflections reveal contemporaries' difficulties in reconciling his black ancestry with his Frenchness. Consequently, they often rejected Dumas as being fully French. Such reactions revealed the asymmetry between the French cultural and political nations, which became more complex within the specific context of French universalism. This difficulty in reconciling Dumas's biraciality was a local variation of a wider Western geo-psychology dating from the early modern era that organized the globe temporally, creating contemporaneous (in the present) and non-contemporaneous (backward) peoples even though all existed in the same present to justify European dominance over an expanding globe. Such a process formed individual European identities in opposition to distant Others. However, the spreading of transportation, communication, and information networks via colonialism, particularly during the New Imperialism, unintentionally resulted in the rise of a single technoscientific civilization and the socio-cultural collapse of identities based on distance/difference. Consequently, a new dominant geo-psychology has been forming since the era after World War II characterized by a contemporaneous humanity, a newly conceptualized form of social integration in which individuals/groups increasingly identify themselves as part of a single and equal human race in which all exist in the same time. Colonial empires thus served as globalizing agents that resulted in a sense of time-space compression that displaced non-contemporaneity in our global era and allowed a reassessment of Europe's relation to the wider world. Conceiving national identities within a contemporaneous globe has provided new challenges to Western nation-states. This dissertation, rather than focus on the historical Dumas, analyzes how intellectuals and politicians have created multiple Dumases, rearranging and constructing diverse aspects, characteristics, and interpretations of Dumas in a mosaic fashion to generate various and different pictures of him after his death to meet the needs of changing notions of Frenchness. The purpose for composing each different Dumas over time was an attempt to resolve or come to terms with problems of national identity linked to a globalizing world and the shift to contemporaneity. Because of his simultaneous connections to both France and Africa, examining the different Dumases over time at specific moments reveal French attempts to come to terms with problems of national identity in a globalizing world that was shifting to overall contemporaneity.