He was the chief creator of the 19th-century comedy of manners. His first important play, La Dame aux camélias (1852, tr. 1856), known in English as Camille, was a sensation. It was based on a partly autobiographical novel of the same title, which he had published in 1848. Portraying a love affair of a courtesan, the play became the vehicle of many famous actresses, and it was the basis of Verdi's opera La Traviata. Another successful play, Le Demi-Monde (1855, tr. 1858), aroused much discussion because of its portrayal of the disreputable world of French society. In later plays Dumas preached a revolt against romantic morality, the excesses of the wealthy, and bourgeois puritanism and propounded social and psychological questions. His stage works are notable for skillful construction, though the characterizations are somewhat lacking in vitality. His novels include Tristan le Roux (1850) and Diane de Lys (1853). Among his best plays are also The Money Question (1857, tr. 1915), Le Fils naturel [the natural son] (1858), Les Idées de Mme Aubray (1867), L'Étrangère [the strange woman] (1876), and Denise (1885). His early essays, Entr'actes (1878-79), are mostly on social subjects. In 1874 he was elected to the French Academy.
See study by H. Stanley Schwarz (1927, repr. 1971).
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