Lengthy autograph manuscript headed "Les Bagnes", regarding convicts and prisons. Alexandre DUMAS, père.
Lengthy autograph manuscript headed "Les Bagnes", regarding convicts and prisons.
Lengthy autograph manuscript headed "Les Bagnes", regarding convicts and prisons.
Lengthy autograph manuscript headed "Les Bagnes", regarding convicts and prisons.

Lengthy autograph manuscript headed "Les Bagnes", regarding convicts and prisons.

circa 1863.

Six sheets of neatly written autograph manuscript on light blue paper, headed "Les Bagnes", each sheet measuring 276 x 215 mm., preserved in a neat modern slipcase.

Dumas on convicts, New Caledonia and Botany Bay

An important and revealing manuscript essay on prisons and convict transportation by the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. The essay almost certainly dates from the period when Dumas was the editor of the pro-Garibaldi newspaper L'Indipendente in Italy, as can be divined from several of the internal references he makes, notably a reference to "La Pruny", presumably his mis-spelling of the settlement of Prony in New Caledonia. The first French prisoners sent to New Caledonia arrived in May 1864 on board L'Iphigénie at Port-de-France, and Dumas has apparently taken the smaller settlement of Prony to represent the entire prison system. Although it seems likely that the essay was prepared for the politically-minded L'Indipendente, we have not succeeded in tracing its publication.

An important and revealing manuscript essay on prisons and convict transportation by the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. The essay almost certainly dates from the period when Dumas was the editor of the pro-Garibaldi newspaper L'Indipendente in Italy, as can be divined from several of the internal references he makes, notably a reference to "La Pruny", presumably his mis-spelling of the settlement of Prony in New Caledonia. The first French prisoners sent to New Caledonia arrived in May 1864 on board L'Iphigénie at Port-de-France, and Dumas has apparently taken the smaller settlement of Prony to represent the entire prison system. Although it seems likely that the essay was prepared for the politically-minded L'Indipendente, we have not succeeded in tracing its publication.
The discussion of the prisons of Europe and the proper role of government marks this out as a significant contribution to our understanding of the political thought of the great novelist, the more so as it includes his notes on the earlier English example of transportation to Australia, with Dumas writing approvingly of the practice in Botany Bay and, rather confusingly, Port Phillip.
Dumas wrote prolifically and had an astonishing output of essays and articles. In this six page essay, he turns his humanitarian scrutiny on Les Bagnes and the practice, re-instituted in the Second Empire, of transporting prisoners to penal colonies. In 1854 legislation had been passed that formally established the South American territory of French Guiana as a destination for common-law criminals convicted of felonies (expanded in 1864 to include the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, amid reports of high death tolls from malaria and yellow fever). This law specified that convicts sentenced to hard labor no longer be sent to the port cities of Brest, Rochefort, and Toulon - where they had worked in the dockyards since the decommission of the government's Mediterranean galley fleet - but instead serve their sentences in French Guiana as prisoners and ultimately forced colonists. French Guiana was indeed a savage fate for French prisoners, not least because of the infamous "Devil's Island", the locale of the later novel Papillon.
This leads Dumas to claim that only in England had the question of the rehabilitation of convicts been resolved by the practice of transportation to colonies like 'Botany Bay', 'Port Jackson' and (mistakenly) 'à Melbourne, à Port Philippe.' In the Australian colonies, he writes rather romantically, not only is there the punishment of exile, but also the opportunity to work and become rehabilitated through education. Dumas's tract closes with the cry that the only way to 'loosen the chains of bondage' will be to win liberty for all humankind.
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Alexandre Dumas's life was more colourful than that of some of his swashbuckling fictional heroes. His father was a General and war hero of Haitian and noble descent. Born Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie he was reputed to have kept over 40 mistresses and fathered a number of illegitimate children. He started his career as a notary to the Duc d'Orléans, later King Louis Philippe. However, in the 1850s he fell out of favour with Napoleon III, and he left Paris for Belgium (an action that was part political exile, part escape from creditors). He spent time in Russia where his novels were widely read and Dumas himself was a celebrity (French being the language of the aristocracy). His political leanings led him to settle in Naples where he was a friend and confidant of Garibaldi, and together the two men founded the paper L'Indipendente in October 1860.
It is fair to say that Dumas was not enthusiastic about the practice, preferring to suggest that the "philosopher" should take the longer view, and work not only for improvement but rehabilitation. Much in the style of earlier prison reformers of the Enlightenment, Dumas starts with a brief overview of the conditions in European prisons, particularly those of Southern Italy, where some 35,000 were banged up ("it seems impossible" - cela nous semble impossible - he exclaims). His critique focusses on the need for education rather than mere slave labour, and he states that the proper concern of Parliament should be for the welfare of the prisoner until rehabilitation, allowing Dumas a rather grand opportunity to reflect on how the "sinner who repents is preferable to God to the man who never sins." Indeed, this tract reveals Dumas's real-life concern with the themes of emancipation, freedom and mercy which are vividly explored in his works.

Price (AUD): $9,500.00  other currencies     Ref: #4102418

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