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concerning Georges

    Georges is a romance set on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, mostly in 1824. This novel of of particular interest for two reasons: first, because Dumas reused many of the ideas and plot devices that he deployed in Georges later in Le Comte de Monte Cristo, and secondly because race and racism are at the center of this novel, and this a topic on which Dumas, despite his part-African ancestry, rarely wrote.
     Mauritius also known as "L'Ile de France," was colonized by France and captured, and subsequently ruled by the British in 1812. Like Haiti and several French Caribbean islands, most of the land in Mauritius was owned by French planters, and worked by negro slaves imported for this purpose. However, many other races and ethnic groups were (and are) present in varying numbers and roles, including Muslim and Hindu Indians, Arabs, Chinese, Malagache, and Malays. There were was also a substantial mulatto (mixed race) population, including slave-owning mulatto planters.
     Dumas begins his novel in 1810, when a British expeditionary force has descended on Mauritius and landed troops. The outnumbered French garrison has been supplemented by volunteers drawn from the European community. A wealthy mulatto planter, Pierre Munier, accompanied by his two young sons, attempts to join the volunteers, but is refused on account of his race. Humiliated, Munier raises a levy of African and mulatto volunteers, and, operating independently, falls on the British flank, and inflicts a tactical defeat on a British column, just as it is about to overrun the European volunteers. Afterwards, Pierre, and his two sons, Jacques (then 16) and Georges (then 12) come in conflict with the leading white planter, Monsieur de Malmedie, and his son Henri.
     Meanwhile, a second British column defeats the French regulars, and the colony falls to the British. Since the conflict with M. de Malmedie seems prone to a catastrophic dénouement. Pierre deems it prudent to send his sons off to France to be educated. Fourteen years pass. In the meantime, Georges has become, fabulously wealthy, well educated, and has moved in the highest circles of French and English society. He returns to Mauritius in 1824 as a close friend of Sir William Murray, the new British Governor.
     Georges naturally falls in love with Sara de Malmedie, Henri's sister. Georges asks for her hand in marriage, and is summarily refused. He challenges Henri to a duel, and Henri refuses, on the grounds that fighting with a mulatto is beneath his dignity. During a horse race, Georges strikes Henri across the face with a whip, and even then Henri refuses to fight, choosing instead to collect a group of fellow whites with the intent of ambushing Georges and horsewhipping him.
     Totally alienated from planter society, Georges leads a slave rebellion against the white elite. Sir William foils the rebellion by deploying open barrels of whiskey in the path of the approaching rebels, who promptly drink themselves into a stupor. Georges is wounded, captured, and condemned to death. Sara marries the condemned man just prior to the execution, which is indefinitely delayed when Georges' older brother, Jacques, who has become a slave trader, storms the church with his semi-piratical followers and carries off Georges, Sara, and his father on his ship.
     Sir William gives chase in the H.M. frigate Leicester, and overhauls Jacques' ship, but in the ensuing sea battle, the Leicester catches fire and sinks. Georges, Sara, Jacques, and Pierre sail off into the sunset.
     In Georges, Dumas clearly feels the unfairness of prejudice against free mulattos. With respect to slavery, though, he is much more ambivalent. Pierre Munier is a slave owner, but treats his slaves well, unlike the de Malmedie family. Dumas is careful to point out that Jacques, though a slave trader, has his professional ethics: he doesn't personally hunt for slaves, dealing only in the prisoners of African rulers, and refuses to overcrowd his victims on the ship.
     Thus, Georges is not exactly an abolitionist tract. However, Dumas draws a sympathetic portrait of the African slave leader Laiza, a man of exemplary courage, loyalty, and honor (key Dumasian virtues), who dies trying to protect Georges. By example, if not by polemic, Dumas makes the point that Laiza is as much and as honorable a man as Georges, his position as a slave being the result of mere misfortune. Dumas was, perhaps, trying to remain a popular novelist while sneaking into his reader's mind a notion that was at variance with the conventional wisdom of the day: that the brotherhood of man might extend across races

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