Alexandre Dumas is one of the most widely known writers of high adventure. His most famous works, The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Ten Years Later have become icons of the genre.
Yet it is not so widely known that Dumas himself led a lifestyle typical of the French aristocratic class, including numerous affairs and several duels, many of which he described in his memoirs and most of which are of dubious historical accuracy. One of these allegedly took place on 5 January 1825, a bitterly cold and snowy day. Dumas was 23 years old at the time.
The duel had been arranged a few days before. Dumas was having dinner at the Palais-Royal with a group of his friends. Afterwards, they visited a local café, where a soldier insulted him. Despite his friends’ warnings not to fight a trained soldier, Dumas couldn’t let this slight to his honor go unchallenged, and called the offender to a duel.
The soldier overslept on the day of the duel and failed to appear, so it was rescheduled for the following day. The place chosen was a quarry near Montmartre in Paris. Dumas thought the duel would be fought with pistols, with which he was very skilled, but it turned out swords were the weapon that had been chosen.
When they finally met, Dumas’s opponent asked him to take off not only his jacket, but also his vest and shirt. While he was doing this, he also removed his suspenders, which caused his pants to fall down due to his belt buckle being broken. The local quarry workers laughed at him, but Dumas was undeterred and simply tied up his pants with his suspenders.
Dumas’s opponent proved to be a poor fencer, and lost almost immediately; Dumas struck him in the shoulder, slightly wounding him, but the shock of the cold steel touching him was so great that the soldier stepped back, tripped over a root, and fell into a snow-bank. He yielded immediately and the duel was over.
Like many of Dumas’s stories, this one seems to have grown in telling, and the detail involving Dumas having his pants fall down may be a later addition.