Tag Archives: La Dame Aux Camelias

Your Saturday Book Review: La Dame Aux Camélias OR The Girlfriend Experience

Marie Duplessis died in 1848, but has been living in our imaginations ever since.

Born Alphonsie Rose Plessis, the lovely Marie came to Paris when she was fifteen and soon became the hottest date in town. She was a courtesan, a high-class hooker catering to an exclusive clientele – men with enough money to support her in the style to which she soon became accustomed. Between her tastes and her gambling habit, she was high maintenance indeed.

Marie died at age twenty-three of consumption, and Charles Dickens who happened to be in town at the time of her funeral was reported to have said  it was as if Joan of Arc was being buried.

One of her lovers “du couer” (as opposed to her paying customers) was the young Alexander Dumas fils. They were both eighteen at the time. Less than a year after she died, Dumas published his novel La Dame aux Camelias a fictionalized version of their story which became a bestseller, and the basis for a play he wrote later (in which Sarah Bernhardt toured for years)/  Verdi’s opera, La Traviata, was also based on story. Verdi changed the names of the fictional characters and had to set it a hundred years earlier as it was considered too scandalous a story to be set contemporaneously.

There are also several film versions including the one with Greta Garbo as the coughing heroine, which was of course sent up (as it should have been) on the old Carol Burnett show (and if around finds that on youtube, please send me the link.

As a fan of the opera, I was curious about the book. While it is considered a “classic,” it’s a slim volume and not one you’re likely to be assigned in a literature class. Certainly, Dumas fils was no Dumas père, and there’s something exploitative about it. While their affair may have involved all the passion of youth, it’s unlikely they meant Continue reading Your Saturday Book Review: La Dame Aux Camélias OR The Girlfriend Experience