The Lady of the Camellias

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La Dame aux Camélias
Alphonse Mucha's poster for a performance of the theatrical version, with Sarah Bernhardt (1896)
Written byAlexandre Dumas fils
Date premiered2 February 1852 (1852-02-02)
Place premieredThéâtre du Vaudeville, Paris, France
Original languageFrench

La Dame aux Camélias (lit. The Lady of the Camellias, sometimes called in English Camille) is a novel by Alexandre Dumas fils. First published in 1848 and subsequently adapted by Dumas for the stage, the play premiered at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris, France, on February 2, 1852. It was an instant success. Shortly thereafter, Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi set about putting the story to music in the 1853 opera La traviata, with female protagonist Marguerite Gautier renamed Violetta Valéry.

In some of the English-speaking world, La Dame aux Camélias became known as Camille, and sixteen versions have been performed at Broadway theatres alone. The title character is Marguerite Gautier, who is based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of the author.[5]

Summary and analysis[edit]

Marie Duplessis painted by Édouard Viénot
Illustration by Albert Lynch

Written by Alexandre Dumas fils (1824–1895) when he was 23 years old, and first published in 1848, La Dame aux Camélias is a semi-autobiographical novel based on the author's brief love affair with a courtesan, Marie Duplessis. Set in mid-19th-century France, the novel tells the tragic love story between fictional characters Marguerite Gautier, a demimondaine or courtesan suffering from consumption, and Armand Duval, a young bourgeois.[6] Marguerite is nicknamed la dame aux camélias (French for 'the lady of the camellias') because she wears a red camellia when she is menstruating and unavailable for sex and a white camellia when she is available to her lovers.[7]

Armand falls in love with Marguerite and ultimately becomes her lover. He convinces her to leave her life as a courtesan and to live with him in the countryside. This idyllic existence is interrupted by Armand's father, who, concerned with the scandal created by the illicit relationship, and fearful that it will destroy Armand's sister's chances of marriage, convinces Marguerite to leave. Until Marguerite is on her deathbed, Armand believes that she left him for another man, known as Count de Giray. He comes to her side as she is dying, surrounded by her friends, and pledges to love her even after her death.[7]

The story is narrated after Marguerite's death by two men, Armand and an unnamed frame narrator. Near the beginning of the novel, the narrator finds out that Armand has been sending camellia flowers to Marguerite's grave, to show that his love for her will never die.

Some scholars believe that both the fictional Marguerite's illness and real life Duplessis's publicized cause of death, "consumption", was a 19th-century euphemism for syphilis,[6] as opposed to the more common meaning of tuberculosis.

Dumas fils is careful to paint a favourable portrait of Marguerite, who despite her past is rendered virtuous by her love for Armand, and the suffering of the two lovers, whose love is shattered by the need to conform to the morals of the times, is rendered touchingly. In contrast to the Chevalier des Grieux's love for Manon in Manon Lescaut (1731), a novel by Abbé Prévost referenced at the beginning of La Dame aux Camélias, Armand's love is for a woman who is ready to sacrifice her riches and her lifestyle for him, but who is thwarted by the arrival of Armand's father. The novel is also marked by the description of Parisian life during the 19th century and the fragile world of the courtesan.[citation needed]

Stage performances[edit]

Eugénie Doche created the role of Marguerite Gautier in 1852
Eleonora Duse as Marguerite Gautier, late 19th century
America's most famous interpreter, Clara Morris as Camille (1874)
Sarah Bernhardt as Marguerite Gautier (1882)

Dumas fils wrote a stage adaptation that premiered February 2, 1852, at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris. Eugénie Doche [fr] created the role of Marguerite Gautier, opposite Charles Fechter as Armand Duval. "I played the role 617 times," Doche recalled not long before her death in 1900, "and I suppose I could not have played it very badly, since Dumas fils wrote in his preface, 'Mme. Doche is not my interpreter, she is my collaborator'."[8]

In 1853, Jean Davenport starred in the first American production of the play, a sanitized version that changed the name of the leading character to Camille—a practice adopted by most American actresses playing the role.[9]: 115 

The role of the tragic Marguerite Gautier became one of the most coveted among actresses and included performances by Sarah Bernhardt, Laura Keene, Eleonora Duse, Margaret Anglin, Gabrielle Réjane, Tallulah Bankhead, Lillian Gish, Dolores del Río, Eva Le Gallienne, Isabelle Adjani, Cacilda Becker, and Helena Modjeska. Bernhardt quickly became associated with the role after starring in Camellias in Paris, London, and several Broadway revivals, plus the 1911 film. The dancer and impresario Ida Rubinstein successfully recreated Bernhardt's interpretation of the role onstage in the mid-1920s, coached by the great actress herself before she died.

Of all Dumas fils's theatrical works, La Dame aux Camélias is the most popular around the world. In 1878, Scribner's Monthly reported that "not one other play by Dumas fils has been received with favor out of France".[10]



Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, the first Violetta in La traviata (1853)

The success of the play inspired Giuseppe Verdi to put the story to music. His work became the opera La traviata, set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. On March 6, 1853, La traviata opened in Venice, Italy at the La Fenice opera house.[11] The female protagonist, Marguerite Gautier, is renamed Violetta Valéry, and the male protagonist, Armand Duval, is renamed Alfredo Germont.


Sarah Bernhardt in the 1911 French film adaptation, with André Calmettes

La Dame aux Camélias has been adapted for some 20 different motion pictures in numerous countries and in a wide variety of languages. The role of Marguerite Gautier has been played on screen by Sarah Bernhardt, María Félix, Clara Kimball Young, Theda Bara, Yvonne Printemps, Alla Nazimova, Greta Garbo, Micheline Presle, Francesca Bertini, Isabelle Huppert, and others.

Films entitled Camille[edit]

There have been at least nine adaptations of La Dame aux Camélias entitled Camille.

Other films based on La Dame aux Camélias[edit]

In addition to the Camille films, the story has been the adapted into numerous other screen versions:



Amongst many adaptations, spin-offs, and parodies, was Camille, "a travesty on La Dame aux Camellias by Charles Ludlam, staged first by his own Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1973, with Ludlam playing the lead in drag.[15]

In 1999 Alexia Vassiliou collaborated with composer Aristides Mytaras for the contemporary dance performance, La Dame aux Camélias at the Amore Theatre in Athens.[citation needed]

It is also the inspiration for the 2008 musical Marguerite,[16] which places the story in 1944 German-occupied France.


In My Ántonia by Willa Cather, the characters Jim Burden and Lena Lingard are much moved by a theatrical production of Camille, which they attend in book 3, chapter 3.[citation needed] Love Story, published by Eric Segal in 1970, has essentially the same plot updated to contemporary New York. The conflict here centres on the relative economic classes of the central characters.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Hoxby, Blair (2015). What was Tragedy?. p. 41. ISBN 9780198749165.
  2. ^ Drakakis, John; Liebler, Naomi (May 12, 2014). Tragedy. ISBN 9781317894193.
  3. ^ Courtney, William (1900). The Idea of Tragedy in Ancient and Modern Drama. A. Constable & Company. p. 129.
  4. ^ Boe, Lois Margretta (1935). The Conception of French Naturalistic Tragedy. University of Wisconsin--Madison. p. 91.
  5. ^ "Alexandre Dumas fils". Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  6. ^ a b Lintz, Bernadette C (2005), "Concocting La Dame aux camélias: Blood, Tears, and Other Fluids", Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 33 (3–4): 287–307, doi:10.1353/ncf.2005.0022, JSTOR 23537986, S2CID 191569012,
  7. ^ a b Dumas, Alexandre fils (1986) [1948], La Dame aux Camélias, translated by David Coward, UK: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780191611162
  8. ^ Thorold, W. J.; Hornblow (Jr), Arthur; Maxwell, Perriton; Beach, Stewart (October 1901). "The First Lady with the Camelias". Theatre Magazine. pp. 14–16. Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  9. ^ Grossman, Barbara Wallace (2009-02-13). A Spectacle of Suffering: Clara Morris on the American Stage. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 115–125. ISBN 9780809328826.
  10. ^ "A Modern Playwright". Scribner's Monthly. November 1878. p. 60. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  11. ^ "La traviata | opera by Verdi | Britannica". Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  12. ^ "Kamelyali kadin (1957)". IMDb. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  13. ^ "John Neumeier biography". Hamburg Ballet. Archived from the original on 25 June 2011. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  14. ^ Ferguson, Stephanie (14 February 2005). "La Traviata". Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 December 2010. Staged as La Traviata for Northern Ballet Theatre in Leeds, UK in 2005.
  15. ^ Kaufman, David (2002). Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. pp. 185–186. ISBN 9781557836373. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  16. ^ Wolf, Matt (May 27, 2008). "In 'Marguerite,' an all-too-dark musical". New York Times. Retrieved April 16, 2012.

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