Marie Duplessis (15 January 1824 – 3 February 1847) was a French courtesan and mistress to a number of prominent and wealthy men. She was the inspiration for Marguerite Gautier, the main character of La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas the younger, one of Duplessis' lovers. Much of what is known about her has been derived from the literary persona and contemporary legends.
As recorded in art of the day Marie Duplessis was evidently an extremely attractive young woman, with a petite figure and an enchanting smile. By the time she was 16, she had become aware that prominent men were willing to give her money in exchange for her company in both private and social settings. She became a courtesan and learned to read and write, and to stay abreast of world events so as to be able to converse on these topics with her clients and at social functions. She also added the faux noble "Du" to her name.
Life as a courtesan
Duplessis was both a popular courtesan and the hostess of a salon, where politicians, writers, and artists gathered for stimulating conversation and socializing. She rode in the Bois de Boulogne and attended opera performances. She also had her portrait painted by Édouard Viénot.
Duplessis was the mistress of Alexandre Dumas, fils between September 1844 and August 1845. Afterwards, she is believed to have become the mistress of composer Franz Liszt, who reportedly wished to live with her. Throughout her short life, her reputation as a discreet, intelligent, and witty lover was well known. She remained in the good graces of many of her benefactors even after her relationships with them had ended.
She was briefly married to at least one of her lovers: a French nobleman, Count Édouard de Perregaux.
Marie Duplessis died of tuberculosis at the age of 23 on 3 February 1847. Her husband the comte de Perregaux and her former lover the Baltic-German count Gustav Ernst von Stackelberg were by her side. Within a few weeks of her death, her belongings were auctioned off to pay her debts. Still, her funeral in Montmartre cemetery, where her body still rests, was said to have been attended by hundreds of people.
Novel, play and opera
Dumas' romantic novel La Dame aux Camélias was based on Duplessis. It appeared within a year of her death. In the book, Dumas became "Armand Duval" and Duplessis "Marguerite Gautier". Dumas also adapted his story as a play, which inspired Verdi's opera La Traviata and various films.
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