La Dame aux Camélias

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The Lady of the Camellias
Alfons Mucha - 1896 - La Dame aux Camélias - Sarah Bernhardt.jpg
Poster for a performance of the theatrical version, with Sarah Bernhardt (1896)
Written by Alexandre Dumas, fils
Date premiered 2 February 1852 (1852-02-02)
Original language French
Genre novel

La Dame aux Camélias (literally The Lady of the Camellias, commonly known in English as Camille) is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, first published in 1848, and subsequently adapted for the stage. La Dame aux Camélias premiered at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris, France on February 2, 1852. The play was an instant success, and Giuseppe Verdi immediately set about putting the story to music. His work became the 1853 opera La Traviata, with the female protagonist, Marguerite Gautier, renamed Violetta Valéry.

In the English-speaking world, La Dame aux Camélias became known as Camille and 16 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 author Dumas, fils.[1]

Summary and analysis[edit]

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" (tuberculosis), and Armand Duval, a young bourgeois.[2] Marguerite is nicknamed la dame aux camélias (French for 'the lady of the camellias') because she wears a red camellia when she's menstruating and unavailable for making love and a white camelia when she is available to her lovers.[3]

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. Up until Marguerite's death, Armand believes that she left him for another man. Marguerite's death is described as an unending agony, during which Marguerite, abandoned by everyone, regrets what might have been.[3]

Illustration by Albert Lynch

The story is narrated after Marguerite's death by two male narrators, Armand and an unnamed frame narrator. Some scholars believe that Marguerite's illness and Duplessis's publicized cause of death, "consumption", was a 19th-century euphemism for syphilis.[2] 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 the Chevalier des Grieux's love for Manon in Manon Lescaut (1731), a French 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]

Since its debut as a play, numerous editions have been performed at theatres around the world. The role of the tragic Marguerite Gautier became one of the most coveted amongst actresses and included performances by Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, Margaret Anglin, Gabrielle Réjane, Tallulah Bankhead, Lillian Gish, Dolores del Río, Eva Le Gallienne, Isabelle Adjani, Cacilda Becker, and Helena Modrzejewska. Bernhardt quickly became associated with the role after starring in Camellias in Paris, London, and several Broadway revivals, plus the 1911 film. Dancer/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: According to 19th century book The Century, "not one other play by Dumas, fils has been received with favor out of France".[4]

It is also the inspiration for the 2008 musical Marguerite,[5] which places the story in 1944 German-occupied France.

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

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



Eleonora Duse as Marguerite Gautier in 1896

In addition to inspiring La Traviata, La Dame aux Camélias has been adapted for approximately twenty different motion pictures in numerous countries and in a wide variety of languages. The role of "Marguerite Gautier"[6] 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 eight adaptations of La Dame aux Camélias entitled Camille. See Camille (disambiguation).

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:


Other novels[edit]

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.


  1. ^ "Alexandre Dumas fils". Retrieved 23 November 2015. 
  2. ^ 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, JSTOR 23537986 ,
  3. ^ a b Dumas, fils, Alexandre (1986) [1948], La Dame aux Camélias, translated by David Coward, UK: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780191611162 
  4. ^ The Century. January 1879. p. 60. 
  5. ^ Wolf, Matt (May 27, 2008). "In 'Marguerite,' an all-too-dark musical". New York Times. Retrieved April 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ Marguerite Gautier at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ skyler58 (1 June 2001). "Moulin Rouge! (2001)". IMDb. Retrieved 23 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "Kamelyali kadin (1957)". IMDb. Retrieved 23 November 2015. 
  9. ^ "John Neumeier biography". Hamburg Ballet. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  10. ^ Ferguson, Stephanie (14 February 2005). "La Traviata". London: Guardian. Retrieved 11 December 2010. Staged as La Traviata for Northern Ballet Theatre in Leeds, UK in 2005. 

External links[edit]