[She was] the most elegant of women, having the most aristocratic taste and the most exquisite tact: she set the tone for a whole area of society.
– from her obituary
Born Alphonsine Plessis in Normandy in 1824, Marie Duplessis was a self-made woman who was discrete, beautiful, charming, intelligent and witty – a famous courtesan who has been immortalised and mythologised by popular culture,
(1) most notably by the novel by Alexandre Dumas, “Les Dame Camelias” or “Camile” in which he romanticised the life of Marie.
(2) Dumas was also her lover but was too poor to support her. Their relationship lasted a year.
(3) Les Dame Camelias chronicles the doomed love affair between a young Frenchman, Armand Duval and a dying courtesan Marguerite Gautier.
(4)The novel inspired a play, ballet and the 1936 film, “Camille” starring Greta Garbo as well as the famous Verdi Opera La Traviata.Marie Duplessis lived a childhood of abuse and exploitation. Her mother died when she was 6, and her father was a cruel man who allegedly (according to myth) sold her to the gypsies when she was in her early teens. “She turned to prostitution as a faster way to pay of her indenture.”
(5) Her beauty and charm though, appealed to men of stature, and she was soon able to attract suitors who paid her handsomely for her services. She set up a salon of residences afterwards where her male suitors would come to spend time with her.
Besides her looks and wit, Duplessis was also intelligent. When first starting as a courtesan she hired tutors to educate her – to teach her to read and write as well as verse her in all manner of subjects from history to geography.
(6) She was the ultimate companion – an exceptional conversationalist, a great beauty with a engaging personality.
Her life was cut tragically short at age 23 in 1847. Marie Duplessis died of tuberculosis, an incurable disease in that era as there were no antibiotics. She was buried at Montmartre cemetery. She racked up an incredible amount of debt during her short life and soon after her death, her belongings including a pet parrot were sold.(7)
(3), (7)Wikipedia contributors, “Marie Duplessis,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Marie_Duplessis&oldid=858581984 (accessed October 20, 2018).
Gardner, Lyn, “Pretty Woman,” The Guardian,
https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2003/mar/05/theatre.artsfeatures (accessed 18th of October 2018)
(2),(5)Melodiouse, Linotte, “La Dame Carmelia’s: The Tragedy of Marie Duplessis,
https://linottemelodieuse.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/la-dame-aux-camelias-the-tragedy-of-marie-duplessis/ (accessed 18th of October 2018)
(1), (4), (6) McNeill, Maggie, “Marie Duplessis,” The Honest Courtesan,
https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/marie-duplessis/ (accessed October 20th, 2018)