‘La Dame Aux Camelias’ or the ‘Lady of the Camellias’ is a semi-autobiographical novel set in mid – 19th Century France and written by Alexandre Dumas in 1848.
One of the play’s core themes is illicit love. The story of the title character Marguerite Gautier (is based on the real-life lover of author Dumas) tells the tragic love story between Marguerite a courtesan suffering from consumption and Armand young middle-class man.
The ‘fallen woman’ is a lady who is of ‘loose character’ who has had sexual relations before marriage. The fallen woman is often the object of pity in modern literature, and these tales are usually cautionary.
La Dame Aux Camelias is not such a cautionary tale, in fact, the novel and play produced sympathy for the character of Marguerite and according to the essay La Dame aux Camelias’ Effect on Society’s view of the “Fallen Woman” by Christiana Johnson. In the essay Johnson goes on to state:
“Marguerite Gautier, a “fallen woman,” as having redeemable qualities which challenged both society’s condemnation of the “fallen woman” and led to a more realistic portrayal of life on the stage and in literature as a whole.”
The novel was groundbreaking for this very reason and has been relegated the status of a ‘classic’ work.
The novel was written when Dumas was only 23 years old. The book inspired not only the Opera La Traviata which premiered in 1853 but also more recently, the Baz Luhrmann’s film ‘Moulin Rouge’ (2001). Another interesting fact – Alexandre Dumas was the illegitimate son of Alexandre Dumas the author of the Count of Monte Christo and the Three Muskateers.
The play adaption of the novel premiered at the Theatre du Vaudeville in Paris. Johnson writes, ‘a powerful member of the nobility the Duc de Morny half brother Napoleon III supported Dumas, and the play thus went on to be a huge success due to this patronage.’ Also, interestingly the play was censored by the French Government three times! ‘In fact, the government only lifted the ban as an attempt to distract the public from the current political strain as a result of Louis Napoleon declaring himself emperor in 1851,’ according to Johnson.
La Dame aux Camelias effect has been long-lasting. Not only was it a massive success at the time it was written and produced for the stage, but the play and novel also have endured the test of time, the text is still widely read and enjoyed today. The work fundamentally changed the way the public views the ‘fallen woman.’ No longer relegated to a lower caste, the ‘fallen woman’ (in this case Marguerite) was a sympathetic character who demonstrated that courtesans could be multi-dimensional and more than just a ‘loose woman’ of low moral worth.