Introduction by Marciano Guerrero
Alexandre Dumas fils (1824–1895) was a French writer and dramatist. He was the son of Alexandre Dumas, père, also a major novelist and playwright.
Dumas was born in Paris, France, the illegitimate child of Marie-Laure-Catherine Labay, a dressmaker and novelist Alexandre Dumas. When he was seven years old Dumas (father) legally recognized his son, ensuring that the young Dumas could be helped financially and thus receive a good education.
Despite the legal recognition, in boarding schools, Dumas fils was cruelly taunted by his classmates, a situation that profoundly affected his thoughts, behavior, and writing.
Dumas’ paternal great-grandparents were a French nobleman and Général commissaire in the Artillery in Haiti and Marie-Cesette Dumas, an Afro-Caribbean Creole of mixed French and African ancestry.
During 1844 Dumas met Marie Duplessis, a Young courtesan who supposedly was the inspiration for his novel The Lady of the Camellias (La Dame aux camélias). Of course the heroine’s name was changed to Marguerite Gautier.
The novel was later adapted into a play, and it was titled Camille in English. This same play became the basis for Verdi’s opera, La Traviata. In this opera Duplessis undergoes another name change to Violetta Valery.
About the Novel La Dame aux camélias
The novel begins with the narrator focusing on an apartment sale in Paris, in which he innocently buys a famous book: Manon Lescaut, after he reads a curious inscription by Armand Duval. This not so innocent book links the tale’s lover to the actual person who will eventually tell the story.
Part of the allure of the novel lies in its description of minute details about the life of the notorious courtesan Marguerite Gautier: parties, theater life, lovers’ arrangements, life on the speed lane—all in graphic detail, to include not only the violent expectorations of the consumptive courtesan, but also the exhumation of her decayed body.
Dazzled by the heroine’s beauty, Armando Duval blindly falls in love with the ailing Marguerite, who perhaps foreseeing a short life loosely spends her patron’s fortunes with reckless abandon. As the most beautiful kept woman of her time in Paris, she has no shortage of rich lovers who compete to foot the bills for her extravagant life style.
Yet Armand, a young man from the provinces, with meager income, convinces her of his love, succeeding in making Marguerite his lover. An idyllic period ensues away from Paris, in the French country side, where the couple conquers a temporary happiness.
Temporary indeed, for that presages a most tragic end, an end which rather than a moral lesson the novel opens unanswerable questions as to innocence and guilt, family and society, givers versus takers, good versus evil—life and death.
Although the intrigues, overall plot, and denouement may be easy to guess, the narrating voices hold the story in complete suspense to the bitter end. The acts of both, helpers and principals, advance relentlessly as told by four different narrators: an unnamed voice (presumably the author’s), Armand Duval, Marguerite Gautier, and Juliet Duprat (a friend).
La Dame aux camellias is a timeless story that will continue to captivate readers for many generations to come.