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The Lady of the Camellias

The Lady of the Camellias
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

The Lady of the Camellias (French: La Dame aux camélias) is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, first published in 1848, and subsequently adapted for the stage. The Lady of the Camellias 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, The Lady of the Camellias 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

The theme of The Lady of the Camellias is a love story between Marguerite Gautier, a "demi-mondaine" ("courtisane" in the original French, i.e., a woman "kept" by various lovers, frequently more than one at a time) suffering from tuberculosis, and a young provincial bourgeois, Armand Duval. The narration of the love story is told by Duval himself to the (unnamed) narrator of the book. She is named as the Lady of the Camellias because she wears a white camellia when she is available to her lover(s) and a red one when her delicate condition precludes making love.

Armand falls in love with Marguerite and ultimately becomes her lover, convincing her to turn her back on her life as a "courtisane" and live with him in the countryside. This idyllic existence is broken by Armand's father, who, concerned by the scandal created by the illicit relationship and fearful that it will destroy his daughter's (Armand's sister's) chances of marriage, convinces Marguerite to leave Armand, who believes, up until Marguerite's death, that she has left him for another man. Marguerite's death is described as an unending agony, during which Marguerite, abandoned by everyone, can only regret what might have been.

Unlike the love of the Chevalier des Grieux for Manon Lescaut (to which story Dumas himself makes reference at the beginning of The Lady of the Camellias), 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.

Dumas 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.

The novel is also marked by the description of Parisian life during the 19th century and the fragile world of the "courtisanes".

Stage performances

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 Lillian Gish, Vivien Leigh, Eleonora Duse, Margaret Anglin, Gabrielle Réjane, Tallulah Bankhead, Eva Le Gallienne, Isabelle Adjani, Cacilda Becker (pt), and especially Sarah Bernhardt, who starred in Paris, London, and several Broadway revivals, plus a 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".[2]

It is also the inspiration for the 2008 musical Marguerite,[3] 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, The Lady of the Camellias at the Amore Theatre in Athens.



In addition to inspiring La Traviata, The Lady of the Camellias has been adapted for approximately twenty different motion pictures in numerous countries and in a wide variety of languages. The role of "Marguerite Gautier"[4] 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

There have been at least eight adaptations of The Lady of the Camellias entitled Camille. See Camille (disambiguation).

Other films based on La Dame aux Camélias

In addition to the Camille films, the story has been the adapted into numerous other screen versions:


  • Lady of the Camellias is a ballet by Val Caniparoli with music by Frédéric Chopin. It premiered with Ballet Florida at the Raymond Kravis Center in 1994.
  • Veronica Paeper created a ballet Camille based on The Lady of the Camellias which has been staged several times since 1990.[8]

Other novels

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. ^ Biography of Alexandre Dumas fils on the Lietrature network website
  2. ^ The Century. January 1879. p. 60. 
  3. ^ Wolf, Matt (May 27, 2008). "In 'Marguerite,' an all-too-dark musical". New York Times. Retrieved April 16, 2012. 
  4. ^ Marguerite Gautier at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ "John Neumeier biography". Hamburg Ballet. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  8. ^ 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. 

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