The Lady with the Camelias by Alexandre Dumas fils was my book for the Classics Club Spin this month. I’ve had a copy of this book for donkey’s years and just never got around to reading it. In fact it isn’t a book which has been passed down to me but one I bought myself just because it is one of those handsome dark red leather bound books with gold edged pages, and I see it cost me all of 90p. Before I get on to the book I’d just like to mention that it must have been awful for the author if he was known as Alexander Dumas fils his entire life. Obviously it was to distinguish him from his father – the Alexandre Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers and many more well known books. I feel for Dumas junior!
Anyway, to the book. This was a complete surprise for me because just going from the title I thought it was going to be about a genteel lady of fashion, silly me, it is French after all.
I was not too pleased with the way the story began because almost from the very beginning we learn that the lady with the camelias is already dead and her life has obviously been a tragic one as apart from the fact she’s dead, her goods and chattels are up for auction to try and pay off the debts which she has left behind. The story is told by Armand Duval, who it turns out had been a past lover of the ‘lady’.
Marguerite was her name and she always carried a bouquet of camelias, I can’t help thinking that that must have been a bit of a burden after a while. The reason behind it was that for most of the month the camelias were white but for five days they were red. It was a sign to the ‘gentlemen’ that when the camelias were red she was unavailable to them, I did say this was French didn’t I?
Sadly Marguerite Gautier was a courtesan, if you want to be delicate about it but more plainly she was a high-class prostitute, ‘kept’ by an elderly duke but having many more lovers, being passed from man to man as their finances ran out. For she did ruin men with her constant need for money, with a love of beautiful things and wildly extravegant lifestyle, she had no need for men who couldn’t keep her in the style which she had become accustomed to. The poor, stupid lads sloped off penniless, no use to Marguerite.
Eventually Armand Duval becomes her lover, he convinces her to take more care of her health as she has TB and her hard-drinking lifestyle is fast taking its toll on her. Armand is obsessed and is on the road to ruin himself as he plans to make over his own small inheritance to Marguerite, and completely neglects his family.
When his father discovers what’s going on he isn’t best pleased, as his son’s reputation is likely to make it impossible for his daughter to marry a respectable man. As we know from the beginning, it’s all going to end in tears.
I’m really glad that I got around to reading this book at last but the subject matter isn’t one which really interests me and I’m far too much of a cynic to fall for the so-called romance which Armand had conjured up for himself.
French literature-wise I think I’m more of a Zola reader.