La Dame Aux Camelias
By: Alexandre Dumas (fils)
Marguerite Gautier is the most beautiful, brazen–and expensive–courtesan in all of Paris. Despite being ill with consumption, she lives a glittering, moneyed life of nonstop parties and aristocratic balls and savors every day as if it were her last.
Into her life comes Armand Duval. Young, handsome, and recklessly headstrong, he is hopelessly in love with Marguerite, but not nearly rich enough. Yet Armand is Marguerite’s first true love, and against her better judgment, she throws away her upper-class lifestyle for him. But as intense as their love for each other is, it challenges a reality that cannot be denied….
I was in the mood for a classic on the short-ish side (a tall feat seeing as most of the classics that are on the to-be-read list are on the chunky side) and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that La Dame aux Camelias fit the bill! I actually learned more recently that this was written by Alexandre Dumas’ son who happens to have the same name as him (totally disregarded my faint grasp of French when I saw the (fils) bit *blushes*), but that’s cool all the same.
This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.
La Dame aux Camelias pretty much solidified Alexandre Dumas as a favourite. His prose and sense of storytelling just draws the reader into the story, however simple the plot may seem; you want to know what happens to Armand and Marguerite’s story, how they came to be where they were at the start of the novel and so forth. The structure of the novel is a bit reminiscent of Emily Bronte with the switch in narrator but in the case of this novel, it’s much more clearer where the switch takes place.
The novel is also a fascinating look at Parisian society in the mid-nineteenth century and its mix of the the traditional social circles and familial and social hierarchies but mixed with the “modern” aspects of middle class occupations. Marguerite’s role as a demi-mondaine or a courtesan of sorts and how it fits in with the nineteenth century social scene was interesting, especially considering how sick she was at the same time. Despite of what the Revolution brought to the country, it was also interesting to read how strong family values and aspects of duty and family honour still played in French families.
The characters were compelling enough. Sometimes I would get a bit annoyed with Armand or Marguerite but Alexandre Dumas portrays them as well-rounded characters, with both their strengths and their flaws. Marguerite herself is a fascinating character; I guess she can come off as haughty and too preoccupied with material objects (which I thought just went hand-in-hand with her role as a courtesan) but then Dumas brings out this whole other aspect to her character where she is kind and caring and capable of loving deeply and willing to sacrifice much for that love. It’s interesting how that side to her character unfolds as the story progresses, leading up to the tragedy.
La Dame aux Camelias is a fascinating and poignant story and quite a change of pace from a novelist known for his adventure and action novels. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into French literature or classic literature.