THE LADY OF THE CAMILLIAS
By Alexander Dumas, fils
Translated by Liesl Schillinger
Ms. Hen’s attention was brought to this novel because she discovered that it inspired the film MOULIN ROUGUE. The story is very different; the novel is not a raucous, high-strung romp like film, but a tortured love story between an idealistic man and a woman who is not expecting to find love, and is dying of consumption.
It is the story of Armand, a young man from the outskirts of Paris, and Marguerite, a “kept woman,” the lover of many men who pay for her apartment and her carriage, clothes, food, and everything. Armand meets Marguerite at the theater and is so smitten that he cannot talk. He runs into her months later, and he and his friend go with her to her apartment with another woman, Prudence and have supper. Marguerite leaves the room to cough up blood in private and Armand shows concern for her, which nobody else had ever done. This touches Marguerite, and they begin their tumultuous love affair.
The problem is that Armand cannot afford to keep Marguerite and be her only lover, but he cannot stand anyone else to be with her. The pull at each other and she seems to torture him. The story is told through Armand recounting the tale to the narrator; a man who discovers Marguerite is dead by attending her estate sale after her death.
THE LADY OF THE CAMILLIAS was better known as a play by the same name in France written by the same author. The play was first shown in Paris in 1852. The story became more famous by the opera LA TRAVIATA, which premiered in Venice in 1853.
Since Ms. Hen is a feminist hen, she struggled with relating to Marguerite’s plight, that she needed men to pay her way. But she realized that this novel was written in a different time, and we cannot rewrite history. We can learn about history and be glad that we don’t live in an era in which women’s options were limited to getting married, becoming a kept woman, a teacher or a nun.
Ms. Hen rarely cries when she reads a novel, but this novel made her cry, since it was so heartrending. Ms. Hen did her research before she read this, and the Schillinger translation is supposed to be best because it shows the desperation and passion of the characters. Ms. Hen highly recommends this novel if one wants to read a heartbreaking love story and to cry like a hen.