Friday, 12 August 2005

Marie Duplessis: The Ultimate Courtesan

Alexandre Dumas fils

On February 5th 1847 Marie Duplessis, the notorious Parisian courtesan, inspiration for Dumas’s Camille and Verdi’s La Traviata, died of tuberculosis. She was only 23 years old. Most of fashionable Paris showed up at her funeral. Charles Dickens was amongst the crowd who attended the funeral. He commented: “One could have believed that Marie was Jeanne d’Arc or some other national heroine, so profound was the general sadness.”

A year later, Alexandre Dumas the younger, wrote La Dame aux Camelias. Dumas had had an affair with Marie, between 1844 and 1845 and much of the story is based on this experience, so when the novel was published people read it as fact and not fiction. Their affair had been a subject of gossip amongst Parisian high society. The novel of course became extremely successful .

Of course the novel was rather far way from the truth. Marie Duplessis (borne Alphonsine Plessis) had a very unpleasant life. She did not die in the arms of her lover but alone and in agony. Born in rural Normandy, when she was around 13 years old her father sold her into prostitution. By the time she came to Paris she was 15 and started a career as a courtesan (a high class, well paid prostitute). Although she accumulated many of the trappings of status and wealth she died steeped in debts and all her belongings, even her pet parrot, were auctioned off in an effort to pay these off.


Ginger Mick said...

I reckon things must be really crook when your pet parrot is sold from under you, as it were.

Alterior said...

Yes, I reckon so too...