Book Review for “The Lady of the Camellias” by Alexandre Dumas fils.
Summary: “Marguerite Gautier is a courtesan in the city of Paris. The symbol of her character is the camellia, pale and cold. She was once a needleworker who, while taking a rest cure in Bagneres, was befriended by a wealthy duke whose daughter she resembled. After the death of his daughter, the duke takes Marguerite back to Paris and introduces her into society. Somehow the story of Marguerite’s past life is rumored on the boulevards, and society frowns upon her. She is respected only by a few friends who know that she longs for a true love and wishes to leave the frivolous life of Paris. She is heavily in debt for her losses at cards and has no money of her own to pay her creditors. The Count de Varville, her latest admirer, offers to pay all of her debts if she will become his mistress. Before she gives her consent, however, she meets Armand Duval. Armand has nothing to offer her but his love. He is presented to Marguerite by her milliner, Madame Prudence, who pretends to be her friend but who is loyal to her only because Marguerite is generous with her money.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary-Vintage; France – Paris; Other Categories: Novella, Coming-of-Age, Romance (crossed lovers), Tragedy.
As you can see, I read this book (more like a novella) because it was picked for me in the 33rd #CCSpin. The reason I added this book to my list is because I’m a huge opera lover. I’ve grown up with opera in my life, and this is my favorite of all the ones by Verdi. I’ve seen it many times, including when it was performed here in Israel, with the lead sung by an old high school friend of mine – Nancy Gustafson. I’ll never forget how this slim, six-foot woman ended the performance, reaching to the sky, singing that maybe she’ll live and then… splat! She crumpled on the stage like a wet rag. The whole audience gasped! By far, the best operatic death scene I’ve ever witnessed. (I’m making no spoilers here since we know at the outset of this book that the Lady in question is dead.) I therefore have always wanted to read the book upon which this opera was based.
Now, it is no surprise that Verdi wanted to turn this into an opera. You see, Dumas wrote this story because he apparently experienced heartbreak after having fallen in love with a doomed courtesan. Dumas’ story was first published in 1848, and adapted into a play in 1852. Apparently, it was so striking that less than a year later, Verdi’s opera premiered in Vienna. Verdi obviously identified with the story because he too fell in love with a woman who many thought was a “fallen woman” due to her many romantic suitors. At the beginning of their relationship, Verdi was ostracized from society because they lived together without marrying. This also caused Verdi to become estranged from his family. Obviously, the popularity of a book and play doesn’t mean you can actually live it in real life, especially if you are someone of a certain level of societal status – as both Verdi and Dumas were.
At the start of reading this book, I was surprised to note that the language here was so easy to read. Now, I don’t know how it is in the original French, but that’s how it was with this particular translation. That said, when I started reading, I was totally delighted in how it was going. However, once the story got closer to the middle, I started to be less delighted. As my regular readers know, I’m not very enamored with romance novels in general. One of the things that bothers me is angst. Yes, I get how someone can be totally in love, and feel that their whole life is about the person they’re in love with. That doesn’t mean we have to read about every ache and pain that they go through. I also realize that this is the whole point of this book. A young man falls hard for a woman who by profession, can’t be faithful. Of course he’ll be jealous of the other men in her life. I’m just wondering if it couldn’t have been toned down a little.
That said, for anyone who loves the romance genre, I’m sure they won’t mind all the suffering. However, this is certainly one that doesn’t follow the usual tropes. Instead of a woman hoping to find the man of her dreams, we have a man almost accidentally finding the love of his life, only to have all his hopes for a “happily ever after” ending, totally shattered. I guess that makes this a classic tragedy, and I’m thinking that you don’t see that much in romance novels these days. That may be why I don’t read that genre these days, because they seem so unrealistic. But realism abounds here; as they say, love hurts! This is why I can warmly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a genuine, tragic love story. for all this, I think this deserves four and a half stars out of five (I almost cried, but only because I was remembering my friend’s performance on stage).
This book was originally published in French in 1852. However, it has been republished in both the original and translation (according to Goodreads) over 1600 times, and that doesn’t include those books entitled simply “Camille,” or the version adapted into a play. This book is still widely available to purchase (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and The Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic).
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: Classics Club Spin #33. If you’re participating, don’t forget to submit your review here.
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