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The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessisby Julie Kavanagh
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of Nureyev, the definitive biography of the celebrated Russian dancer, now comes the astonishing and unknown story of Marie Duplessis, the courtesan who inspired Alexandre Dumas fils’s novel and play La dame aux camélias, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata, George Cukor’s film Camille, and Frederick Ashton’s ballet Marguerite and Armand. Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, Greta Garbo, Isabelle Huppert, Maria Callas, Anna Netrebko, and Margot Fonteyn are just a few of the celebrated actors, singers, and dancers who have portrayed her.
Drawing on new research, Julie Kavanagh brilliantly re-creates the short, intense, and passionate life of the tall, pale, slender girl who at thirteen fled her brute of a father and Normandy to go to Paris, where she would become one of the grand courtesans of the 1840s. France’s national treasure, Alexandre Dumas père, was intrigued by her, his son became her lover, and Franz Liszt, too, fell under her spell. Quick to adapt an aristocratic mien, with elegant clothes, a coach, and a grand apartment, she entertained a salon of dandies, writers, and artists. Fascinating to both men and women, Marie, with her stylish outfits and signature camellias, was always a subject of great interest at the opera or at the Café de Paris, where she sat at the table of the director of the Paris Opéra, along with the director of the Théâtre Variétés, the infamous dancer Lola Montez, and others. Her early death at age twenty-three from tuberculosis created an outpouring of sympathy, noted by Charles Dickens, who wrote in February 1847: “For several days all questions political, artistic, commercial have been abandoned by the papers. Everything is erased in the face of an incident which is far more important, the romantic death of one of the glories of the demi-monde, the beautiful, the famous Marie Duplessis.”
With The Girl Who Loved Camellias, Kavanagh has written a compelling and poignant life of a nineteenth-century muse whose independent and modern spirit has timeless appeal.
"Thanks to a talented author, this tragedy is a pleasure to read. Already praised as a biographer, Kavanagh (Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton) intertwines the adventures of a famous courtesan with a fascinating period in Parisian history, with each scene spotlighting yet another titillating aspect of 1840s bohemia. Marie Duplessis was an unlikely demimondaine: she began life as an exploited peasant girl, but cultivated her looks and native intellect to gain entrÃ©e into cafes, salons, balls, and many high-born hearts — including those of Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas — and she played the muse for novels, plays, ballets, poetry, and the enduringly popular opera La Traviata. Charles Dickens called her 'one of the glories of the demimonde' and reported that the estate sale following her death from tuberculosis at the age of 23 drew 'everyone whom the capital of France counts as illustrious.' Yet a courtesan of her rank had a paradoxical status: socialites admired her from afar, but kept their distance in public. The result was a mixture of respect and disdain within a milieu of literati, cognoscenti, and royalty. Kavanagh's book is a thoroughly researched and fascinating account of Duplessis's short life and lengthy legacy. 16 pages of color photos. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The little known, riveting story of the most famous courtesan of her time: muse and mistress of Alexandre Dumas fils and Franz Liszt, the inspiration for Dumas's The Lady of the Camellias and Verdi's La Traviata, one of the most sought after, adored women of 1840s Paris.
Born in 1824 in Normandy, Marie Duplessis fled her brutal peasant father (who forced her to live with a man many years her senior). Julie Kavanagh traces Marie's reinvention in Paris at sixteen: as shop girl, kept woman, and finally, as grand courtesan with the clothes, apartment, coach and horses that an aristocratic woman of the time would have had. Tall, willowy, with dramatic dark hair, Marie acquired an aristocratic mien, but coupled with a singular modesty and grace, she was an irresistible figure to men and women alike. Kanavagh brings her to life on the page against a brilliantly evoked background of 1840s Paris: the theater and opera, the best tables at the cafés frequented by society figures, theater directors, writers, artists--and Marie, only nineteen, at the center of it all. Four years later, at twenty-three, she would be dead of tuberculosis.
About the Author
Julie Kavanagh is the author of Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton and Nureyev. She was trained as a dancer at the Royal Ballet Junior School, graduated from Oxford, and has been the arts editor of Harpers & Queen, a dance critic at The Spectator, and London editor of both Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. She is currently a writer and contributing editor for The Economist’s cultural magazine, Intelligent Life.
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