So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Camille by Alexandre Dumas

Camille by Alexandre Dumas

This Heritage Press edition is clothbound with a leather label on the spine. Illustrations by Bernard Lamotte accompany most of the 26 chapters. The translation is by Edmund Gosse and there is an Introduction by Andre Maurois, a Prefatory Letter by the author, and A Memoir of Marie Duplessis by Jules Janin. Tucked into my copy was a 4-page Heritage Club Sandglass which further describes the book, its background, and this edition.
Andre Maurois' Introduction tells the true story of how the young Alexandre Dumas met and fell in love with Alphonsine Plessis, known in Paris as Marie Duplessis. Their true story is the basis for this first novel. Since his mother was a kept woman, Dumas had a special understanding for the life Alphonsine was living, and tried, without success, to save her with his love.
This introduction is followed by a short letter from the author to the publisher of an illustrated edition that tells the story of how he wrote this book about Marie Duplessis in three weeks when his "thoughts reverted to her" while staying at a country inn that they used to visit together. Then comes a Memoir of Marie Duplessis written by the Parisian author Jules Janin who, while he only saw her three times, like everyone in Paris, knew her story.
The novel itself is a shifting of voices. In the first three chapters the narrator tells of stumbling on an auction at what turns out to be the apartment of the recently deceased Marguerite Gautier, the name Dumas gives to Marie Duplessis in the novel. He takes a fancy to a copy of the novel Manon Lescaut with "something written on the first page" and places the highest bid. When he gets the book the inscription turns out to be "Manon to Marguerite. Humility. Armand Duval."
In the fourth chapter he gets a call from Armand Duval who has been out of the country and returned when he heard of Marguerite's deathly illness, but arrived too late to see her. He has come seeking the book and the narrator is more than happy to return it. A bond is formed between these two men. They meet several more times, always talking of Marguerite. Then in chapters seven through twenty four the point of view shifts and Armand tells the narrator of his tragic love affair with Marguerite.
All through the novel Marguerite is portrayed as a kept woman plagued with consumption who relies on her patrons for the money she needs to live in luxury. The narrator claims he is "not the apostle of vice," but is instead "the echo of noble sorrow." It is this ability to portray a fallen woman as a romantic ideal to a young man in a realistic way that makes the work the classic it is. Marguerite and Armand are young lovers who can make no claims to innocence or virtue, and yet their love is deep and true.


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