The Characters in "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real"
"The Lady of the Camellias" (La Dame aux camélias) is an 1848 novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, son of the man who wrote"The Three Musketeers." The stage adaptation premiered in 1852 and was an instant success, inspiring Giuseppe Verdi to immediately put the story to music, resulting in the 1853 opera La Traviata.
In the English-speaking world, "The Lady of the Camellias" became known as "Camille" and 16 productions have been performed on Broadway alone. The title character is Marguerite Gautier, who is based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of author Dumas, fils.
"The Lady of the Camellias" is a love story between Marguerite Gautier, a "demi-mondaine", (a woman "kept" by various lovers, frequently more than one at a time) suffering from tuberculosis, and a young provincial bourgeois, Armand Duval. Armand falls in love with Marguerite and ultimately becomes her lover, convincing her to turn her back on her life as a "courtesane" and live with him in the countryside. This idyllic existence is broken by Armand's father, who, concerned by the scandal created by the illicit relationship and fearful that it will destroy his daughter's (Armand's sister's) chances of marriage, convinces Marguerite to leave Armand, who believes, up until Marguerite's death, that she has left him for another man. Marguerite's death is described as an unending agony, during which Marguerite, abandoned by everyone, can only regret what might have been.
Dumas is careful to paint a favourable portrait of Marguerite, who despite her past is rendered virtuous by her love for Armand. The suffering of the two lovers, whose love is shattered by the need to conform to the morals of the times, is rendered touchingly.
The role of the tragic "Marguerite Gautier" became one of the most coveted amongst actresses and included performances by Lillian Gish, Eleonora Duse, Tallulah Bankhead, Eva Le Gallienne, Isabelle Adjani, and especially Sarah Bernhardt, who starred in Paris, London, and several Broadway revivals, plus a 1911 film. It has been filmed in numerous countries and in a wide variety of languages, and has been played on screen by Bernhardt, María Félix, Theda Bara, Alla Nazimova, Greta Garbo, Micheline Presle, Francesca Bertini, Isabelle Huppert, and others.
In the large arena of adaptations, spin-offs and parodies, special mention goes to Charles Ludlam's version, staged first by his own Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1973, with Ludlam playing the lead in drag, moving his audiences alternately to laughter and tears.
You can read the full texts in the original French and in an English translation at Project Gutenberg. Visit Marguerite Gautier and Armand Duval's Facebook page: