CAMILLE (LA DAME AUX CAMILIAS)
by ALEXANDRE DUMAS fils
In my opinion it is impossible to create characters until one
has spent a long time in studying men as it is impossible to
speak a language until it has been seriously acquired. Not being
old enough to invent I content myself with narrating and I beg
the reader to assure himself of the truth of a story in which all
the characters with the exception of the heroine are still
alive. Eye-witnesses of the greater part of the facts which I
have collected are to be found in Paris and I might call upon
them to confirm me if my testimony is not enough. And thanks to
a particular circumstance I alone can write these things for I
alone am able to give the final details without which it would
have been impossible to make the story at once interesting and
This is how these details came to my knowledge. On the 12th of
March 1847 I saw in the Rue Lafitte a great yellow placard
announcing a sale of furniture and curiosities. The sale was to
take place on account of the death of the owner. The owner's name
was not mentioned but the sale was to be held at 9 Rue d'Antin
on the 16th from 12 to 5. The placard further announced that the
rooms and furniture could be seen on the 13th and 14th.
I have always been very fond of curiosities and I made up my
mind not to miss the occasion if not of buying some at all
events of seeing them. Next day I called at 9 Rue d'Antin.
It was early in the day and yet there were already a number of
visitors both men and women and the women though they were
dressed in cashmere and velvet and had their carriages waiting
for them at the door gazed with astonishment and admiration at
the luxury which they saw before them.
I was not long in discovering the reason of this astonishment and
admiration for having begun to examine things a little
carefully I discovered without difficulty that I was in the
house of a kept woman. Now if there is one thing which women in
society would like to see (and there were society women there)
it is the home of those women whose carriages splash their own
carriages day by day who like them side by side with them
have their boxes at the Opera and at the Italiens and who parade
in Paris the opulent insolence of their beauty their diamonds
and their scandal.
This one was dead so the most virtuous of women could enter even
her bedroom. Death had purified the air of this abode of splendid
foulness and if more excuse were needed they had the excuse
that they had merely come to a sale they knew not whose. They
had read the placards they wished to see what the placards had
announced and to make their choice beforehand. What could be
more natural? Yet all the same in the midst of all these
beautiful things they could not help looking about for some
traces of this courtesan's life of which they had heard no
doubt strange enough stories.
Unfortunately the mystery had vanished with the goddess and for
all their endeavours they discovered only what was on sale since
the owner's decease and nothing of what had been on sale during
her lifetime. For the rest there were plenty of things worth
buying. The furniture was superb; there were rosewood and buhl
cabinets and tables Sevres and Chinese vases Saxe statuettes
satin velvet lace; there was nothing lacking.
I sauntered through the rooms following the inquisitive ladies
of distinction. They entered a room with Persian hangings and I
was just going to enter in turn when they came out again almost
immediately smiling and as if ashamed of their own curiosity. I
was all the more eager to see the room. It was the dressing-room
laid out with all the articles of toilet in which the dead
woman's extravagance seemed to be seen at its height.
On a large table against the wall a table three feet in width
and six in length glittered all the treasures of Aucoc and
Odiot. It was a magnificent collection and there was not one of
those thousand little things so necessary to the toilet of a
woman of the kind which was not in gold or silver. Such a
collection could only have been got together little by little
and the same lover had certainly not begun and ended it.
Not being shocked at the sight of a kept woman's dressing-room I
amused myself with examining every detail and I discovered that
these magnificently chiselled objects bore different initials and
different coronets. I looked at one after another each recalling
a separate shame and I said that God had been merciful to the
poor child in not having left her to pay the ordinary penalty
but rather to die in the midst of her beauty and luxury before
the coming of old age the courtesan's first death.
Is there anything sadder in the world than the old age of vice
especially in woman? She preserves no dignity she inspires no
interest. The everlasting repentance not of the evil ways
followed but of the plans that have miscarried the money that
has been spent in vain is as saddening a thing as one can well
meet with. I knew an aged woman who had once been "gay" whose
only link with the past was a daughter almost as beautiful as she
herself had been. This poor creature to whom her mother had never
said "You are my child" except to bid her nourish her old age
as she herself had nourished her youth was called Louise and
being obedient to her mother she abandoned herself without
volition without passion without pleasure as she would have
worked at any other profession that might have been taught her.
The constant sight of dissipation precocious dissipation in
addition to her constant sickly state had extinguished in her
mind all the knowledge of good and evil that God had perhaps
given her but that no one had ever thought of developing. I
shall always remember her as she passed along the boulevards
almost every day at the same hour accompanied by her mother as
assiduously as a real mother might have accompanied her daughter.
I was very young then and ready to accept for myself the easy
morality of the age. I remember however the contempt and
disgust which awoke in me at the sight of this scandalous
chaperoning. Her face too was inexpressibly virginal in its
expression of innocence and of melancholy suffering. She was like
a figure of Resignation.
One day the girl's face was transfigured. In the midst of all the
debauches mapped out by her mother it seemed to her as if God
had left over for her one happiness. And why indeed should God
who had made her without strength have left her without
consolation under the sorrowful burden of her life? One day
then she realized that she was to have a child and all that
remained to her of chastity leaped for joy. The soul has strange
refuges. Louise ran to tell the good news to her mother. It is a
shameful thing to speak of but we are not telling tales of
pleasant sins; we are telling of true facts which it would be
better no doubt to pass over in silence if we did not believe
that it is needful from time to time to reveal the martyrdom of
those who are condemned without bearing scorned without judging;
shameful it is but this mother answered the daughter that they
had already scarce enough for two and would certainly not have
enough for three; that such children are useless and a lying-in
is so much time lost.
Next day a midwife of whom all we will say is that she was a
friend of the mother visited Louise who remained in bed for a
few days and then got up paler and feebler than before.
Three months afterward a man took pity on her and tried to heal
her morally and physically; but the last shock had been too
violent and Louise died of it. The mother still lives; how? God
This story returned to my mind while I looked at the silver
toilet things and a certain space of time must have elapsed
during these reflections for no one was left in the room but
myself and an attendant who standing near the door was
carefully watching me to see that I did not pocket anything.
I went up to the man to whom I was causing so much anxiety.
"Sir" I said "can you tell me the name of the person who
formerly lived here?"
"Mademoiselle Marguerite Gautier."
I knew her by name and by sight.
"What!" I said to the attendant; "Marguerite Gautier is dead?"
"When did she die?"
"Three weeks ago I believe."
"And why are the rooms on view?"
"The creditors believe that it will send up the prices. People
can see beforehand the effect of the things; you see that induces
them to buy."
"She was in debt then?"
"To any extent sir."
"But the sale will cover it?"
"And more too."
"Who will get what remains over?"
"She had a family?"
"It seems so."
The attendant reassured as to my intentions touched his hat
and I went out.
"Poor girl!" I said to myself as I returned home; "she must have
had a sad death for in her world one has friends only when one
is perfectly well." And in spite of myself I began to feel
melancholy over the fate of Marguerite Gautier.
It will seem absurd to many people but I have an unbounded
sympathy for women of this kind and I do not think it necessary
to apologize for such sympathy.
One day as I was going to the Prefecture for a passport I saw
in one of the neighbouring streets a poor girl who was being
marched along by two policemen. I do not know what was the
matter. All I know is that she was weeping bitterly as she kissed
an infant only a few months old from whom her arrest was to
separate her. Since that day I have never dared to despise a
woman at first sight.
The sale was to take place on the 16th. A day's interval had been
left between the visiting days and the sale in order to give
time for taking down the hangings curtains etc. I had just
returned from abroad. It was natural that I had not heard of
Marguerite's death among the pieces of news which one's friends
always tell on returning after an absence. Marguerite was a
pretty woman; but though the life of such women makes sensation
enough their death makes very little. They are suns which set as