---Book Review: “Camille”
I read the Chinese version of “Camille” a few years ago. At that time I was deeply moved by the main character Marguerite Gautier. “Camille” or “The Lady of the Camellias” by Alexandre Dumas, fils, is the story of Marguerite Gautier, a young courtesan, or kept woman, in Paris in the mid 1800's, and how she falls in love with a young man, Armand Duval, and then tries to escape from her questionable past. Unfortunately, it comes back to haunt her and she ends up returning to that life and dies painfully and alone, but with the knowledge that she was a noble woman at heart. When I first began to read the book, I did not care for Marguerite or her attitude or lifestyle, but as I got further into the narrative, I realized that her saucy attitude was a front to cover the lonely woman that she really was. She felt used, abused and unloved, until the gentle Armand Duval came into her life and showed her that he loved her as a person and not for what she could do for him. It must have taken great courage for Marguerite to leave the life she had lived for so long, knowing all along that it was probably too good to be true and would not last indefinitely. And it also showed that Marguerite really loved Armand Duval for she could even change herself for him.
However, happiness didn’t last for long. When M. Duval, Armand's father, came to her, pleading for her to leave Armand to save both Armand's reputation and that of his younger innocent sister, Marguerite saw a way to become pure of heart, if not in body. She felt that it was her duty, because she loved Armand so much, to do this even though it meant giving up her own happiness and hurting Armand temporarily. She reluctantly returned to her former life, knowing that some day Armand would forgive her. Sadly, she died in debt and basically alone, except for her one female friend, Julie Duprat, who helped her during her illness. She had her journal sent to Armand after her death, explaining why she had made the choices she had. I think Dumas's last few lines about Marguerite being the exception, not the rule were quite true, and I also agreed with his view that while her lifestyle could not be condoned, we as a society assume that all of these type of women are cold and heartless, while this may not always be the case. A person can make the wrong choices in life when they are young, and try to redeem themselves, but sometimes past situations prevent them from changing their lives, even though they desperately wish to do so. This applies to both men and women in many different types of circumstances: involvement in crime; drug or alcohol abuse; gambling; prostitution; financial problems; poor marriage choices; etc. And this is the fact, which exists in the whole society.
As far as the other characters in the book, I think Marguerite was right in saying that no one truly cared about her, but only wanted something from her, the only exceptions being Armand and Julie Duprat. Of course, the Comte de G. and Comte de N. wanted her body and appearance. The Duke needed to “wake up and smell the coffee” and realize that she could never replace his dead daughter. If he truly cared, he could have helped her leave her lifestyle without “keeping” her himself. And lastly, Prudence was a blood-sucking leech who used Marguerite almost worse than the men. I also think she was jealous of the fact that Marguerite had so much more courage than herself and someone truly loved her.