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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 ...
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.
“Kavanagh underscores what made Duplessis such an object of fascination. . . . What results is a warm portrait of the motivations and choices of an enigmatic woman who managed to both deeply embody and brazenly defy the conventions of her time.”
—The Daily Beast
“In taking on Duplessis, Kavanagh pieces together the details of a glamorous and tragic life of a woman whose influence as a muse has outlived her own fame.”
—The New Yorker
“Extraordinary. . . . [Kavanagh places] Marie’s story within the larger setting of French gallantry in the first half of the nineteenth century, and she does so with uncommon precision, ferreting out all available information about the secondary characters and bringing them to life. Her surefooted sense of the telling detail and the vigor of her style allow Kavanagh to sustain her reader’s interest.”
—The New York Review of Books
“Kavanagh is the biographer Rudolf Nureyev, and the formidably detailed research that she brought to [that volume] is in evidence in her account of Marie’s brief life. In her hands, bills from Marie’s doctors, florist, livery yard and milliner blossom into vivid narrative life. Unlike Dumas, she doesn’t romanticise her heroine; she has a bracingly sharp eye for the horrors of even a high-class courtesan’s existence, and acknowledges Marie’s hardheartedness, as well as her fascination and her vulnerability. . . . Kavanagh’s biography of Marie sparkles with affection for a spirited waif who made good in the only way she knew how.”
—The Telegraph (UK)
“Kavanagh succeeds brilliantly in coming as close to her subject as it is possible. . . . A compelling and moving account of a short, forgotten life which is far more interesting than fiction.”
—The Spectator (UK)
“‘It is,’ said Proust, ‘a work which goes straight to the heart.’ He was talking about La Traviata, which was first performed in Venice in 1853 and is still performed around the world 160 years on. The plot is as unlikely as the plots of most operas and as full of mad, melodramatic twists. But its story, it is clear from this extraordinary book, isn’t half as melodramatic as the life that inspired it.”
—The Sunday Times (UK)
“Equipped with the treasures gleaned from persistent research and guided by empathy. . . . Kavanagh is a warm, nimble portraitist, wryly chronicling the glittering if doomed realm of the courtesan. . . . Now Duplessis is a muse once again, this time for an adept biographer who elegantly preserves her indelible true story.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Thanks to a talented author, this tragedy is a pleasure to read. Already praised as a biographer, Kavanagh 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. . . . A thoroughly researched and fascinating account of Duplessis’s short life and lengthy legacy.”
“Marie Duplessis—the tragic inspiration for La Dame aux Camélias and La Traviata—crammed more drama into her short life than either of her fictionalised personas. Her true story has been crying out to be told. Now, at last, the enigmatic Duplessis has found a brilliant biographer in Kavanagh. The Girl Who Loved Camellias is not only a wonderful read: vivid and moving, but full of fascinating discoveries.”
—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War
“I was enthralled by the wholly unexpected life of Marie Duplessis, and entirely captivated by the cinematic realism of this wonderful book’s evocation of her world. Julie Kavanagh plunges you right into the Parisian demi-monde and redefines what it means to be a genuine star.”
—Sir Nicholas Hytner, Director of the National Theater and The Madness of King George, The History Boys, and One Man, Two Guvnors
“Hugely enjoyable—this book is for anyone with an interest in opera, celebrity, sex and money.”
—Sir Richard Eyre, Director of the National Theater, 1987-1997, of La Traviata, Guys and Dolls and the film, Notes on a Scandal
Posted September 26, 2013
No text was provided for this review.