THACKERAY AND ALEXANDER DUMAS FILS
Alexander Dumas fils published The Lady
of the Camellias in 1848 [fils: French for "the son of";
translated as "the Younger"]. Like Thackeray, he is a moralist,
exposing the hypocrisies and vanities
of his society. Both write about the heartlessness and
materialism of fashionable society, though the openness
with which they present their materials differs significantly.
In Vanity Fair, Thackeray frankly admits that he
depicts vice only in the vaguest terms, the terms which
his prudish society allows:
The times are such that one scarcely
dares to allude to that kind of company which thousands of our
young men in Vanity Fair are frequenting every day, which
nightly fills casinos and dancing rooms, which is known
to exist as well as the Ring in Hyde Park or the Congregation
at St. James's–but which the most squeamish if not the
most moral of societies is determined to ignore. (page 579, chapter
Society's hypocrisy is inhibiting, "There
are things we do and know perfectly well in Vanity Fair,
though we never speak of them" because a "polite society" will not
"read an authentic description of vice" (page 759, chapter XLIV).
Thackeray can only hint at the demimonde
[demimonde: a class of women who are not respectable
because of sexual promiscuity or indiscreet behavior].
Writing at the same time as Thackeray, whose
serialized Vanity Fair appeared in 1847-1848,
Dumas forthrightly depicts the world of the courtesan
and the aristocratic pursuit of pleasure. Men, of course,
could move between the respectable world and the demimonde. The
Lady of the Camellias is the story of the grand passion of Armand
Duval and Marguerite Gautier, a successful courtesan who is dying of
In effect, Dumas fills in the blanks in
Thackeray's depiction of the life led and attitudes held by "thousands
of our young men in Vanity Fair" and by aristocrats like Lord Steyne.
There can be no clearer summary of the life
they are leading than the passage in which Marguerite's
next door neighbor, Prudence Duvernoy, urges Armand to
accept Marguerite's having other (paying) lovers. Prudence
is attempting to initiate him into the mercenary, soulless
way of the world or Fashionable Society.
Armand, who became Marguerite's lover just
the day before, is jealous of her relationships with other
men. He waits with the greedy, self-serving Prudence for
the Comte de G. to leave Marguerite's house, so that Armand
can spend the rest of the night with Marguerite. The middle-aged
Prudence lives off of Marguerite and abandons her as she
slowly dies in agony and in debt.
March 2, 2011