The Girl Who Loved Camellias by Julie Kavanagh
The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis

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...Julie Kavanagh exposes the tawdry reality behind her heroine’s legend.
-NY Times


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.


About Julie Kavanagh

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Julie Kavanagh is the author of Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton and Nureyev. She was trained as a dancer at the Royal Ballet Junior School, graduated from Oxford, and has been the arts editor of Harpers & Queen, a dance critic at The Spectator, and London editor of both Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. She is currently a writer and contributing editor for The Economist's cultural magazine, Intelligent Life.
Published June 11, 2013 by Vintage. 304 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel, Literature & Fiction, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Girl Who Loved Camellias
All: 4 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 1

NY Times

Reviewed by Caroline Weber on Jul 19 2013

...Julie Kavanagh exposes the tawdry reality behind her heroine’s legend.

Read Full Review of The Girl Who Loved Camellias:... | See more reviews from NY Times

WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Frederic Raphael on Aug 16 2013

"The Girl Who Loved Camellias" is as neat and nice as any matron might wish to read. Like nouvelle cuisine, such measured work leaves one hungry for a soupçon of bad taste.

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Above average
on Apr 16 2013

As a chronicle of French life, Kavanagh’s book is great fun; as biography, it’s scattered.

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NY Journal of Books

Reviewed by Janet Levine on Jun 11 2013

This new book cements her well-deserved reputation. We are in Ms. Kavanagh’s debt for shining a light on this woman almost forgotten in the dust of history, allowing her legend to endure.

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Karen Russo

Karen Russo 5 Sep 2013

Added the book to want to read list