I picked this book basically because it was on my bookshelf, next time I'll try to choose something that you've heard of (or am I the only one who has never heard this story before?). Also, the next round of romnovs will be along that pattern I was talking about in January. -M.R.
Pairing: kept woman and, um, dude?
First Sentence: 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.
Climax: No, but this is hilarious: "Well, then, it won't do for you to come and be pettish here because you have seen a man in my box."
My edition of Camille, inherited from my rich and grumpy great aunt, boldly calls itself the greatest French love story ever told. This seems a little bit hasty, given other famous French couples like Abélard and Héloïse or even, in some ways, Napoleon and Josephine. And to be honest, I really don't think Camille lives up to this claim.
So what is the love story? (Spoiler alert, obv.) It starts out with Armand Duval admiring Marguerite Gauthier, a Parisian courtesan, from afar. He "falls in love" with her, and eventually approaches her and makes her his mistress. She is indulgent toward him because he shows genuine concern for her when she's seized by her consumptive coughing fits. They end up falling for each other very quickly, although Marguerite continues entertaining other men so that she can keep up her expensive lifestyle. However, they eventually move out into the country, and Marguerite starts selling all of her things so that she and Armand can shack up together in a quiet corner of Paris.
Enter Armand's father, urging him to end this madness and not ruin himself for a prostitute. Armand basically tells his dad to fuck off, but, upon returning to Marguerite in the country, finds that she's left him. Armand reacts like any gentleman would, and takes another mistress for the express purpose of insulting Marguerite. When she goes to see him and beg him to stop being such a huge asshole, they share one final night of passion, which he then has the audacity to pay her for. And then he basically goes travelling for several months.
Marguerite dies while Armand is away, leaving him a letter that reveals his father went to plead with her to leave him. Armand's father did this for his daughter's sake, because the family of the man that she wanted to marry wouldn't let the marriage happen while Armand was openly living with a prostitute in Paris.
Presumably everyone lives happily ever after.
I found this book intriguing, but not very touching. It suffered from the same problems that the romnovs do, basically a lack of character development and a not terribly engaging story. Armand seemed like a decent enough guy, and his father, too, but Marguerite was hollow and I didn't really know anything about her except that she was a consumptive "kept woman." There was none of the sense of volition about her that you can get from the Scarlett O'Haras and Jane Eyres of the literary world. I'm curious how much of this is due to the fact that Camille was written by a man.
Which brings me to what intrigued me about this book. Mainly, how transgressive it felt to read it. There was nothing explicit at all, but it just seemed to incredibly scandalous. This became especially clear at the part when Armand briefly returns home to his father and sister after Marguerite leaves him. He's basically a wreck, and he mentions how his sister is confused by this, because "of course," she knows nothing about his exploits in Paris. When I was in my early teens and devouring L. M. Montgomery's novels like I've never done with any author before or since, I remember reading passages in her books (the words of uptight aunts, usually) deriding novels as trash not fit for female consumption. I never really understood that sentiment at the time, but if Camille and Les Liaisons Dangeureuses were the kind of books on offer to Anne and Emily, I can see why their aunts were concerned.
Huh. I guess the French are a pretty sexy bunch, aren't they?
You see, sir, we are obliged to love the dead, for we are kept so busy, we have hardly time to love anything else.
Then I began to believe, with the superstition which people have when they are waiting, that if I went out for a little while, I should find an answer when I got back.
"Sir, I know more of life than you do. There are no entirely pure sentiments except in perfectly chaste women. Every Manon can have her own Des Grieux, and times are changed. It would be useless for the world to grow older if it did not correct its ways. You will leave your mistress."
When one's existence has contracted a habit, such as that of this love, it seems impossible that the habit should be broken without at the same time breaking all the other springs of life.