The acclaimed cabaret ‘Songs For The Fallen‘ portrays the lacivious life of Marie Duplessis, a Parisian courtesan and party girl of the 19th Century. Before the show hits the Civic Theatre on Thursday 15th October, we decided to do a bit of research into Marie’s tumultuous past, and, wow… If there’s one thing to know about Marie, she was a total badass.
1. She made her way from extreme poverty to being the most notorious and cashed-up woman in France
Marie’s paternal grandparents were the original odd couple – her grandfather, a priest, her grandmother, a prostitute. Already that seems like a weird enough heritage, right? But there’s more… Her father was a brute and a drunkard, and her poor tormented mother died when Marie was only 8 years old. Marie’s father saw no use for her and farmed her out to relatives, and one one of these stays was where Marie lost her virginity at 12 years old to a young farmhand. After this faux-pas, her father decided she could make more money on her back, so he sold her to a 70 year old wealthy bachelor. Thus began her left-of-centre ‘career’…
Marie Duplessis was a beautiful young woman, and by the time she was 16, she had learned that prominent men were willing to give her money in exchange for her company. Her first role as mistress of a widower elevated her out of cheap lodgings and into her own apartment. From there her list of lovers read like a shopping list of the finest aristocracy of France, and the cash rolled in…
By 20, she was able to afford a beautiful flat on the Boulevard de Madeleine, furnished with Louis XV furniture, silk hangings on the wall, books and clothes galore. Apparently, she would spend over a 100,000 francs a year on her upkeep, not including clothes, carriages, servants, rent and travel. After living such a deprived childhood, Marie was like a kid in a candy store with her newfound wealth, and developed a compulsive need for luxury.
2. She lived an exorbitantly decadent party life
Marie’s average day ran a little something like this: wake up, drink hot chocolate, read, spend a few hours picking a glamorous outfit, go for a carriage ride, do a bit of shopping, then come home to get ready for a party/the theatre/the opera… Hard life, huh?
As most courtesans did, Marie set up a salon in her residence, a place where politicians, writers, and artists would gather for stimulating conversation, and she was certainly considered to be the “hostess with the mostest”.
3. She taught herself how to speak eloquently, read, write, and stay educated in worldly-matters so she could be an equal with her male suitors
Coming from a time when educated women really only existed in the elite classes, Marie never received schooling in her impoverished youth. But, Marie totally changed the game. In order to impress with her wit, and converse intelligently with her high-class suitors, Marie devoted much of her time to reading, and invested in tutors to help her learn how to write and educate her in history, geography and world issues. She also trained herself to speak French without her Normandy accent, which was considered to sound “lower-class”.
4. She was the epitome of muse
Marie has been the inspiration behind a number of literary and film works. Five months after her death, one of Marie’s lovers and a struggling writer, Alexandre Dumas, immortalised her as La Dame aux Camellias. The story reached widespread popularity once it was adapted to a stage show, and Marie’s death made Dumas’ career, seeing him become far wealthier than she ever was. The story also inspired Verdi to create his extremely popular opera, La Traviata. Verdi’s version of the story has been converted into dozens of ballet and movie adaptions, including 1939’s Camille and more recently, Baz Luhrmann’s 2010 film, Moulin Rouge!
5. She was the embodiment of the mantra ‘Live fast, die young’
Marie’s turbulent and colourful life, ultimately came to a tragic end. On 3 February 1847, Marie’s struggle with tuberculosis finally overcame her, and she died at the tender age of 23. She went out in style with a lavish funeral, paid for by two of her lovers and attended by hundreds of people. All of Marie’s possessions were then publicly auctioned off in front of a huge crowd to pay off her massive posthumous debts.
Want to catch a glimpse into the lusty legend that is Marie Duplessis? Be sure to catch ‘Songs For The Fallen‘ at the Civic Theatre on Thursday 15th October. Tickets available here.
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