Though she died in 1847 at a young age, Marie Duplessis inspired one of the greatest operas ever composed. In The Real Traviata: The Song of Marie Duplessis
(Oxford University Press, 2015), René Weis
recounts the life of the remarkable woman who overcame poverty and abuse to become the toast of Parisian society. Born Alphonsine Plessis, as a young girl she was sexually assaulted by her own father before she escaped to Paris. Initially finding work as a laundress, Duplessis’s beauty soon won her the attention of wealthy admirers, whose interests gave her access to the social elite. As Weis demonstrates, her success as a courtesan was not just because of her physical attractiveness, but also due to her intelligence, her charm, and her generous spirit, all of which won her a range of friends and lovers that included some of the greatest artistic talents of her time. Among them was the younger Alexandre Dumas, whose novel La Dame aux Camélias
was based on Duplessis’s life and which, in turn, inspired the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi to write La traviata
, an opera which has enchanted and entertained millions ever since its initial performance in 1853.