Alexandre Dumas: views on women and prostitution

Literary Representations
Lorettes and society

Lower Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers

The Privileged Class: Courtesans

Defining the courtesan
Visual representations
Courtesans in reality





Alexandre Dumas was, unlike Victor Hugo, not someone who empathized with the plight of women in the nineteenth century. Although he was known to have affairs he had quite a different view of women and prostitution then Hugo did.

Alexander Dumas 5.for source click here

  • Alexandre Dumas (1824-1895), was a French playwright and novelist, who wrote plays about the problems of the middle class. He was the son of the writer Alexandre Dumas père. His first work was a volume of poetry, Péchés de jeunesse (Sins of Youth). The following year his first novel, Camille, appeared, and the subsequent dramatization of this work established him as a success. The play, about a courtesan who sacrifices her happiness for her lover's good, has since that time served as a vehicle for many great actors. The story was finally immortalized by Giuseppe Verdi in his famous opera La Traviata.


  • Alexandre began an affair with Marie Duplessis when he was only twenty-one. He described his camellia lady as "one of the last of those rare courtesans who had a heart," 6.for source click here but the cost of a single evening with her was enough to ruin Alexandre. Though already suffering from the consumption that was to kill her, she was kept by millionaires and spent a hundred thousand gold francs in a year. Yet it was he, and not she, as in the popular novel he wrote about her (before turning it into an even more popular play), who broke it off. He wrote in a letter to her: "My dear Marie, I am neither rich enough to love you as I would wish, nor poor enough to be loved by you as you would." 6.for source click here
  • Eventually Dumas came to see life "as a battle between the woman and the man." 6.for source click here Young men in the Second Empire, he thought, had become hard; the women provocative.


  • He seemed to have a greater leniency for men which was based, on his belief that sexual promiscuity was a natural condition for a young male, but not for a female. A man need not exercise strong will to curb his lusts; a woman would be most indiscreet to do so. And as for men? "The only crime would be in marrying the mistress." 6.for source click here So prostitution was built into the social system, and the moral code must be adapted to accept it. The crack that this causes in the code did not appear to Dumas until near the end of his life.


  • If the woman accepted her status as a prostitute and did not aspire to become a wife, she might be redeemable, like the lady of the camellias, who had a heart. But she was rare. Dumas added a note to his novel: "It is not my conclusion that all prostitutes would have behaved as did Marguerite."7.for source click here More typical to his mind was Suzanne d'Ange of Le Demi-Monde, who is determined to achieve social respectability by marrying a young army officer who is ignorant of her tarnished past. In this she is frustrated by the hero, Olivier de Jalin, a friend of her proposed victim, who uses every trick in the book except the revelation of their own old affair-which his honor prohibits. Perhaps due to a suspicion that at least some of his audience might sympathize with an unfortunate woman trying to better herself, Dumas makes Suzanne a good deal wickeder than the situation really requires.


  • When Dumas wrote La Femme de Claude, he created a woman so vile, not only in her ruthless promiscuity but in her betrayal of her nation to an enemy, her husband, is justified in shooting her dead. Dumas answered his critics in a pamphlet more violent than his play:
    "Women never listen to reason; not even to proof. When they do surrender it is always to feelings or to force. They must be either in love or cowed; either Juliet or Martine! Nothing else is of the slightest interest to them. I am writing, therefore, for the instruction of the male. If, after this revelation of the truth, men still persist in making mistakes about women, it will no longer be my fault, and I shall do as Pilate did . . ." 6.for source click here


Many of Dumas's views on women and virtue seemed somewhat hypocritical seeing that he himself was not one to pass up an evening with a woman of the night but he remained stayed in his view that prostitution was not something that could be excused. In fact the French dramatist went so far as to blame the defeat of France by Prussia in 1870 on the prevalence of prostitution in Paris.

Click here to go to: