La Dame Aux Camelias (The Lady of the Camilias)
Date: 1850 1851 1860s
Subject: Explicit Sexuality
Artist: Alexandre Dumas Fils (1824 - 1895)
Confronting Bodies: French and British Censors
Dates of Action: 1850, 1851,1860s
Location: France, England
Description of Artwork: The play The Lady of the Camellias was adapted from Dumas' novel of the same title. The work was based on Dumas' own affair with a courtesan. The main character is Marguerite, a courtesan, who falls in love with a man named Armand who has long admired her from afar. As their relationship continues Armand finds it increasingly difficult to fund the life-style and to cope with his jealousy. Eventually Armand's father visits Marguerite and tells her that her relationship with Armand is making it hard for his daughter to find a repectable husband. Marguerite is moved and breaks up with Armand without telling him the reason. Armand is furious. When Marguerite is on her deathbed she tells Armand the reason she left him and declares her love for him and Armand recognizes her nobility.
The Incident: The play was initially supposed to be staged at Dumas Fils' father's theater (his father was the famous novelist who wrote "The Count of Monte Cristo"). Because of political and economic uncertainties this collapsed and in 1850 Bouffe at the Vaudeville offered to stage the play. Under Napoleon theaters were subject to licensing which limited each theater to one genre and also to censorship. After the play was first submitted the censor Leon Faucher condemned the amoral behavior of the play in a report. A reworked version was rejected a few months later saying that the script did not appear to have been changed at all. Dumas had to wait until after the coup d'etat in 1851 for a new censor to be appointed and his play approved. When this new censor went on vacation his replacement reversed the decision and banned the play again. That only lasted a little while until the censor who had approved the play returned. In England French plays were frequently subject to censorship because the British objected to to France's "adventurous approach to personal relations". Verdi's opera based on the play "La Traviata" appeared in England in 1856 because it had slipped through during a change of censors in England. Even after the opera was shown the play was still not granted a license, but unlicensed performances were made in the provinces.
Results of Incident: Towards the end of the nineteenth century Dumas' play and the works of other French playwrights became acceptable in England.
Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia