La Dame Aux Camelias

La Dame Aux Camelias (or The Lady of the Camellias), was an 1848 novel by Alexandre Dumas (son of the more famous Alexandre Dumas, who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers). This book shocked France, since it was the first (I use the word "first" tentatively, since I haven't read every text ever written) novel to explicitly reference a woman's period.

The heroine, a courtesan, is called La Dame Aux Camelias for her trademark camellia blossom worn on her dress. When she is available to her lovers, she wears a white camellia. When she is, uh, indisposed she wears a red one. It was remarkable not only that her period was referenced, but that the character was so sexually active that she needed to wear a badge alerting everyone to the condition of her privates. Not that I think this is a bad thing. I actually really like that Dumas tried to destigmatize a perfectly natural process that everyone thinks is !SO GROSS, NEVER TALK ABOUT IT!, especially by correlating it with something as lovely as a flower.

Here is a poster of a production with Sarah Bernhardt. As you can tell, she is ready and raring to go.

This particular production of it reaaaaaally focused on that one part. And they make it look pretty sinister. They might as well put "PERIOOOOOOD" in a serial killer font over the flower.

But the point is, France was SHOCKED. It didn't stop the novel from becoming hugely popular, though. It was adapted for the stage several times and then got turned into several films (most notably Camille starring Greta Garbo). It also was turned into the opera La Traviata by Verdi. Many of you are familiar with La Traviata/La Dame Aux Camilias in its more recent reincarnations, Moulin Rouge! and Rent. It's all the same story, no matter when they set it. I mean, it's the same story apart from the period thing, which has been left by the wayside. For better or worse.

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