The 19th century's most infamous party-girl is undead and on the loose in the Big Apple.
When 23 year-old Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis succumbed to consumption in 1847, Charles Dickens showed up for the funeral and reported the city mourned as though Joan of Arc had fallen. Marie was not only a celebrity in in her own right, but her list of lovers included Franz Liszt – the first international music superstar, and Alexandre Dumas fils, son of the creator of The Three Musketeers. Dumas fils wrote the novel The Lady of the Camellias based on their time together. The book became a play, and the play became the opera La Traviata. Later came the film versions, and the legend never died.
But what if when offered the chance for eternal life and youth, Marie grabbed it, even when the price was the regular death of mortals at her lovely hand?
In 2014, Marie wonders if perhaps nearly two centuries of murder, mayhem, and debauchery is enough, especially when she falls hard for a rising star she believes may be the reincarnation of the only man she ever truly loved. But is it too late for her to change? Can a soul be redeemed like a diamond necklace in hock? And even if it can, have men evolved since the 1800′s? Or does a girl’s past still mark her?
Blood Diva is a sometimes humorous, often dark and erotic look at sex, celebrity, love, death, destiny, and the arts of both self-invention and seduction. It’s a story that asks a simple question – Can a one hundred ninety year-old demimondaine find happiness in 21st century Brooklyn without regular infusions of fresh blood?
The Making of a Vamp – Mixing History and the Supernatural
Marie Duplessis is the most famous person you've probably never heard of.
That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. Marie Duplessis, born Alphonsine Plessis, died of tuberculosis in 1847, just a few weeks after her 23rd birthday. She came from nowhere and nothing and became a courtesan – a high class prostitute – servicing some of the most important and prominent men of 19th century Paris. After her death, her possessions were auctioned off, which gave the society ladies who would never have spoken to her a chance to go through her apartment, take in her collection of hairbrushes and combs, and drop their jaws at the site of her pink-canopied bed.
Given that her friends (if not her clients) included some very important journalists, artists, and impresarios, there was a lot of press. Charles Dickens, who was visiting from England, wrote that it was as though France's most famous saint and beloved national symbol – Joan of Arc, was being mourned.
It was a short time later that young Alexandre Dumas fils – son of the author The Three Musketeers, released his novel, The Lady of the Camellias. The main character was based on Marie. Alexandre hadn't been a client. He was an amant de couer. – a “lover of the heart.” She gave herself to him freely, but they'd broken things off. He couldn't stand the way she supported herself. In his fictional version, she's called Marguerite Gautier. She is willing to give everything up for her lover – including the lavish lifestyle, but she goes beyond even that – giving him up so he won't face the scandal of being with her.
Even back then, people ate up celebrity gossip. The novel was a huge hit. Dumas fils wrote a play based on his book, which became an even bigger international sensation. Composer Giuseppe Verdi saw a performance and created the opera La Traviata (The Fallen Woman). It was same story although the names of the characters had changed, and the censors demanded it be set a hundred years in the past. Later, there were various movie versions, most famously, the Greta Garbo weepy, Camille, and the opera is still performed today.
But you've got to wonder, if Marie hadn't died, what would she have made of her fictional counterparts? Dumas and Verdi caught her delicacy – her ability to seem ladylike even when she was teasing or being (slightly) vulgar, her joie de vivre, her charm, and beneath that her loneliness and a desperate need for love. But they added something as well – sentiment. The real Marie Duplessis whose childhood rivaled that of any Dickens hero, could not have afforded that. She wouldn't have sacrificed herself for her lover's good name, and likely would have found the notion foolish.
All fiction is detective fiction. It all begins with the writer wishing to know not only what happened, but why and what if. I wanted a conversation with Mademoiselle Duplessis. I wanted to know given her sense of irony and wry outlook, what she would have made not only of her fictional selves, but of the myth created by men – the legend of the “bad-girl” who was reformed by love, and died as much from a broken heart as a disease.
I thought of writing an historical novel, perhaps focusing on her affair with Alexandre Dumas fils, but from her point of view. We don't know much about how she really felt about anything. She lied a lot. She didn't leave any diaries, and few letters survive. She was discreet, not only about her lovers, but about her heart.
I am no historian. The required research seemed daunting, but then I began to imagine how much fun it might be to place Marie Duplessis in the 21st century – not to set a modern version of the story in the present, but to have Marie herself comment on and interact with her own legend.
The only way to do that was to make her immortal. Vampirism was a natural. She was always a night person. The disease she died from had been associated with vampirism. By the 1920s, they would be calling women like her “vamps.”
Of course, history meeting the supernatural has been done before. There's a vampire series featuring Jane Austen as a modern-day bookseller, rolling her eyes at contemporary Austen fans. There are many alternative histories with paranormal twists, including most famously Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. And of course, there are all those fictional mash-ups of classic novels beginning with Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.
Despite my concerns about writing historical fiction, I wound up including a section set in the 1800's – Marie's vampire-origin story. While I was nervous, it proved to be a very rewarding writing challenge, made simpler by the internet. I could ask a question like, “How did a men hold up their pants before zippers?” and find an answer immediately, “suspenders.”
Although my version of Marie's last mortal days is fictionalized, I tried to stay close to what is known, and to make the introduction of the mysterious stranger who transforms her seem plausible (if you believe in vampires).
But the real fun for me was in the “dialogue” between the past and present – including the fictional past. There's quite a bit of history repeating itself. Vampire-Marie meets a man who reminds her very much of the young Alexandre Dumas fils. He even has a famous father. Will this version of La Traviata have a happier ending?
I hope a lot of readers want to find out.
VM Gautier is a pseudonym. This is not the author's first book, but it is his or her first book in this genre. You haven't heard of him or her.