Camille, by Alexandre Dumas, fils, Curwen Press (1937) and Garamond Press (1955) for the Limited Editions Club

La Dame aux Camélias (Camille), by Alexandre Dumas, fils, is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most famous of love stories in the Western canon. As mentioned by the Limited Editions Club (LEC) Monthly Letter (ML), “the story is simple enough. It is that of an enamored courtesan who, not to ruin the life of the man she loves, gives him up and dies of a broken heart.” As Henry James aptly says of Camille:

It is a novel that has been blown about the world, but nothing can alter it; it is all champagne and tears, fresh passion, fresh pain, one of the great love stories of the world.

The novel (published in 1848), the play adapted from it (also by Dumas, first performed in 1852) and the 1853 opera based on it, La Traviata written by Giuseppe Verdi, all remain hugely popular. Dumas, the son of Alexandre Dumaspère, of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo fame, wrote this book when he was only 23 years old! The wiki entry on Dumas, fils, says “He was not only more renowned than his father during his lifetime, but also dominated the serious French stage for most of the second half of the 19th century.

Camille is somewhat autobiographical, being based on Dumas’s love affair, between September 1844 and August 1845, with a courtesan named Marie Duplessis (Marguerite Gautier in the book). Little did Duplessis know that Dumas was to make her immortal!  The ML says of Duplessis:

…she was so Beautiful! But her beauty was capricious because Marie was early attacked by a pulmonary disease, which heightened her beauty, at first, in the mirage of its hectic flush; and then, in 1847, when she was only twenty-three, it killed her. Her gait and courage, in the face of her approaching death, seem to have astonished everybody who knew her.

Dumas was to fall in love with Duplessis the moment he saw her. Recollecting his meeting her for the first time at the Théâtre des Variétés, he wrote:

…she was tall, very slender, with black hair and a pink and white complexion. She had a small head; her eyes slanting like those of the Japanese, were quick and intelligent; her lips were red as cherries and her teeth the most beautiful in the world: she was like a Dresden figurine….there was not another woman in the theatre who had a greater air of distinction.

In the book, Armand Duval, the young bourgeois representing Dumas, describes Marguerite in a similar glowing fashion:

Her firm walk, her supple figure, her rosy, open nostrils, her large eyes, slightly tinged with blue, indicated one of the most ardent natures which shed around them a sort of voluptuous perfume, like Eastern vials, which, close them as tightly as you will, still let some of their perfume escape. Finally, whether it was simple nature or a breath of fever, there passed from time to time in the eyes of this woman a glimmer of desire, giving promise of a very heaven for one whom she would love.

The ML goes on to tell us that Dumas offered to “consecrate his life to her and to give her the life she needed until she got well.” One result was he was soon 50,000 francs in debt due to her!  He was traveling with his father when she died in February 1847. Though she was no longer his lover, he returned to Paris a week after her death and visited her apartment.  The ML posits that he was deeply moved at that visit and probably, at that moment, decided to write this story.

On re-reading Camille, I found Marguerite’s sense of reality in understanding the sad and precarious nature of her position quite moving:

If those who are going in for our hateful business only knew what it really was they would sooner be chambermaids. But no, vanity, the desire of having dresses and carriages and diamonds carry us away; one believes what one hears, for here, as elsewhere, there is such a thing as belief, and one uses up one’s heart, one’s body, one’s beauty, little by little; one is feared like a beast of prey, scorned like a pariah, surrounded by people who always take more than they give; and one fine day one dies like a dog in a ditch, after having ruined others and ruined one’s self.

As you can see, she does not shy away from the vanity that drives the mistakes she has made. Nor does she lack a clear comprehension of what the future holds:

…as for taking care of oneself, that is all very well for women with families and friends; as for us, from the moment we can no longer serve the vanity or the pleasure of our lovers, they leave us, and long nights follow long days.

Despite her youth, she knows the type of men in whose orbit she lives:

Men, instead of being satisfied in obtaining for a long time what they scarcely hoped to obtain once, exact from their mistresses a full account of the present, the past, and even the future. As they become accustomed to her, they want to rule her, and the more one gives them the more exacting they become.

As Marguerite falls for Duval, and experiences the instinct of love rather the profession of such, Dumas (through Duval) says:

Then, when God allows love to a courtesan, that love, which at first seems like a pardon, becomes for her almost always a punishment. There is no absolution without penitence.

Duval’s emotions, unlike Marguerite’s, are not centered around pain or shame, but instead revolve around the pleasure of attaining the one whose love was deeply sought:

You know what it is to be in love with a woman, you know how it cuts short the days, and with what loving listlessness one drifts into the morrow. You know that forgetfulness of everything which comes of a violent, confident, reciprocated love. Every being who is not the beloved one seems a useless being in creation. One regrets having cast scraps of one’s heart to other women, and one can not believe in the possibility of ever pressing another hand that that which one holds between one’s hands. The mind neither admits work nor remembrance; nothing, in short, which can distract it from the one thought in which it is ceaselessly absorbed. Every day one discovers in one’s mistress a new charm and unknown delights. Existence itself is but the unceasing accomplishment of an unchanging desire; the soul is but the vestal charged to feed the sacred fire of love.

Duval mentions, “Love gives one a kind of goodness.” Is it not the case that true love makes us all better? While there is much tragedy and sadness to be found in Camille, Dumas does remind us that “Life is pleasant, my dear fellow; it all depends on the color of the glass through which one sees it.” For lovers of fine literature and fine editions of such, life certainly is pleasant as we get two Limited Editions Club (LEC) options for enjoying the story of Camille! First, a beautiful 1937 edition from The Curwen Press best known for its illustrations by the great French artist Marie Laurencin. Second, an equally nice 1955 edition from the Garamond Press with illustrations by another great French born artist, Bernard Lamotte.

The 1937 Edition

The LEC 1937 edition of Camille has much in its favor. It is most renowned for being illustrated by the avant-garde French painter and printmaker Marie LaurencinWiki explains that while, close to Pablo Picasso and Cubists associated with the Section d’Or, Laurencin’s “work lies outside the bounds of Cubist norms in her pursuit of a specifically feminine aesthetic by her use of pastel colors and curvilinear forms.” The LEC ML says of her:

Of modern French painters, Marie Laurencin is in the front rank; of modern French women painters, Marie Laurencin is tops; and she is, peculiarly enough, probably more widely known in America than any Continental artist. There is a deliberately naïve quality in her paintings which has brought her a wide acceptance among Americans who never have heard of André Derain or Henri-Matisse….Her pictures are in most of the fine galleries and museums of the world.

George Macy calls her drawings here “Exquisite” and goes on to say:

Although no artist draws in the same manner steadily, it is usually possible to spot a Marie Laurencin painting without trouble. Her paintings are usually portraits of ladies. They are done in fresh but pale colors, fresh but pale pinks and blues. She makes her ladies droopy and languorous, she always gives them eyes like shoe buttons and paints their faces without noses.

He goes on to tell the story of her involvement:

We went to her in the spring of 1936, to persuade her to illustrate a book for our members. She did not require great persuasion; she wanted to illustrate a book for Americans, she actually had a book in mind. She wanted to illustrate ‘Camille’. “I will illustrate Camille for you,” she said, “in water colors. But I will not make narrative illustrations, I will not attempt to show Marguerite in Paris or at the Spa, I will not attempt to picture the amorous Duke or the suffering Armand. For me,” she said, “the theme of ‘La Dame aux Camélias’ is the pathetic disintegration, in only a few years, of that very lovely Marguerite. I would like to make a series of twelve portrait studies of Marguerite, of Marguerite at the height of her beauty, of Marguerite singing at the opera, of Marguerite impatiently awaiting Armand’s arrival, of Marguerite flushed with illness, of Marguerite courageously awaiting death.”

Well, we thought, after we caught our breath, that’s an idea! We commissioned Madame Laurencin to proceed with those illustrations. She proceeded with them. She made twelve portrait studies of Marguerite Gautier. We pay them a great compliment when we say they are typical Laurencin paintings. We pay you a great complement when we suggest that you will want to tear them out of your book, vandal fashion, to hang them on your wall.

As followers of the LEC know, Macy was occasionally prone to overstatement in his exuberance for his editions. What’s interesting here is he does not say he thinks them great within the context of the book as a whole, just that they are ‘typical Laurencin paintings’ that you may want to tear out and hang separately. More on this below when discussing the 1955 edition, but for now I will state that I adore the gracefulness of the pictures, and am glad that the LEC was able to get a French female artist of the stature of Laurencin to illustrate this great French work about one of the most famous female French characters  in all of literature. I find them stylistically captivating, and some mesmerizingly beautiful. Yet, I am not sure they really capture the full emotional range of the story nor do they adequately capture Marguerite’s decline (though the sadness in sample illustration #3 below especially when compared to the gaiety of sample illustration #2).

The edition has more than just Laurencin’s illustrations going for it.  This edition was designed, printed and bound by Oliver Simon at The Curwen Press, with the LEC ML saying of Simon that he:

…is one of the leading triumvirate of British typographers, the triumvirate which consists of himself and Francis Meynell and Stanley Morrison…He was the founder and first editor of The Fleuron…he has had enormous influence for good upon British book production, for his typographic plans are always chaste, always dignified, always free of amateur typographic chicanery. He has produced for you an edition of ‘Camille’ which is chaste, dignified, charming.

It is hard to argue with that description. Simon used 16 point monotype Bembo which the ML says “seems an ideal type in which to set the words of this French romance of the nineteenth century.” In describing the type, the ML says the design of each letter is clean, praises the considerable use of light, remarks on the sharp black color, and states it “is full of downright elegance.” It was printed on an Abbey Mills cylinder wove rag paper that can be described as dull (i.e., not shiny) and slightly off white with a slightly rough tactile feel. The end result being a page that is “bold and readable.” The illustrations were wonderfully reproduced by the collotype process at The Chiswick Press in London. Simon had this edition bound in full white linen (Winterbottom buckram), gold-stamped title on spine and of a camellia on the front cover.

The price range of this edition is all over the map, though typically $150 is the base price for near fine, going well up from there for fine. Well worth it for a nicely done edition with water-color portraits by Marie Laurencin.

About the Edition (1937 edition)

  • Design, printed and bound by Oliver Simon at The Curwen Press
  • Translated, with an introduction, by Edward Gosse
  • Illustrated with water-color portraits by Marie Laurencin
  • Illustrations reproduced by the collotype process at The Chiswick Press in London
  • Set in 16 point monotype Bembo
  • Abbey Mills cylinder wove rag paper
  • Bound in full white linen (Winterbottom buckram), gold-stamped title on spine and of a camellia on the front cover
  • 8 1/8″ x 10 7/8″, 254 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Marie Laurencin

Pictures of the Edition (1937 edition)

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Camille, Limited Editions Club, 1937 and 1955 Editions
Camille, Limited Editions Club, 1937 and 1955 Editions
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3 (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3 (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #5 with Text (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text (1937 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

The 1955 Edition

The first question to ask is why would the Limited Editions Club produce a second edition of Camille only eighteen years after producing one with such a renowned and important artist as Marie Laurencin? The ML explains, referring back to their comment of eighteen years prior:

So you will understand why, as the months went by, as the years went by, we learned that many of our members had, vandal-fashion, torn the illustrations out of the book, to hang on the wall. Indeed, some of you went so far as to tell us you were doing so, in vitriolic notes exclaiming that these twelve compositions were all lovely as well as typical Laurencin paintings, but could not be considered a set of illustrations for a book!

In short, it seems clear that when many years prior Macy referred to the illustration  as ‘typical Laurencin paintings,’ with a close reading between the lines one could surmise that he was not happy with them as illustrations for this editionHe may have enjoyed and respected Laurencin as an artist, and even enjoyed these water-colors as works of art, but clearly they had not quenched Macy’s vision for how he wanted to present Camille.

Macy choose French born, naturalized American artist Bernard Lamotte to illustrate Camille in a narrative fashion. The ML calls Lamotte one of the most “accomplished of living painters” and also “the most imaginative of illustrators.” Of the nearly 30 brush and wash drawings that Lamotte produced for Camille, the ML says “His genius has never been better displayed than in this series of illustrations” and that his brush and wash paintings “carefully support the author in his plot structure and character-delineation, as Marie Laurencin failed to do.” I have to largely agree here, though it is less character delineation and more mood setting (especially samples 1, 5, 6 and 7 below)  in which Lamotte exceeds that of Laurencin’s 1937 edition (though I do like her portraits better, see Lamotte’s frontispiece below and compare to hers above).

George Macy designed this edition himself and had it printed, in blue and black inks, at the Garamond Press. The text is set in monotype Bodoni, 12 point, with five points leading between the lines and is printed on specially made white colophon Curtis paper. The illustrations were produced superbly, in collotype, by Arthur Jaffé. The ML tells us that Macy choose a white paper rather than a ‘toned’ paper because he thought white would better support the blue tones of the collotype illustrations, which the result seems to prove out. The edition was bound by Russell-Rutter Company in full blue moiré silk, and on the shelfback is a burgundy-red leather label stamped with the title in gold leaf.

This edition uses the same translation from Edward Gosse as used in the 1937 edition, though this time uses a new introduction by French author André Maurois who had written a biography of Dumas, fils. The introduction also includes two interesting additions: 1) a letter Dumas wrote to his publisher explaining the origins and popularity of the book; and 2) ‘Memoir of Marie Duplessis‘ which a famous critic of the day, Jules Janis, had written.

The 1955 edition can often be found for $50-100 in near fine or better condition. The spine on this edition is prone to fading, so choose carefully. The 1955 edition is the better deal looking at the entire package. Still, Laurencin cannot be passed up.  Both is the best option!

About the Edition (1955 edition)

  • Designed by George Macy
  • Translated by Edward Gosse
  • Introduction by André Maurois
  • Illustrated with nearly 30 brush and wash drawings by Bernard Lamotte
  • Illustrations reproduced in collotype by Arthur Jaffé
  • Printed in blue and black inks at the Garamond Press
  • Set in monotype Bodoni, 12 point, with five points leading between the lines
  • Specially made white colophon Curtis paper
  • Bound by Russell-Rutter Company in full blue moiré silk, and on the shelfback is a burgundy-red leather label stamped with the title in gold leaf
  • 8″ x 11″, 264 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Bernard Lamotte

Pictures of the Edition (1955 edition)

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Camille, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #3 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #5 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #5 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #6 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #6 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #7 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #7 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #8 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #8 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4 (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Colophon (1955 edition)
Camille, Limited Editions Club, Colophon (1955 edition)

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