The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XX

My father, in a dressing gown, was seated in my living room, writing.

I understood at once from the way he looked at me when I entered that there was to be a serious discussion.

Nonetheless, I greeted him as if I had guessed nothing from his expression, and embraced him.

“When did you arrive, Father?”

“Last night.”

“You came to stay at my place, as usual?”


“I regret very much that I was not here to welcome you.”

I expected to see these words provoke the lecture that my father’s frosty expression promised, but he made no answer, sealed the letter he had just written. and gave it to Joseph to take to the post office.

When we were alone, my father rose and said to me, while leaning against the mantel, “We have, my dear Armand, serious matters to discuss.”

“I’m listening, Father.”

“Do you promise to be frank?”

“That is my habit.”

“Is it true that you are living with a woman named Marguerite Gautier?”


“Do you know what this woman was?”

“A kept woman.”

“And it is because of her that you have forgotten to come see us this year, your sister and me?”

“Yes, Father, I admit it.”

“So you love this woman very much?”

“As you see, Father, since she has caused me to neglect a sacred duty, for which I today humbly beg your pardon.”

My father undoubtedly had not expected such categorical responses, for he seemed to reflect for a moment, after which he said, “Surely you have understood that you will not be able to go on living like this?”

“I have feared that, Father, but I have not accepted it.”

“But you must have understood,” my father continued, in a slightly drier tone, “that I myself will not accept it.”

“I told myself that, as I would do nothing to violate the respect I owe to your name and to the traditional integrity of our family, I could continue to live as I do now, which reassured me to some extent about my fears.”

Passion warred with my emotions. I was ready for any fight, even against my father, to keep Marguerite.

“Well, the moment to live differently has come.”

“What? Why, Father?”

“Because you are on the brink of doing things that will injure what you believe to be the respect you have for your family.”

“I can see no sense in these words.”

“I will explain it to you. It is well and good that you should have a mistress—as long as you pay her as a gentleman pays for the love of a kept woman, one can ask no more—but that you should forget the holiest things for her, that you would permit the gossip of your scandalous life to spread deep into my province and stain the honorable name I have given you; that cannot be. That will not be.”

“Permit me to tell you, Father, that those who have instructed you on my affairs were ill informed. I am the lover of Mlle Gautier, I live with her, it’s the simplest thing in the world. I do not give to Mlle Gautier the name I received from you, I spend on her only that which my means allow, I have not gotten into debt, and I am not, in short, in any of those positions that might authorize a father to say to his son what you have just said to me.”

“A father is always authorized to remove his son from an evil path he sees his son pursuing. You have not done anything irreparable yet, but you will.”


“Sir, I know more about life than you do. No woman can have entirely pure feelings except women who are entirely chaste. Every Manon can turn a man into Des Grieux, however times and morals may change. It would be pointless for the world to keep turning if we did not learn from our mistakes along the way. You will leave your mistress.”

“It hurts me to disobey you, Father, but it’s impossible.”

“I must insist.”

“Unfortunately, Father, there are no more Sainte-Marguerite isles where one can banish courtesans, and if there were, I would follow Mlle Gautier if you sent her there. What do you want from me? Perhaps I’m in the wrong, but I can be happy only if I remain the lover of this woman.”

“Come now, Armand. Open your eyes; recognize your father who has always loved you, and who only wishes your happiness. Is it honorable for you to live conjugally with a girl whom all the world has had?”

“What does it matter, Father, if nobody else can have her anymore! What does it matter, if this girl loves me, if she’s been reformed by the love she has for me and by the love I have for her! What does it matter, in the end, since she has reformed!”

“Eh! Do you believe then, sir, that the mission of an honorable man is to rehabilitate courtesans? Do you believe that God would impose such a grotesque purpose on life, and that the heart should have no enthusiasm but that one? What will be the conclusion of this marvelous cure, and what will you think of what you have said today when you are forty? You will laugh at your love, if you’re still able to laugh, if it hasn’t left too deep a mark on your past. What would you be at this moment, if your father had had notions like yours, and had given over his life to heaving sighs of love instead of fixing unshakably on the course of honor and loyalty? Think, Armand, and speak no more of such foolishness. Come now, you will leave this woman; your father begs you.”

I made no response.

“Armand,” continued my father, “in the name of your sainted mother, believe me, renounce this life that you will forget more quickly than you think, and to which you have attached impossible notions. You are twenty-four years old; think of the future. You cannot always love this woman, and she will not love you forever, either. Both of you exaggerate your love. You will bar yourself from any career. One more step and you will not be able to leave the road you’ve embarked on, and all your life you will suffer remorse for your youth. Leave; come spend a month or two at your sister’s side. Rest and the pious love of your family will heal you quickly of this fever, for it is nothing but that.

“During this time, your mistress will console herself, she will take another lover, and when you see for yourself for whom you would have quarreled with your father and lost his affection, you will tell me that I did well to come find you, and you will bless me.

“Come, you will leave—yes, Armand?”

I felt my father was right about all other women, but I was convinced he was not right about Marguerite. However, the tone in which he had spoken those last words to me was so gentle, so imploring, that I dared not respond.

“Well then?” he said, his voice full of emotion.

“Father, I can’t promise you anything,” I said at last. “What you ask of me is beyond my power to give. Believe me,” I continued, as I saw him make an impatient movement, “you exaggerate the consequences of this liaison. Marguerite is not the kind of girl you think she is. This love, far from setting me on an evil path, is on the contrary capable of nurturing the most honorable sentiments in me. True love always makes a man better, whatever the nature of the woman who inspires it. If you knew Marguerite, you would understand that I am not exposing myself to any danger. She is as honorable as the most honorable of women. Greedy as other women may be, she is not motivated by self-interest.”

“Which does not hinder her from accepting your entire fortune; the sixty thousand francs that come to you from your mother, which you are giving to her, are, mark my words, your sole fortune.”

My father had probably saved this peroration and threat for the final blow.

I was stronger in the face of his threats than I had been in the face of his prayers.

“Who told you I was handing over that sum to her?” I resumed.

“My notary. Could any honest man have undertaken such an action without alerting me? Well, it’s to prevent your ruin over a girl that I have come to Paris. Your mother left you money when she died for you to live on honorably, not for you to squander on your mistresses.”

“I swear to you, Father, Marguerite did not know about this gift.”

“Then why did you make it?”

“Because Marguerite, this woman you malign and whom you wish me to abandon, is sacrificing everything she possesses to live with me.”

“And you accept this sacrifice? What kind of man are you, sir, to permit Mlle Marguerite to sacrifice anything to you? All right then, I’ve had enough. You will leave this woman. A while ago I begged you to; now I order you. I do not want such filth in my family. Pack your trunks and prepare to follow me.”

“Pardon me, Father,” I said, “but I will not leave.”


“Because I have already reached the age at which one does not obey an order.”

My father turned pale upon this answer.

“Very good, sir,” he said. “I know what is left for me to do.”

He rang.

Joseph appeared.

“Have my trunks taken to the Hôtel de Paris,” he said to my servant. At the same time he entered his bedroom, and finished dressing.

When he reappeared, I went up to him.

“Do you promise, Father,” I said, “to do nothing that might cause Marguerite pain?”

My father stopped, looked at me with disdain, and contented himself with the reply, “You are mad, I believe.”

After which he left, slamming the door behind him.

I went down soon after, took a cabriolet, and left for Bougival.

Marguerite was waiting for me at the window.