Marie Duplessis (1824-1847) was the woman who Alexandre Dumas fils based Marguerite Gautier on in La Dame aux camellias , (The Lady of the Camelias) his best remembered book. She was a runaway at 15 from a drunken father in Nonnant, and changed her name from Rose Alphonsine Plessis to Marie Duplessis. When she arrived at Paris, her beauty attracted lovers such as Alfred de Musset, Franz Liszt, and the aforementioned Dumas. She also learned to read and write, dance, and play the piano, all to become a social highlight of Paris.
Dumas met Duplessis in 1844, when they were both around 20, and their affair lasted nearly a year. It ended due to a lack of money on Dumas' part, and because Dumas was trying to reform a woman who's motto was "Lying keeps my teeth white." In all probability, she did not really care for Dumas. The only one of her lovers she may have cared about was Liszt, who she begged to take with him when he went on tour.
After the affair ended, she developed tuberculosis. She tried multiple cures by various doctors, but by the age of 23, on February 8, 1847 she was dead. Her funeral was lavish, and impressed all in Paris, and had multiple high-note guests, including the Count Von Stakelberg, and Compte Edouard de Perregaux.
When Duplessis died, Dumas was out of the country, but when he returned, he began to write his semi-autobiographical novel La Dame aux camellias . However, he made her much more than she was, and transformed her into Marguerite Gautier, who was a whore with a heart of gold. Dumas' book has never been out of print, and was the basis for the 1935 film Camille , as well as Verdi's opera La Traviata.