Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Courage Camille..."

This post features a quote used frequently in our family, "Courage, Camille." I want to go be clear that although I've never uttered this little two word phrase of encouragement myself, I've been the recipient more times than I can remember. The sources of encouragement for the infamous, "Courage Camille!"? That would have to be my Mother mostly, but sometimes from other family members too.

Nowadays I bristle when I'm advised in person or in writing to have "Courage, Camille". I've finally decided that now is the time to find out why I react so strongly. Why does this innocuous message get to me, irritate me, make me want to snap back, "Fuck Camille" when I hear or read those words? And now, I finally get it; after some thought there is understanding.

But first, what of this Camille? Who is she and why is she advised to summon courage?

Camille is a fictional character in a classic novel from 1848 by Alexandre Dumas Fils. A beautiful and famous courtesan living in Paris, her trademark camellias decorate her hair when in public. Despite her best intentions, Camille falls in love with a young aristocrat named Armand. Their relationship is doomed from the start. Rather than destroy Armand's reputation, and at the strong request of the young man's father, she severs the ties that bind them both. Ultimately, she dies of consumption and Armand is left with a broken heart. The story line is the basis for Verdi's opera "Traviata" and for a classic film, Camille, starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor from 1938.

From the book, the quote comes from Armand's father, Duval as he implores Camille to break off the relationship she has with Armand. He says to her, "You would be proud someday of having saved Armand from a fate he would have regretted all his life--which would have brought on him the idle jest and scorn of every honorable man. Pardon me, Camille; but you know the world too well to doubt the truth of what I say. It is a father who implores you to save his child. Come, prove to me you love my son. Give me your hand. Courage Camille, courage! (she slowly gives her hand). Bless you, bless you. You have done your duty."

What a sad tale and and a quote that's equally sad viewed in the context of the story line. The courage Camille must summon destroys both herself and her true love with a sacrifice made for the benefit of a restrictive, unforgiving society. Blah to that!

But this isn't why I don't like the quote because after all, I only learned these details after some research. The real root for my bristling comes from knowing that what I need when I'm advised to summon "Courage, Camille" is NOT courage at all. I already have courage. I have what it takes to get myself out of bed every morning and put one foot ahead of the other and make it through to the end of the day.

What I think I need instead is something like.....

"Patience, Patrice",
"Fortitude, Florence",
"Strength, Susanna", or
maybe even, "Vision, Victoria".

Camille and her brand of courage are not for me!


  1. I prefer your words of encouragement - I like their positive tone.

  2. I'm not saying this because "hope" is the centerpiece of survivorship, but because it reminded me of my poem, "Hope."
    Kate, maybe what you are looking for is hope, namely the feeling associated with the belief that something you want to happen in the future that will make you happier can, indeed, happen.

    What do you think? With hope, Wendy

  3. Yes, is about HOPE. Your poem captures the spirit beautifully. Thanks for the link.


  4. Okay I have to say that my mom has always said this to me.....and it was nice to hear the "history" of the phrase..... I must say that I'm prompted to write a comment because I just said this to's been a week and I have to clean the house now and do a ton of other tasks within the next 1 1/2 hrs....before I get the kids.....I never say this to myself...I must have had your post and my mom in my brain. =)

  5. I don't remember Mom saying it so much to us though she must have, as I have repeatedly said, 'Courage Camille.' to my three daughters. I must have learned it somewhere and I never really knew much about the admonition except that in times of stress and overwork, it was a call for the will power and strength to carry on and triumph in hard circumstances. Never knew Camille's story and she certainly did not triumph at all, but was smashed by circumstances. You will not hear those words from your elder sister again.

  6. I woke up this morning trying to remember the quotation that you have talked about so eloquently here: "Courage, Camille." I could not remember the "courage" part, so after a Google or more, I found your blog. I know why you wrote what you did about not liking the phrase, but I thank you for writing about it. I think the quote is also stupid in the context of the story. Again, thank you for your writing and I do like your blog.


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