In the story "A Death in the Desert," How does Camille's situation resemble Katharine's condition?

In the story "A Death in the Desert," Katharine likens herself to Camille, a character in Alexandre Dumas's novel Camille, and both of these characters die of what appears to be tuberculosis. Both also die in the countryside far from the man they love.

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There is no actual Camille in Willa Cather's "A Death in the Desert," but the character Katharine Gaylord in the story likens herself to Camille as she enters a room, saying,

You see I make the traditional Camille entrance—with the cough.

Katharine is alluding to a work by Alexandre Dumas called Camille, which was made famous by Verdi's opera La Traviata. In Dumas's work, Marguerite, nicknamed Camille, dies tragically of consumption, the disease we today would call tuberculosis.

Although it is not said specifically that Katharine is dying of tuberculosis, her cough, her comparison of herself to Camille, and her brother's words all suggest tuberculosis. Her brother says,

It's her lungs, you know.... She hasn't the ghost of a chance.

Camille also didn't have a chance of surviving her wasting disease.

Katharine leaves her natural urban habitat to die in the country, just as Camille leaves the city to die in the country. Neither woman can be with the man she loves at her death. Camille has been prevailed upon by the father of her lover, Armand, to nobly separate herself from Armand, so as not to cause a scandal for Armand or ruin his sister's chance at marriage. Katharine has to settle for being with Everett and not with the man she truly loves, Everett's famous musician brother, Adriance. Everett writes to Adriance about Katharine, but Adriance is in Granada, Spain, far too distant in those days for him to get home in time to see her. She dies in Everett's arms, calling him Adriance.

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Camille, whose real name was Marguerite, was a character in a novel by Alexandre Dumas, La Dame aux camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), usually called Camille in English. The plot centers on her dying of a lung disease and coming to terms with her love for a noble youth, Armand, with whom she is reunited at the very end. Katharine is also terminally ill with such a disease, which is apparently tuberculosis. The women are similar in that both had once been considered great beauties who lived with energy and passion. The disease makes them thin and increasingly more exhausted until they pass away. When Katharine encounters Everett again after years of separation, she alludes to the character Camille in reference to her cough and making a dramatic entrance.

There are significant differences between the characters and the works. Love is also a major factor in Willa Cather’s story, and there are elements of true love. Katharine is not united with her beloved, Adriance, who has never known how deeply she loved him. Instead, she dies with Everett, his brother, who has always loved her and has stayed by her side. Another major difference is that Camille was a courtesan, but Katharine had been a famous singer until she became too ill.

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