Set in mid-19th-century France, the novel tells the love story between Marguerite Gautier, a demimondaine or courtesan and Armand Duval, a young bourgeois. Marguerite is nicknamed "lady of the camellias" because she wears a red camellia when she is unavailable for making love and a white camelia when she is available to her lovers. Armand falls in love with Marguerite and ultimately becomes her lover. He convinces her to leave her life as a courtesan and to live with him in the countryside. This idyllic existence is interrupted by Armand's father, who, concerned with the scandal created by the illicit relationship, and fearful that it will destroy Armand's sister's chances of marriage, convinces Marguerite to leave. La Dame aux Camélias is a semi-autobiographical novel based on the author's brief love affair with a courtesan, Marie Duplessis.