In John Leech’s painting The Great Social Evil there is a poster on the wall next to the women advertising Verdi’s La Traviata. Many paintings have subtle hints and messages hidden within them; this notion prompted a little research on the opera.

It is the story of Violetta, a famous courtesan, and the man who loves her, Alfredo. In summary, he professes his love for her, and she eventually gives in and falls in love with him in return. They blissfully live together until Alfredo’s father comes to Violetta one day and asks that she leave, as their relationship is harming Alfredo’s sister’s impending possible marriage because of Violetta’s past. (Synopsis: La Traviata)

One of the main points Verdi is making in this opera is a condemnation of preconceived notion. When Alfredo’s father comes to Violetta, he has already determined in his mind that she will be crude, unpleasant company, solely due to her past profession. He instead finds her to be noble and graceful. The story here points out the flawed perception many had at the time of ‘fallen’ women. Violetta had been a courtesan (a higher class escort or prostitute, like an Italian geisha) but she had cast off that life when she fell in love with Alfredo. However, because of the extreme traditional conservative beliefs of that time, her past tainted her lover’s sister’s relationship.  This was a common fallacy at the time; Violetta’s past had nothing to do with the sister’s purity, yet because of the way people thought and believed, her past indiscretions had the potential to entirely ruin the promised matrimony.

Violetta, like the subject of Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid”, was perceived, and perhaps perceived herself, as lesser because of her position. This perception, however, was not based on the character of her person, but on her profession, because of the inherent beliefs their societies held in that day.



“Synopsis: La Traviata.” The Metropolitan Opera. 2012. Web. 25 September 2012.