Margarete von Waldeck: The Real Snow White
It is very much thought that the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Snow White, was inspired by Countess Margarete von Waldeck (1533-1554). What little is known about her life is surprisingly similar to the fairy tale.
Margarete grew up in a town called Bad Wildungen. Her brother was the overseer of several copper mines that were worked by children. The poor working conditions caused the children’s growth to be stunted and they were often referred to as “dwarfs”. There is a story that, at the time Margarete lived in Bad Wildungen, there was a psychopath who tried to kill children by feeding them poisoned apples; this, however, is largely thought to be a legend. When Margarete went to court, her astonishing beauty attracted the attention of a man who would later become Philip II of Spain. It is suspected that the match was ended by Maragete’s jealous stepmother. Margarete von Waldeck died of slow poisoning at the age of 21. Her killer has never been discovered.
Vlad Tepes: The Other Dracula
Also known as Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes (1431-1476) was a tyrannical ruler of Wallachia. He is most remembered for his horrific methods of execution, such as mutilating his victims and/or impaling them on spikes. He supposedly executed at least 40,000 people.
The people of Wallachia also referred to him as “Drakulya”. Vlad Tepes inherited this name from his father Vlad Dracul (1390-1447). The name, meaning “son of the dragon”, was given to Vlad Tepes’ father when he joined the religious Order of the Dragon. The order, under the patronage of St. George, the dragon slayer, was made up of Eastern nobility, sworn to defend the Catholic faith. Vlad Tepes, however, would not live up to this noble heritage. Shortly after his father’s death, he renounced his faith and continued building his legacy of blood and horror. By this time, the Romanian language had evolved and Drakulya had a new meaning: “devil”.
It is very unlikely that Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula was meant to be an identical copy of Vlad
Tepes. However, Stoker did do quite a bit of research on the ancient ruler and no one can deny the obvious parallel between the two eastern European noblemen who both had a ghastly thirst for blood.
Marie Duplessis: The Inspiration for Camille and La Traviata
The most famous courtesan of the 19th century was Rose Alphonsine Plessis, later known as Marie Duplessis (1824-1847). By the age of 12, her father had already begun capitalizing on her sex appeal. By the age of 16, she had begun a string of affairs with Paris’ aristocrats and celebrities, including composer Franz Liszt and author Alexandre Dumas. Dumas was absolutely mad about the beautiful young woman and when she died of tuberculosis at the age of 23, he wrote the novel Les Dame aux Camelias (The Lady of the Camellias) in her honor. In the novel, Dumas compares Duplessis (renamed Marguerite Gautier) to the camellia flower; a flower that is so fragile it will live only for one day.
The readers of the novel were so enchanted that Dumas soon adapted the novel for the stage. In 1853, composer Giuseppe Verdi saw the play and created an operatic version called La Traviata (Duplessis was renamed Violetta Valery). La Traviata is now the third most performed opera in the world.
Dumas’ novel and play have now, sadly, been forgotten. However, there are a total of 20 films based on Dumas’ original story. The most famous of these is the 1936 Camille starring Greta Garbo as Marguerite Gautier.