Friday, January 3, 2014

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls is set in Paris in 1878 through 1881. The novel follows the lives of the three van Goethem sisters who live in poverty. Their father, a tailor, has died and their mother, a laundress, is addicted to absinthe. All three girls aspire to be dancers in the Paris Opera ballet company. The story is told in the alternating voices of the two older sisters. 

Antoinette, the eldest, gives up her dream and works as an extra in a play based on a work by Emile Zola. She also falls in love with a difficult and dangerous young man, who becomes involved in a sensational court case, detailed in the book in excerpts from Le Figaro. 

Marie, the middle sister, is a hard working and talented dancer.  Without money for costumes and lessons, it is difficult to progress.  Marie models for Edgar Degas, becoming the subject of some of his most well known works. She also must take a much older man as a sponsor and do the many unpleasant acts that he requires of her.

One of the most striking aspects of the novel is the contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor in belle epoque Paris, the contrasts between the beauty of the art of Degas and the hardships of the life lived by those who modeled for him. The Painted Girls does not portray much of the beautiful, romantic Paris. Contrasted with the world of the Opera and its patrons are prison, cold lodgings, starvation, poverty, and crime, most often the substance of the early lives of the sisters. The novel ends with a brief chapter set in the year 1895 when the sisters, through hard work and persistence, are living more hopeful lives. 

Buchanan states "The Painted Girls is largely in keeping with the known facts of the van Goethem sisters' early lives." Many of the other characters and incidents are also. real. Degas' art works, as described in the novel, can be seen on the author's website:

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1 comment:

  1. Oh, I do love seeing this here. Thank you, dear librarians.


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