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Mademoiselle Victorine: A Novelby Debra Finerman
Synopses & Reviews
We always seek out forbidden things and long for whatever is denied us.
--Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, 1532-1564
Outside the tall bow windows of the Paris Opera ballet school, dusk embraced the city in a grayish pink veil, settling around spires of cathedrals and draping across bridges of the Seine. Inside the cavernous rehearsal hall, Victorine Laurent's fellow students practiced plies under the critical eye of their pudgy dance master, Monsieur Jules. The violinist yawned as he scratched out a listless Chopin nocturne. The girls' middle-aged mothers nested on folding chairs, gossiping and clutching tattered shawls against the evening chill.
In the bright vestibule, Victorine cupped her hands against the glass-paned French doors and scanned the room for Edgar Degas. Was she too late for their appointment? No, there he was in his sketching corner, but not alone. Another gentleman stood with him off to the side, observing the girls in the flickering gaslight. When Degas caught sight of her, he nudged his companion and nodded his chin toward her. Victorine smoothed her dark curls. She tugged the decollete of her crimson taffeta frock just a touch lower, took a deep breath, and threw open the double doors, slicing the room with a shaft of light.
As she approached, Victorine's gaze riveted to the other gentleman. Degas introduced her, and Victorine lowered her face in the charming way she had practiced a thousand times in her cheval glass. Then she glanced up at the stranger, held his gaze a moment longer than was proper. The shine of a silk top hat, the sparkle of a gold watch chain, and the polish of leather boots spoke to her of affluence.
"So This is the gentleman from Marseille you told me so much about." She smiled sweetly, extending her hand.
There was a moment of confusion before Degas realized the mistaken identity. "No, no, this isn't the banker chap. This is Edouard Manet He's an artist, Victorine. He wants you to model for him."
She kept her smile, murmured it was a pleasure, then turned to walk away. Edouard Manet grabbed her wrist. "Wait a moment. What's wrong with artists? They can't afford to buy you a carriage and pair?"
So he understood where her priorities lay.
"I've never heard of you, Monsieur Manet. Have you exhibited in the Salon?"
"He has," Degas said. "Just not very often."
The yearly Salon competition sponsored by the prestigious Academie francaise held the entire city of Paris enthralled. It was ostensibly open to all artists, but everyone knew that the conservative jury was notable for rejecting work deemed too iconoclastic.
"I'd wager you've never seen paintings like mine." Edouard scribbled an address on the back of his calling card. "Come to the studio, judge my work, then decide." He watched her face closely. "I pay my models well."
A flicker of interest lit her eyes. "I'll consider it. But if I agree to model for you, I insist Monsieur Degas be present as chaperone."
"You flatter yourself, mademoiselle," Edouard laughed. "When I choose a model, it's for the music inside them."
She was taken aback by the poetry of his remark. "Do I possess music?" Her tone turned soft.
A beautiful dancer in the Paris Opera ballet, Victorine Laurent uses her position as a muse and model for avant-garde painter Edouard Manet as a stepping stone to the highest levels of French society and to become the most sought-after courtesan in Paris, a position that earns her the enmity of the Empress Eugnie. Reader's Guide included. Original. 40,000 first printing.
When Victorine Laurent joins the chorus of the grand Paris Opera ballet, she expects to become the mistress of a wealthy man; this is how young women without family survive in the decadent City of Light. Yet when the artist Degas introduces her to Edouard Manet, her life changes dramatically. She agrees to pose for him, and the result is a painting that shocks Paris. Overnight, Victorine becomes the city’s most sought after courtesan.
When she becomes the favorite of the Duke de Lyon, the power behind the shaky government of Emperor Louis-Napoléon, her continued attraction to Manet becomes dangerous for them both. And when an astonishing secret from Victorine’s past comes to light, her carefully constructed world may come crashing down around her.
Mademoiselle Victorine transports readers back to nineteenth-century Paris, a time when art, love, and commerce blended seamlessly together.
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