Set in 1878 Paris, The Painted Girls: A Novel is historical fiction at its best. When their father dies of overwork, the van Goethern sisters' lives are turned upside down. With only the meager earnings their absinthe addicted mother can manage as a laundress, it appears certain that they will be evicted from their single boarding room. Brainy 14 year old Marie and her little sister Charlotte are sent to the Paris Opera, where they earn a measly seven francs a week training to become one of the famous étoiles. Their sister, sassy and hard-headed 17 year old Antoinette, is dismissed from the ballet, and finds herself under the influence of Émile Zola and his controversial naturalist pièce de resistance L'Assommoir—and in the arms of a young man who may be a killer.
Marie immerses herself in dance, hoping that her innate talent and perseverance will allow her to rise above her circumstances, but the competition to enter the renowned ballet proves too much and she is compelled to look for other work. Despite feeling terribly insecure about her low-class countenance, she becomes a model for Edgar Degas and is immortalized in his famous sculpture, Little Dancer, Aged 14. Meanwhile, Antionette sinks towards the depths of Paris society and is forced to choose between laboring as a laundress and pursuing the more profitable avenues open to a young woman in the city—if her infatuation with the chancy Émile Abadie does not ruin her completely.
Set in an era of deep cultural, societal and artistic transformation, The Painted Girls is, at its core, a story of two unique girls who find themselves remarkably vulnerably to the darkest elements of "civilized society." Ultimately, each will come to the realization that her personal survival and salvation lies with the other.
Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the national bestseller The Day the Falls Stood Still, a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection and an Indie Next pick. She lives in Toronto.
Paris, 1878. Following the death of their father from
overwork, the three van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without their
father’s wages, and with what little their mother earns as a laundress
disappearing down the absinthe bottle, eviction from their single boarding room
seems imminent. With few options for work available for a girl, bookish
fourteen-year-old Marie and her younger sister Charlotte are dispatched to the
Paris Opera, where for a scant seven francs a week, the girls will be trained
to enter its famous ballet. Their older sister, stubborn and insolent seventeen-year-old
Antoinette, dismissed from the ballet, finds herself launched into the orbit of
Émile Zola and the influence of his notorious naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir—and into the arms of a young man who
may turn out to be a murderer.
Marie throws herself into dance, hoping her natural gift and
hard work will enable her to escape her circumstances, but the competition to
become one of the famous étoiles at whose feet flowers are thrown nightly is
fierce, and Marie is forced to turn elsewhere to make money. Cripplingly
self-conscious about her low-class appearance, she nonetheless finds herself
modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be
immortalized in his controversial sculpture Little Dancer, Aged 14.
Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society and must
make the choice between honest labor as a laundress and the more profitable
avenues available to a young woman in the Paris demimonde—that is unless her
love for the dangerous Émile Abadie derails her completely.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and
societal change, The Painted Girls is
ultimately a tale of two remarkable girls rendered uniquely vulnerable to the
darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her individual salvation, if not survival, lies with the
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