Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman

This morning when I read in The Writer's Almanac that today is artist Mary Cassatt's birthday, my mind fondly recalled Harriet Scott Chessman's exquisite portrait of Cassatt and her sister Lydia. The small novel explores Cassatt's artistic development in vignettes aligned with paintings of her sister, her favorite model.  

Ten years ago when I read the novel and used it in two of the book clubs I lead, I watched as it led many to escape the doldrums of the aftermath of 9-11 and enter the realistic world of the Cassatt family and their life in Paris in the late 1870s and 1880s.  The novel would be worth reading simply to learn of Cassatt's complicated relationship with Edgar Degas and the other artists of the impressionist movement.  It would also be enough just to learn about Lydia's life and her struggles with Bright's Disease.  My book clubs had complex conversations about the role of women in history and about the continued lack of respect for women's art today. 

The physical beauty of this small treasure makes it a book that begs to be purchased in hardcover and cherished. It also lures the reader into considering relationships and while it would be simple to point, click and purchase over the internet, I'd advise picking up the phone and calling or visiting an independent book store to have a conversation about why you want to order it in hardcover.  If you don't have a relationship with a bookstore, click here to find my favorite store in Petoskey, Michigan or here to find an independent near your home.

Summing it Up: Read this gorgeous novel to fall into the life and times of Mary and Lydia Cassatt in Paris, to learn about impressionism and to explore what it meant to be a woman artist over 100 years ago.
Rating: 5 stars    
Category: Fiction, Gourmet, Super Nutrition, Book Club
Publication date: November, 2001

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