Dancing for Degas: A Novel Paperback – Mar 16 2010
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“A thoroughly engrossing and informative story…Degas’ paintings of the Paris Opera Ballet corps come to life in all their freshness and immediacy.”—Historical Novels Review
“Like Tracy Chevalier, Wagner imagines how layers of meaning pervade works of art, but her real forte is detailing the sexual politics of poverty and evoking the rivalry among dancers, especially between stars and the newcomers who wish to replace them. Wagner’s… abandonment of the masterpiece-in-the-making formula is a nice turn.”—Publishers Weekly
“First-time novelist Wagner skillfully compresses the war into a series of brief letters in this engaging tale illuminating the dark side of French society high and low. With appearances by Degas’ peers Cezanne and Monet, this fascinating visit to a bygone world of art and sex, war and love will draw many.”—Booklist
About the Author
Kathryn Wagner is a senior fundraiser for a child advocacy nonprofit in Washington, D.C. She holds a B.A. in journalism with a minor in art and has worked as a staff writer and columnist for several newspapers in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Imagining what has inspired great artists has been a longtime passion of hers. She is currently at work on her next novel.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In truth, ballet dancers were, for their time, some of the most independent women around. As a female, it upsets me that some of the best women artists have been degraded in this way. This is the Golden Age of Ballet!!! Certainly there was real to life stories that the author could have used to create a compeling story and romance.
Did some dancers become mistresses to very rich men? Yes, they did. But it was a fringe benefit, not the reason for their hard work and sacrifice. Heck, the current first lady of France was once the mistress of the french president. France has a very long history of mistresses and rich powerful men.
Paris Opera ballerinas were never ever forced into prostitution in order to stay in the ballet. It is so sick to create such a story line.
And I'm not even going to mention the distraction of her misuse of dance terminology and form. If you ever danced at a serious level, you will have a really good laugh.
The genre is historical fiction, not fiction historical. I would have given it no stars if amazon would have let me.
Unfortunately, this story is too ambitious for its narrator. We are stuck in the head of the soul-suckingly boring Alexandrie, a self-righteous show-off who sounds like a college student writing pretentious blog comments. Alexandrie's voice -- the multi-syllable words, the cliches, the affect -- rings false for a dancer raised as an illiterate (later tutored) farm girl. Alexandrie is principled about ballet as creating "art" (Where did this come from and why am I supposed to care?) She has secret romantic dreams of marriage -- but contempt for the idea of being a mistress (or worse). In the world of this book, it's not clear why these things are important to her, which makes it difficult to care about her story.
This book does have a promising premise and good structure. It just needs some likeable characters, a realistic historical voice, and that rich detail that h-fiction buffs lust for (what kind of coins do they spend? What kind of fabric do they wear? We want more than we can get on Wikipedia). And any 12-year-old knows that ballet is about drills, schedules, repetition and routine -- I wish we had more of a sense of the daily life in the Paris Opera ballet.
If you haven't read Memoirs of a Geisha, Noel Streatfield's Ballet Shoes, Girl with a Pearl Earring, or Mansfield Park, go dig your teeth into those. We'll have to keep waiting for the great novel on Degas.
For years I've admired Degas' paintings depicting the ballerina's in Paris. There is just this.. calm, quiet grace about them. I'm not knowledgeable about art, by any means, but I've always enjoyed looking at these paintings and imagining the lives of the girls posing for them.
Kathryn Wagner delves into the life of a woman who may inspired many of Degas' paintings. A look into the life of the Parisian ballerina's is also offered and the story turns into a beautiful, if somewhat tragic, romance between the ballerina and the artist.
This was a beautifully written book. I read it in a morning, unable to put it down and breathed a sigh of somewhat wistful relief at the ending.