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Dancing for Degas: A Novel Paperback – Mar 16 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (March 16 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385343868
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343862
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #670,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9bf2c228) out of 5 stars 28 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ccc5114) out of 5 stars fiction historical, not historical fiction June 29 2010
By Angelia Pfeifer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Wow! I'm so suprised by all of the good reviews for this book. I wonder if any of them stopped to remember that the women who danced for the Paris Opera were real. In my opinion, turning them into prostitutes and the Ballet Master (also a real person) into their pimp is an insult to the memory of some great artists who worked extremely hard for their craft.

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.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bcad288) out of 5 stars Best thing about it is the cover Aug. 7 2010
By raisa - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I'm a fan -- a forgiving fan -- of historical fiction. I love Degas, Paris and ballet, and I'm all about the guilty pleasures of a romance novel. I figured this book couldn't disappoint. Did Paris Opera dancers really live this kind of life? I'm willing to accept the premise -- it's an intriguing idea and what should be a fool-proof setting for a good novel.

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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bb97ec4) out of 5 stars Simplistic to say the least Aug. 31 2010
By h2ogoddess - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Simplistic to say the least. Not only is the entire book not factual, the style of writing was so simplistic and dull to read I would not have bothered to finish it had I had anything else around to read. Her characters utter phrases like "thats so annyoing" in 19th century Paris? Please. It was written as if geared for tweens, but the subject matter would be highly inappropriate for that age. Don't waste your time on this book.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bcafd5c) out of 5 stars Dancing for Degas April 27 2010
By Lydia - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When I was a girl I was absolutely obsessed with books about ballerina's. That in itself was not so uncommon, I know my little niece loves her ballet classes and dreams of being able to dance on stage and perform.

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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bd1ff60) out of 5 stars Boring book July 28 2010
By Cielledee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I got through one third of this book and decided it wasn't worth my time. It feels that the author has done no research on Degas, and has simply created a character called Alexandrie (a ballet dancer) to reflect his work. The story seems more to be about Alexandrie than Degas. If you want true historical fiction, read 'Claude and Camille' whose author has done thorough research about her subject and that makes for good reading about Impressionism.

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