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The Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper [Audio CD]

Harriet Chessman
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Audio, CD, Sept. 1 2002 --  
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Book Description

Sept. 1 2002
Set in the lively Parisian art world of the 1880s, this novel imagines a poignant time in the lives of the American impressionist Mary Cassatt and her sister, Lydia. Lydia narrates the story as she poses for five of her sister’s paintings. Ill with Bright’s disease and conscious of impending death, Lydia contemplates her narrowing world. The novel’s subtle power comes from its sustained inquiry into the very evanescence of life that the paintings record. "How delicately, how perfectly Chessman considers the subtle currents of love and jealousy that mingle in this sibling relationship." — The Christian Science Monitor "A moving and intensely introspective portrait of the way art is created and life relinquished." — Kirkus Reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

Elegantly conceived and tenderly written, this cameo of a novel ushers readers into a small, warmly lit corner of art history. Inspired by five Mary Cassatt paintings of Cassatt's older sister, Lydia, Chessman (Ohio Angels) paints her own intimate portrait of the admirable Lydia, chronicling Lydia's thoughts and feelings as she models for Mary in Paris in the late 1870s and early 1880s. All the while, Lydia is conscious that she is dying of Bright's disease, and her thoughtful contemplation of her life and dashed hopes give shape to the tale. Lydia, who is in her 40s, never married the man she loved was killed in the Civil War but she reveals a sharp, sophisticated awareness of desire in her observations of her sister Mary (May), and May's lover, the painter Edgar Degas. Chessman sees May as vividly as she does Lydia, describing her as a live wire, a woman with outsize ambitions for her times, but also as a devoted sister. Chessman's prose can be obvious and overcareful "I think May's sadness, when she heard my diagnosis, was increased by her memory of earlier sorrows" but her instinctive understanding of the sisters' relationship and her thoughtful description of their studio collaborations elevate this understated effort. The five paintings, beautifully reproduced, appear at intervals and acquire new depth even as they enrich Chessman's story. 4-city author tour. (Nov. 1)Forecast: Published in an unusual joint venture by Seven Stories and the Permanent Press, this title the #1 BookSense pick for November/December is attracting much early attention. The small trim size and glossy art inserts make it an appealing gift book, and it's a safe bet that holiday sales will be strong. U.S. paperback rights to Plume; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Greece, Italy and Australia/New Zealand.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

As you read Chessman's second novel (after Ohio Angels), be prepared for an insightful and moving tale about a great American painter and her family. Here is the poignant story of Lydia, Mary Cassatt's sister, who details the important role she played in the creation of Cassatt's early Impressionist paintings. Each chapter centers on a painting by Mary that involves Lydia, and the narrative offers wonderful insight into Cassatt's bold life and her relationships with artists such as Renoir, Caillebotte, and especially Degas. Though Lydia is fighting a horrible battle against Bright's disease, she continues to pose for her sister and to live her life with courage and dignity. As Degas observes to Lydia, "You show me how to live, if only I could do it as you do." A special treat is the inclusion of color plates of famed Cassatt works like "Lydia Crocheting in the Garden." Like Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring (LJ 10/15/99), this book beautifully limns the impact of art on a woman close to a great artist though the women involved are very different. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. Vicki Cecil, Hartford City P.L., IN
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven fiction posing as fact April 11 2003
By HeyJudy
Format:Paperback
There is much that is admirable about the novella LYDIA CASSATT READING THE MORNING PAPER, and there is just as much that is annoying. Inescapably, this fictionalized biography of a valiant woman succumbing to a fatal illness has a subtext of pathos. Thus, hardly surprisingly, the story never quite is able to get past its own grim underlying reality.
At the same time, though author Harriet Scott Chessman is a wonderful writer, the book is so short that it seems as if she is cheating her readers. There have been several works of fiction in the recent past offering possible background accounts of famous artists, or their subjects, or of the periods during which their most famous works were created. The two similar books about Vermeer, GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE and GIRL WITH PEARL EARRING, each are more fully formed than Lydia Cassatt's report is here. Maybe it is fair to say that this idea of writing a fiction around a well-regarded painting is an idea which has been worked, and worked successfully--and that it is past time for other authors to move along to new forms of inspiration.
It is jarring to read thoughts being put into the mind of Lydia Cassatt when the author has no way of knowing what Lydia might have been thinking. This device completely breaks the natural flow of the story. Of course, this always is a risk when any author writes a fictionalized account of an episode in a real person's life.
The detail of life in Paris, specifically the lives of rich expatriate Americans in that moment of Henry James and Edith Wharton, are vivid and fascinating. The exploration of the movement of Impressionist art at the very time when it still was being formed by artists then considered iconoclasts is the highlight of the book.
Physically, it is not overstating to say that LYDIA CASSATT READING THE MORNING PAPER is a beautiful little gem of a novella, illustrated as it is with small reproductions of the paintings at issue.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Exquisitely Graceful Novel Dec 7 2002
Format:Paperback
Harriett Scott Chessman's prose moves with the deceptive beauty of a ballet dancer, its weightless grace diverting attention from the muscularity powering every gesture. Nothing is squandered, as this wisp-thin novel offers up more sharp-eyed observation and insight than books five times its girth.
Consider the narrator's description of Edgar Degas, whom she likens to a dog. "He bit into subjects --- the foolishness of one artist or another, the insipidity of someone's latest effort, I can't remember --- all the while his eyes lit on things in our apartment, with an air of studying and maybe breaking them: the tea set, the Japanese vase on the mantel, me."
LYDIA CASSATT READING THE MORNING PAPER is a fictionalized story based on the relationship between the American impressionist painter Mary Cassatt and her sister, Lydia, who narrates the story. The novel revolves around sessions in which Lydia poses for her sister. Lydia, 41, is dying of Bright's disease. On a good day, sitting and holding a newspaper while Mary paints her is physically exhausting. On a bad day, getting out of bed would be an impossible trick.
Mary, seven years her junior, is on the cusp of realizing her creative ambitions, having been accepted as the only woman in the inner circle of late 19th Century impressionists who were stirring up Paris and the art world.
These sisters savor their time together because they deeply love each other and they know they'll soon be parted. Much goes unspoken. The younger sister avoids acknowledging that Lydia has little time left and the older woman doesn't force the conversation. They communicate through the work. "I was sick again this morning, and May (Lydia refers to her sister by this nickname throughout) looked discouraged as she helped me wash my face and get dressed.
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Format:Hardcover
This very short novella about the famed impressionist Mary Cassatt, is narrated from the uniquely interesting perspective of her unknown and tragically short lived sister who was afflicted by an illness incurable in those days. Five of Mary's paintings which portray Lydia are chosen and very nicely reproduced in this small neatly compact volume. Each becomes the focus of a chapter. There is no real plot or action or suspense. Instead, reading each of these five introspective chapters mimics the act of really contemplating a work of art. The art lover will particularly enjoy and learn from Chessman's descriptions of the paintings and the way she relates them to Lydia's illness. Overall the amount of biographical information revealed about the Cassatts is relatively small. For example we learn Mary would outlive Lydia and go on to paint for 30 more years-but not that she would suffer the tragedy of blindness in her later years. The book will leave the reader eager to know more and to view Mary's work.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and Contemplative Feb. 26 2002
Format:Hardcover
Lydia Cassatt (1837-82) was the older sister of the avant-garde American-born Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). This lovely novella, 'Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper' by Harriet Scott Chessman, is set in Paris and its environs in the late 1870s to early 1880s and recreates a fictional portrayal of their life en famille and with close friends like Edgar Dégas, the French Impressionist. Because it was the time of the Impressionist exhibitions in Paris, there are mentions of other artists such as Gustave Caillebotte, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Berthe Morisot. Lydia often posed for Mary, which she found to be 'a form of enchantment.' Afflicted with Bright's disease, a fatal disease of the kidneys, Lydia endured much pain and weakness to sit still while her sister painted her. Through the use of internal monologue in a stream-of-consciousness Impressionistic style, Ms. Chessman allows the reader to experience the passing thoughts, memories, and reflections of Lydia. Lydia had remained an unmarried woman because her fiancé had been killed in the Civil War. Mary (called May) was also unmarried, through choice, because she did not wish to compromise her artistic career with marriage and motherhood.
Included in the pages of this novella are five beautiful color plates of paintings of Lydia by Mary Cassatt. Each of the five short chapters contains almost a meditation on each painting. Through the imaginative writing of Ms.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Novel About Two Loving Sisters and Art...
The cover of this book was originally what caught my eye, since I had purchased a Mary Cassatt calendar at one time and found her paintings to be very personal and familial. Read more
Published on Dec 29 2009 by bohobeachgirl
4.0 out of 5 stars A charming read
This was an interesting book. I found it interesting to see the story through the eyes of Lydia Cassatt. Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2004 by MissyLynne
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet and simple
Just a sweet and simple book about sisterly love and having to face one's own mortality. Lots of metaphoric prose and colorful descriptions. Read more
Published on July 25 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Artists and Sisters
This is an extraordinarily moving and beautifully written novel. Chessman takes the reader somewhere new: to the inner life of a famous painter and her dying sister. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical Tale of Sisterly Love
I was a huge fan of Tracy Chevalier's "Girl with a Pearl Earring", so I was most interested to read Harriet Chessman's novel about Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia - the... Read more
Published on Sept. 10 2002 by E. Rothstein
3.0 out of 5 stars Only if you like Cassatt
If you aren't one of the many who adore Mary Cassatt's paintings, this book won't interest you at all. Read more
Published on June 5 2002 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, well-written story based on actual paintings
This novel is a recent example of the trend in using an artist's life or body of works to create work of fiction. Read more
Published on April 6 2002 by Lover of Mysteries
3.0 out of 5 stars I'd rather be looking at the paintings
In the tradition of Girl With the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, Harriet Chessman Scott has fashioned a fictional account of how six... Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2002 by Nancy R. Katz
5.0 out of 5 stars PITCH PERFECT PROSE CELEBRATES FAMILY, LOVE, AND ART
Art and life. Life and art. The lines pf demarcation aren't' visible in this richly imagined story of the relationship between Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1847 - 1926)... Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2002 by Gail Cooke
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