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Mademoiselle Victorine: A Novel Paperback – Jul 24 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Finerman's debut novel chronicles the life of Victorine Laurent, whose beauty and ambition to "conquer Paris" leads her to become the favorite muse of Edouard Manet. Victorine poses for a portrait that will "change the direction of art forever," and the sexually charged painting indeed shocks the Grand Salon and helps Victorine capture the attention of the duke de Lyon, an adviser to Emperor Louis-Napoléon. The duke requests that Victorine become his mistress exclusively, and when she agrees, she must balance her feelings for Manet with her relationship to the duke and her rising notoriety. Finerman's juxtaposition of actual and fictional events and characters is far from seamless, and Victorine is too perfect to be believable. More attention to character and less to wardrobe would have lent needed depth. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Mademoiselle Victorine plunges the reader into the volatile mix of art and political intrigue in 1860s Paris through the fascinating person of Victorine Laurent, whose rapid, determined rise from dancer to courtesan of kings exposes the lives and passions of her time. Mademoiselle Victorine rides the Parisian whirlwind, taking the reader so deep into the heart of that glittering and dangerous era that putting the book down will not be an option.
- Pamela Aidan, author of An Assembly Such As This
“As vivid, bold, and seductive as a Manet painting…brings to life the tinseled, tawdry art world of Second Empire Paris.
- Eleanor Herman, author of Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge
“Finerman cleverly weaves her touching story, populated with colorful, artistic characters, through a period in the political and artistic history of France that is rich with drama.”
¯Susanne Dunlap, author of Emilie’s Voice and Liszt’s Kiss
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Or so I thought.
Debra Finerman's Victorine arrives in Paris as a young child of twelve, raised by two strict aunts who bully her shamelessly, and have decided to finally get rid of her -- by selling her into a brothel. Victorine, having been raised on the rough side of life, is still horrified by life on the street when she sees a former grand courtesan rooting in the garbage for food, the great beauty a ruin now. So begins our heroine's search for security no matter what it takes for her to get it. And security means money.
When the novel opens, Victorine is the mistress of a well-to-do banker, but it's certainly not enough. When she meets Edouard Manet, they are attracted by each other, but Victorine is canny enough not to let him have her sexually, instead she poses for him, resulting in the infamous painting that has her a nude, gazing with defiance at the viewer. Through Victorine's eyes we meet other artists and writers, and she begins to collect other wealthier men into her circle, including a Rotheschild banker, and finally, the Duke de Lyon, a fabulously rich politician who becomes her means to enter the very cream of Parisian society.
Still at the center of it all is her relationship with Manet, a romance where they never touch, but the emotion is all there. We're treated to the dizzying days of Napoleon III and his Empress Eugenie, war with the Germans, and finally the days of the Communards.
Victorine, for all of her potential as a character, is bloodlessly calculating here. Money really is the only thing she cares about, and how she gets it is callous, and doesn't create much sympathy for the reader. Throughout all of her dispair and mistakes, and wondering why she can't feel anything for her various lovers, I was left feeling nothing but contempt for her in return. She covets exquisite clothing, fine jewelry, elaborate houses, and behaves in pretty much a childish fashion throughout.
To make matters worse, the author Debra Finerman, has taken this story of an artistic revolution and turned it into a disgusting hack job. Most of the book is filled up with idle conversation, descriptions of clothing, episodic encounters between Victorine and others, and only in the last seventy or so pages does the book even get interesting. Most heinous of all, she displays an absolute lack of knowledge of the art world of the time -- Victorine is a combination of the real Victorine Meurent, and the Countess de Castiglione, Julia Stanhope-Morgan is based very loosely on Mary Cassatt, and the Duke de Lyon is based on the real Duke de Mornay. Paintings aren't given their titles, just very loose descriptions. Finally, Finerman doesn't mention other people who were very influental in Manet's life, including his brother Edmund, and fellow artist and model, Berthe Morisot. Instead, she seems to have spent an afternoon walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at the Impressionists gallery and stopped in at a travelling exhibition on the Countess de Castiglione and photography, and then tried to make a novel out of that.
There's the loosest of plots, no real depth or imagination here, nothing to catch the attention of artists interested in the world of creation, plenty of historical mistakes, and some of the dullest narrative around. It's just plain bad, and even with it just being under 300 pages, it's literary joke.
For a far more impressive and interesting read on the Impressionist movement, I would suggest Susan Vreeland's <a href="[...]">Luncheon of the Boating Party<a>, where at least the author knows her topic and how to write characters that interest the reader.
The author tries to explain her methods and reasoning in a short author's note at the end, and a reader's guide for reader's groups is included, but why bother?
As Manet's nude model for "Olympia", Victorine will make her fortune, the doors of society thrown open for her, but at the beginning of her quest for security, she is guided by pragmatism, self-interest and the obvious rewards offered by gentlemen of means. Manet and his disciples are the new face of Parisian art, upsetting the status quo with their vision; as the artist's protégé, Victorine attains cache, and with it, unexpected opportunity. At first, genteel society is shocked by Manet's depictions of his muse, but soon Victorine is the object of much speculation, including offers for patronage. Keeping her distance from Manet, Victorine refuses to be his lover, although she has no such qualms with those who would woo her, accepting finally a grand home from Baron Rothschild. Eventually, Victorine meets the one man who will refuse to tolerate her relationship as Manet's model; Philippe de Lyon, close advisor to Emperor Louis Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I and vice-president of the legislative body, Philippe demands exclusivity, nurturing grand schemes with Victorine as his unwitting pawn.
Her notoriety grows, as does Philippe's influence, Victorine introduced to court and seduced by men of great repute, basking in "ambition and rivalry, the blood sport of imperial Paris". Yet Victorine fails to find comfort in financial security or the glamour of her position, the court rife with intrigue and the whispers of war with Prussia. Drawn to Manet as butterfly to flame, Victorine cannot deny the attraction they have so skillfully avoided, each pursuing their goals as the country turns against the monarchy once again. By 1870, Paris is caught in the onslaught of Prussian might and superior arms. France, defeated, sues for peace. Betrayed and unjustly imprisoned, Victorine learns the harsh lessons of power and greed, surviving only by her wits and Manet's assistance.
Creating her heroine from a combination of historical characters during the era, Finerman recreates a believable Paris, displaying the beauty that so captured the imagination of Parisians, the elegant salons, the extravagance and decadence of the court of Louis Napoleon and his empress, Eugenie, wealthy men who parade their mistresses in society, the rising ire of the working class toward a ruling class that ignores their struggles and the enlightened artists and writers inspired to make their mark on the world stage. The real actors all but lost to history, Manet's gorgeous nude, "Olympia", survives, a gift to future generations. Luan Gaines/2007.
A great book for a great character and many great friends of Victorine : Manet, Baudelaire, etc.