ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

"Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper" by Harriett Scott Chessman (Audiobook Version)

Updated on March 26, 2018
cholt profile image

When I'm not a photographer, I write about art history! Please, check out my work!

"Lydia Reading the Morning Paper (No. 1) (Woman Reading) (Femme lisant) (Portrait of Lydia Cassatt, the Artist's Sister) , 1878–79 oil on canvas, 32 x 23 1/2 inches Joslyn Art Museum purchase, Joslyn Endowment Fund, 1942.38" {{PD-US}}
"Lydia Reading the Morning Paper (No. 1) (Woman Reading) (Femme lisant) (Portrait of Lydia Cassatt, the Artist's Sister) , 1878–79 oil on canvas, 32 x 23 1/2 inches Joslyn Art Museum purchase, Joslyn Endowment Fund, 1942.38" {{PD-US}} | Source

Introduction

The story proper goes into the final years of Lydia Cassatt, the reserved sister of the more extroverted Mary Cassatt, the American Impressionist painter.

Or as they call each other, Lyddie and May.

Oh, and Edgar Degas shows up as a supporting character.

Lyddie and May

Not the most traditionally structured of tales, for this story consists mostly of vignettes seen through the eyes of older sister Lydia acting as a model for her younger sister Mary. While conservative, Lydia does hint at living a passionate, well-traveled, and very educated life. In two examples, she showed a knowledge of art terminology and is an avid reader, what with her mentions of Madame Bovary, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the Lady of Shallot. As a character, Chessman portrays Lydia as a bookish sort who spends most of her time in her head.

Mary on the other hand, carries herself in an outspoken manner, oftentimes talking about women's roles in the art world. One example of this has Mary painting Lydia holding a newspaper because she found the depiction of women reading books too trite. Through Lydia's eyes, Chessman also has Mary in the role of the artist with a concentrated gaze, something I have seen only male artists characterized with. For Lydia, it makes her uncomfortable, insecure about her looks, and baffled at the notion that artists would want to render her on their canvas. This is the third story I have read that involved a model with low self esteem and doesn't understand what the artist with keen eyes sees in her. The other two? Sunday in the Park with George and The Art Forger. Only this time, the dynamic involves sisters. Also similar to The Art Forger, Chessman describes Degas as having a penetrative artist's gaze. The difference is that in this story, Degas is described as having terrible eyesight.

Furthermore, Mary is somewhat immature, given how she would demand her sickly sister Lydia to not die.

Despite the story depicting Lydia as reserved and Mary as outgoing, there's no rivalry between the two. I like that.

Mortality in a frilly atmosphere

This book contemplates mortality and the fear of living an insignificant life. Despite the descriptions of a frilly French atmosphere, mortality hangs heavily in this domestic drama. Lydia experiences this first hand, with her Bright's Disease that she knows could take her at any moment. Or her contemplating the surge of mortality from losing loved ones to illness or to the American Civil War.

Lastly, Mary contemplates death in such a way that reminded of Frida Kahlo's paintings.

On Degas (and past art eras)

Regarding Degas, Chessman depicts him as a prominent, intimidating figure in the sisters' lives. Boastful and opinionated, the painter criticizes fellow artists Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir for their ability to enter the Salon. The trio converse on all sorts of subjects and other painters such as Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot.
Of course, Chessman casts these French artists as rebels going against the Classically dominant Salon. Despite that, Degas and the two sisters enjoy the occasional Classical art, such as visiting the Etruscan gallery in the Louvre and Tiepolo. Mary is characterized as loving Dutch art in the Louvre. You can rebel while enjoying traditional art at the same time.

Interestingly, the author also implies that Degas helped paint some of Mary's work. This is nothing new. I learned from my art history classes that printer William Hogarth hired French printers to render everything but his subject's faces. That belonged strictly to Hogarth. Furthermore, I have read about unfinished artworks initially begun by Andrea del Verrocchio and were later completed by his students and other artists long after his death. In art history (and possibly literature's history), authorship and collaboration blurs together.

Impressionist Scenes, Impressionist Lives

The author understands the point of Impressionism. That with its delicate use of paint, can capture a brief moment in time. It was what I learned when I took classes in art history. Cassatt's mentions of light and clouds could give this story an Impressionistic atmosphere, what with the movement's history of capturing light and clouds.

Lydia narrates at how the paintings she poses for do not feel as though they are her. She notes the same when looking Degas' portraits of Mary. In one scene, Lydia interprets what that painted version of her does whenever Lydia finishes a painting.

Questions of morality, ideals, and reality in art hover over these women (and Degas). Such as Mary's painting of a little girl relaxed. Lydia considered the depiction too exploitive of the subject. The story also mentions of Degas receiving criticism for his depictions of female dancers. I remember reading about people who criticised Degas and how he depicted women in an undignified light. This is just my opinion, but whenever I looked at his work, I never saw it that way.

The section about women's roles

Since this revolves around one of the few women remembered in the Impressionist movement, contemplation of women's roles come up. In one scene, Mary's mother argues with Mary over her single life and no children. Mary believes that she can't juggle an artist's life and motherhood, plus the trauma of losing people she cared about due to childbirth left her horrified. While listening, I didn't understand why the mother wants her to get married and have kids, for it's mentioned her other offspring already gave her grandkids, so why not be proud of Mary for achieving financial stability?

Writing and Execution

Some of the writing felt clunky and choppy. For example, Chessman will have Degas pop out of nowhere, such as watching May sketching a person at the family summer home. Lydia lives so much in her head, sometimes I can't tell the difference between reality merges with her imagination. I don't know if Chessman intended this.

Another example of a clunky execution shows up at the beginning, where the sisters talk about being out and about with Louisa May Alcott, then we later hear that Alcott is sick, then dead due to childbirth. This part left me unsure at how long the story's inner timeline went.

As the story ended, I found myself reminded of early 90's action movies.

As the story wraps up, Lydia has come to terms with her death as her condition worsens. Mary, on the other hand, refuses to accept it. She harangues her older sister to such a degree that it reminded me of the ending of Terminator 2. Lydia has to calm her sister and tells her encouraging platitudes over she will continue having success as a painter. After listening to the audiobook, I imagined Degas (in the Sarah Connor role) lowering Lydia down into the vat, and just before she's gone, gives Mary the thumbs up.

Seriously, if you ever get a chance to read it, or listening to an audiobook version, play the Brad Fiedel score when you reach the finale.

Yes, reviewer, but did you like it?

I did, and if you're interested in reading historical fiction involving Mary Cassatt, France, and Degas, I recommend checking it out.

This Audiobook is available through Amazon

© 2017 Catherine

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)