This absorbing, heartfelt work uncovers the story of the real dancer behind Degas’s now-iconic sculpture, shedding light on the struggles of late nineteenth-century Parisian life.
She is famous throughout the world, but how many know her name? You can admire her figure in Washington, Paris, London, New York, Dresden, or Copenhagen, but where is her grave? We know only her age, fourteen, and the work that she did—because it was already grueling work, at an age when children today are sent to school. In the 1880s, she danced as a “little rat” at the Paris Opera, and what is often a dream for young girls now wasn’t a dream for her. She was fired after several years of intense labor; the director had had enough of her repeated absences. She had been working another job, even two, because the few pennies the Opera paid weren’t enough to keep her and her family fed. She was a model, posing for painters or sculptors—among them Edgar Degas.
Drawing on a wealth of historical material as well as her own love of ballet and personal experiences of loss, Camille Laurens presents a compelling, compassionate portrait of Marie van Goethem and the world she inhabited that shows the importance of those who have traditionally been overlooked in the study of art.
About the author
Camille Laurens is an award-winning French novelist and essayist. She received the Prix Femina, one of France’s most prestigious literary prizes, in 2000 for Dans ces bras-là, which was published in the United States as In His Arms in 2004. She lives in Paris.
Willard Wood has translated more than twenty-five books from the French. He is a recipient of the Lewis Galantière Award for Literary Translation and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Translation. He lives in Norfolk, Connecticut.
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