Little Dancer of Fourteen Years
The Painted Girls, the second novel by Canadian author Cathy Marie Buchanan, is based on the life of Marie van Goethem, who was a model for Edgar Degas and the subject of his sculpture La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans.
Degas’ sculpture caused quite a controversy when it was unveiled at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881. The sculpture was made of wax and featured actual ballet clothing. Critics felt that the dancer was ugly and “marked by the hateful promise of every vice.” Marie is also featured in many of Degas’ sketches as well as his paintings, “Dancer with Fan,” “Dancing Lesson,” and “Dancer Resting.”
In 1880, Marie, her widowed mother and sisters Antoinette and Charlotte live in a small apartment on the Rue de Douai in Paris. The family is very poor and survives on the mother’s income as a laundress and what older sister Antoinette can earn as an extra in the Paris Opera. Mrs. Van Goethem is addicted to absinthe and the sisters must work together to make ends meet and pay the rent.
Marie and younger sister Charlotte are accepted into the ballet school of the Paris Opera and begin rigorous training with the hope of one day performing on stage. Marie catches the eye of Edgar Degas, who frequents the ballet school, sketching dancers. He invites her to come to his house and model for him. Marie cannot refuse, since she knows this will be a steady source of income.
To complicate matters, Antoinette becomes involved with a young man named, Emile Abadie. Emile is convicted of a crime and may face the guillotine. Will Antoinette’s relationship with Emile cause her to forsake her sisters just when they need her the most?
If you are interested in reading Cathy Marie Buchanan’s first book, please check out: The Day the Falls Stood Still