Victorine Meurent. You may not know the name, but you know her. Take a look at Manet’s Olympia or Picnic on the Grass. Victorine models for many artists. She is living in Paris, posing nude or clothed. But her secret desire is to be the painter, not the model.
In 1863, a woman artist is laughable. It is not a career that is encouraged by parents or society. But Victorine is no ordinary woman. No. She is a force of nature, steamrolling her way to her dreams. She doesn’t want someone else’s life, she wants to live her life. And she does.
She endures the horror of the occupation of Paris. She makes do with nothing. But she is always kind and loving.
Victorine is one of the most interesting women I have had the pleasure to read about. She is smart, curious, and determined. Her personality is so strong and the author portrays her so well, you can feel her emotions. This is not something I come across every day. I wanted it to last longer. I honestly don’t have words for the energy this work of art is. Victorine came to life with the language the author used. I have a feeling we shall see more!
March 17th, 2020 by Fleur-de-Lis Press
This book is a real force of nature. Once you begin to read you will be helpless to stop! So I had some questions for this author who has such a flair for the written word.
She was kind enough to answer
Thank you so much, Patricia, for having me on your blog today. I appreciate it.
So, this is your first published book?
Yes. It’s the culmination of a lifelong dream of being a published author. I’m still pinching myself and I find myself holding it in my hands and turning it over and over sometimes.
I was in a college class, The Painted Word, that was about literature featuring paintings. The professor put up a PowerPoint presentation with artwork to inspire us. When he got to Manet’s Olympia, something about the painting, the nude woman in it, arrested me. I had never seen it, but I felt like there was so much she wanted to say to me. I told her I would listen. It was only later I discovered she was Victorine Meurent, not only a model, but a talented artist as well.
What type of research did you do?
What I wanted more than anything was to go to Paris to learn more. I refused to even attempt to find out anything about her until I could see “her” in person. (My process is learning from the artwork directly first, to see what it can “say” to me. Then I do book research.)
I was in grad school at the time, and we took a trip to Paris. I couldn’t sleep the night before I went to D’Orsay, because I knew “she” would be there. When I stood before the painting of Olympia, I felt like the model still had something more to say, but I couldn’t figure out what. I started crying in frustration.
Then a tour group came by, and their leader started talking about this model in the painting whose nose had been broken by her boxer boyfriend. That was the first I had heard of that. The funny thing was, I could never find any proof of that in my research, that there was a boxer boyfriend. But I knew it belonged in the book. Willie was born. He remains one of my favorite characters in the story.
Once I was home, I dug deeply into the internet for information. I discovered there wasn’t much to know about Victorine, which disappointed me. But by using the paintings of her, by reading about the time period, I was able to put together something that approximated her story. Many of the best-known painters of the time painted her, not only Édouard Manet, but also Alfred Stephens and Toulouse-Lautrec.
When I realized she was an artist herself, but history had forgotten that fact, I knew why she had chosen me to tell her story: she wanted me to return her to art history. (Or “herstory.”) My initial research only showed one known painting of hers, rediscovered in 2004. However, as my husband and I dug deeper, (besides being my sweetie, he’s also my research assistant) we
found three other paintings of hers. This included her self-portrait, which thrilled me. Seeing how she saw herself after all of the paintings of her confirmed for me that I had heard her correctly. (And I should add, we didn’t discover this painting until right before the book went to press. I quickly made a few changes to the scene where she paints herself. I also got permission from the painting’s owner to use the painting on the back of my book, the first time her painting has ever been published. I felt absolutely validated in my journey with her, then.
What is your favorite writing genre?
I love writing literary fiction. It’s sometimes difficult to write, is sometimes difficult to read, but there’s something deep and universal about it that speaks to me. It deals with what’s most important in life. It’s a full meal with something to snack on after the fact, too. Or I think that’s its aim. Not that it’s without its faults. Sometimes it takes itself too seriously. Sometimes it goes too dark.
That being said, I read lots of different genres, because sometimes you want something lighter. While I classify Victorine as primarily literary fiction about art, it is also historical literary fiction.
And who knows what I might write in the future?
Can you share with us what you are working on now?
Gladly! While I adore writing about art, I’ve taken a break to write about another topic that thrills me. Virginia Woolf is my favorite writer, so I am incorporating some of her book To the Lighthouse in mine. My novel is about Briscoe Chambers, a grad school student working on her thesis on Woolf. She’s married to a country music singer, Michael, and she’s also his manager.
The book opens with her discovering very publicly that he has cheated on her. The problem is, he’s contractually obligated to work with the woman he cheated with. And Briscoe has invested so much of her time and energy, not to mention her heart, in him and his career that she has to decide what to do next. It’s not as easy as just walking away. Reading and writing about Woolf help her come to a decision. Add in a distinctly Southern flare (I’m originally from the South and my husband and I lived in Nashville for a stretch) and I think it’s a fun one.
Who in the literary world do you look up to?
As I mentioned, Woolf is my absolute favorite writer. Her work is layered, nuanced, and challenging but rewarding. W. Somerset Maugham’s work is amazing. Toni Morrison is in my top ten, for sure.
Sena Jeter Naslund’s writing is a current writer whose work astonishes me with its delicate beauty. (Full disclosure: she’s also a mentor and dear friend of mine.) When it comes to art in
fiction, Stephanie Storey’s writing is lovely as well. Irving Stone’s writing about art is beyond compare.
I am a classics fan, clearly, so the Brontës are favorites of mine, all of them, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, of course…I could go on and on here.
Thank you again, Patricia, for having me on your blog and for all you do for the literary community.