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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interview with Kathryn Wagner

After recently reading Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner, I knew I had to try to ask her some questions because I was just dying to know. I have always loved dance, have taken many years of dance, and love Degas' paintings, so this was a sure hit for me. Kathryn was kind enough to take some time and answer my burning questions and here today is that interview. Enjoy!

With the in-depth view of the life of a Parisian ballerina, I can’t help but wonder, do you have any dance experience yourself?

Like a lot of little girls, I took ballet classes, so I was able to draw from my experience when Alexandrie was at Madame Channing’s studio. I read about the various ballets that were used in this book to capture the energy needed to tell each ballet’s story. For the more specific descriptions of steps, I went online. It doesn’t sound very appealing, but there are videos of different moves that I could watch and then describe as Alexandrie performed them.

When you were in the planning stages of writing this novel, which came first - the inspiration of Degas’ work or the life of the ballerina?

I’ve always loved Degas’ ballerina paintings and while taking an art history class in college, my professor pointed out that the man behind the curtain in The Star (L'etoile [La danseuse sur la scene]) was a "John."
The Star - 1878
This really resonated with me because I think of the ballet as very sophisticated, so I wouldn’t have thought that - not that long ago -some ballerinas had an ulterior motive for dancing. It’s always been a goal of mine to write a book, and when I started to seriously consider doing it, I was reading a lot of historical fiction at the time. I was drawn to the idea of filling in the gaps and speculating about what may have happened to great historical figures. I’ve always loved art history and I look at paintings less for the technical brushstrokes, but more for the story of what inspired the artist. I wonder about the artist’s relationship with a model or about how he or she spent time at the landscapes that he or she chose to paint. When figuring out what subject to tackle, Degas’ ballerinas immediately popped into my head. I thought the lives of the dancers would be the most interesting, so Alexandrie’s story actually came to me first. I liked the idea of a memoir-esque story of a ballerina who was in love with Degas, but was seen as socially unacceptable. I really knew very little about Degas as a person. When I researched his life and found that he had shunned all relationships for his art, it worked out really well because it allowed the story to be about unrequited love. I wanted the character of Alexandrie to be strong and to want something more for herself than meeting a John behind the curtain.

Were the Parisian ballerinas really looked upon as lorettes (well cared for mistresses) rather than respected for their craft?

Yes and no. There were many wealthy men who bought season tickets to the Opera ballet, which afforded them an all-access pass to the dancers’ dressing rooms and after-parties in the Green Room. Many of these men took young dancers as mistresses, and many of the dancers saw it as a great opportunity to advance socially. This was pretty commonplace in France - beyond the ballet - during that time. The Notre Dame de Lorette was the real nickname for the area depicted in Dancing for Degas because so many mistresses were kept there. But the ballerinas were always respected for their craft. The Paris Opera ballet was, and still is, one of the most prestigious institutes in France. It was also not necessary for the ballerinas to become mistresses, as history will show there are many famous ballerinas who were dedicated only to dance.

What was the best source of information in your research for this novel?

I found Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt by Jeffrey Meyers to be very helpful as well as Degas: Letters, which helped me to write in Degas’ tone of voice.

Do you have a favorite Degas ballet painting?

L'etoile is probably my favorite because it’s beautiful but then when you look closer you see a man behind the curtain, illustrating the relationship between abonnes and ballerinas. Although, since Dancing for Degas has been released Dancers in Blue will always be special to me because it’s the cover of my book.

Dancers in Blue - 1895

On your website it states that you are currently working on your second novel. Any hints for us as to what it’s about? Is it focused on art or dance?

I’m working on another historical fiction novel that focuses on the post-impressionist artist, Pierre Bonnard, and the love triangle between Madame Marthe Bonnard and his mistress, Renee Monchaty. It’s set in 1920’s France, which is such an energetic post-war time and it goes beyond Paris into the Provences and Riviera. This book is a lot of fun to write because each woman personifies the two sides of Bonnard’s personality - Marthe plays to the responsible husband who is content living outside of the city, taking walks and painting landscapes, while Renee plays to the restlessness that made him travel to place to place in search of something new and exciting. There’s also so much happening in the art world during this time with Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism, and seeing it from the point of view of an artist who, while incredibly successful, was looked over for being ordinary. Which is ironic given his relationship with Marthe and the secrets she kept from him, as well as how his affair with Renee ended.

Follow Up: Question by Librarypat - In your research, did you find why he chose to focus on the ballet as his subject?

Degas chose to paint the ballet because he liked to study movement. He also did a series of paintings at the races which focused on race horses for the same reason. It's not very romantic, but if an artist wants to study and paint movement, what could be more beautiful than the ballet?
Thank you Kathryn for the wonderful insight. I'm very excited about your upcoming work - Cubism and Surrealism have always been the periods of art that I have loved. Can't wait!

Kathryn Wagner currently resides in Washington, D.C. Dancing for Degas is her first novel. She holds a B.A. in journalism with a minor in art and has worked as a staff writer and columnist for several newspapers in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Imagining what has inspired great artists has been a longtime passion of hers. She is currently at work on her next novel.  You can also find more about Kathryn and her book at her website.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner

Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner
Paperback, 400 pages
March 16, 2010
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Genre: Art Historical Fiction

Source: My personal collection

In the city of lights, at the dawn of a new age, here is an unforgettable story of great love, great art—and the most painful choices of the heart.

Kathryn Wagner transports readers to an era of light and movement with this fresh and vibrantly imagined portrait of the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas as told through the eyes of a young Parisian ballerina. An ambitious and enterprising farm girl, Alexandrie enters the prestigious Paris Opera ballet with hopes of catching the eye of one of the ballet's wealthy patrons—thereby securing not only her place in society, but her family's financial future.

But her plan is soon derailed when she falls in love with the enigmatic artist whose paintings of the private off-stage lives of the ballerinas scandalized society and revolutionized the art world. As Alexandrie is drawn deeper into Degas's art and Paris's darkest secrets, she will risk everything for her dreams of love and of becoming the ballet's star dancer”

Alexandrie is a typical country girl. She helps her family with their pepper farm and doesn’t really expect much more than that. She shows an interest in taking dance lessons, which is a luxury – and that is where the conflict between her and her mother comes in. Alexandrie wants to be the best dancer she can, while her mother wants her to become a famous lorrette and send money home to her family. This tension really forms the heart of this story.

Alexandrie goes to Paris and becomes a part of the famous Paris Opera Ballet company there. The story primarily focuses on Alexandrie and the culture and daily life of the ballerinas. I expected there to be rehearsals, and practice and shows, but there was much more. I had never thought about ballerinas being anything other than dancers, but apparently they were. Men would come to the shows to meet with the dancers afterward and hope to engage in a “post performance” – if you get the meaning. Many of these women would become lorrettes or mistresses to these men. They would be able to leave the dance life and be put up and well cared for. This is what many of them hoped for – and what Alexandrie’s mother wanted for her. But, Alexandrie wanted to be respected for her passion and dance expertise.

Edgar Degas is well known for his exceptional paintings showing ballerinas in various stages of the dance and he finally comes into play in this story around page 100. I kept waiting and waiting, thinking he would never come. He and Alexandrie form a bond and she becomes the subject of many of his paintings. During these sections you get a great feel for the character of Degas – he is a little reclusive, volatile, and compassionate for his work. I really found myself enjoying Degas personality, even though he is a brasher artist than some others I have read about lately. One thing I found interesting was the inclusion of other Impressionist artists – this reminded me very much of some scenes in Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell – which I loved. It helped set the story in the art world, not just isolated.

I loved getting to learn about the dance and the experiences that these young women went through. Even though today many young girls take dance lessons, not many will become famous dancers and this story was a little like living out that dream. The one thing that I had a problem with was the ending – that seems to be where books have been losing it for me lately. The ending seemed very abrupt and the character had a change in motivation. All along Alexandrie was focusing on one thing, and then…it just went away. I really didn’t see the ending coming and it didn’t feel satisfying. Besides the ending, I really, really, enjoyed the book!

Check out my author interview tomorrow to find out what this author is coming out with next. I am very excited for it.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Find Kathryn Wagner: Website

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Degas' Ballerinas

Pirouette, Jete, Plie, Releve, Again...

Something to this effect is what Edgar Degas likely heard while making his sketches of the Paris ballerinas. Degas made many, many sketches and paintings of these ballerinas during rehersals, practice, shows, and off hours.

I put together this little video below to help put you into the ballet mood and get a sense of Degas' passion. Later this week I have a review of Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner as well as an interview with the author.

See if you can guess this classical ballet tune that plays behind the images. When finished with the video, highlight between the brackets to see if you are right [Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky].

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mailbox Monday #42

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

I have received my first book in my mailbox at my new apartment (well, it technically came to my door, but let's not worry about the semantics). It was very exciting to come home and my boyfriend tell me that a book had come!

This book was received for review from Sourcebooks for September:

What Alice Knew: A Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen.

"A fun and clever literary reinterpretation, with Henry James hot on the trail of Jack the Ripper

Henry James is suffering through boring drunken dinner parties in London, but when his brother William-renowned for his groundbreaking work in the new science of psychology-is summoned from America by Scotland Yard to help investigate an East End serial killer who calls himself Jack the Ripper, things are suddenly much more interesting.

Their bedridden sister Alice James takes on the role of lead detective, as the three precocious siblings attempt to unravel the true identity of the killer. Searching London high and low, encountering characters both suspicious and ridiculous, they inch closer to a killer neither they, nor readers, would suspect."

Anything awesome arrive in your mailbox this past week?

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summary in Art

Have you ever wondered what the summary of a book would look like as a piece of art? Below you will find the summary of Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell - I love it! If you want to see the real summary, you will have to check out my review from earlier this week.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Audiobook Review: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell
Unabridged, 16 hr. 13 mins.
Harper Audio
Charles Keating (narrator)
January 20, 2009
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Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Borrowed audio book from the library
“One of the most dramatic victories in British history, the battle of Agincourt—immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry V—pitted undermanned and overwhelmed English forces against a French army determined to keep their crown out of Henry's hands. Here Bernard Cornwell resurrects the legend of the battle and the "band of brothers" who fought it on October 25, 1415. An epic of redemption, Agincourt follows a commoner, a king, and a nation's entire army on an improbable mission to test the will of God and reclaim what is rightfully theirs. From the disasters at the siege of Harfleur to the horrors of the field of Agincourt, this exhilarating story of survival and slaughter is at once a brilliant work of history and a triumph of imagination—Bernard Cornwell at his best” .
I have seen Cornwell’s books on my library book shelf for some time now, but put off attempting any of them because I knew that many of them are set in wartime and that isn’t my usual favorite subject. This author really helped me to get into the head of the main characters and made it more than just a wartime battle (but it was a lot of battle as well). As I anticipated, this was a male dominated novel – there was really only one woman in the whole book, but she was pretty significant. It was a very different angle and perspective to look at the world from.

At every stage of the novel I learned something new about medieval warfare: terminology, fighting formations, strategy, armor, archery. One of the things that I loved was the very lengthy, detailed historical note at the end of the book. The author gives credit, and recommendations, to the authors that he read and was inspired by. He also notes where there are discrepancies in the accepted historical research. This was incredibly interesting because there is currently research ongoing about how large the sizes of the 2 opposing armies were. The true answer could make a huge difference as to how inspiring this story is.

The characters were awesome! I LOVED the main character, Nick Hook. He was flawed but the author embraced that flaw and it built into a wonderful character. His bad characters were a range of evil, from not so bad to purely evil. I am glad that there was a range of characters and flaws in everyone because it made them more real.

I think that his books would definitely appeal to both men and women who are interested in this time period. It was very war focused but still kept my attention.


As a little note, because this was an audiobook that I read, the narrator was great and there was dramatic music at the beginning and end of each disk that really set the mood. I would certainly read more by this author and probably again in audio format.

You can listen to a short sample from the audiobook (links to Audible)

Play symbol 85x85

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Bernard Cornwell:
Bernard Cornwell is the author of MANY historical novels, check out his website for a list of them all.   I have read/reviewed the following:

last kingdom
The Last Kingdom
(Book 1 of The Saxon Stories)
[My Review]

Find Bernard Cornwell: Website | Facebook | Twitter


Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Radio Anecdotes from WWII

I was trying to think what would be the most appropriate post to go along with The Postmistress review when I had an epiphany. With a bulk of the novel revolving around Frankie’s news reports from the Blitz and Germany and France, wouldn’t it be great if we could hear some of these sorts of broadcasts? I was able to find a couple very good sources of WWII radio broadcasts, from both the United States and British reporters and some of the events are very similar to those featured in the story. Please click on the links below to take you right to the page for that radio broadcast.

A young boy describes surviving a bombing – from BBC

Message from HRH Elizabeth to the evacuees and their hosts – from BBC

Broadcast describing tube station shelters in London – from BBC

Children in Canada get to talk to parents still in London via radio – from BBC

Edward R. Murrow reporting from a London rooftop during the Blitz – from OTR.com

I hope listening to these clips have helped to put you into the mindset of the time. Partnered with the book, I think it really enhances the experience.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Audiobook Review: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Unabridged, 10 hr. 33 min.
Penguin Audio
Orlagh Cassidy (narrator)
February 9, 2010
goodreads button

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Downloaded from my library
“What would happen if a postmistress chose not to deliver the mail?

It is 1940. While the war is raging in Europe, President Roosevelt promises he won't send American boys over to fight.

Iris James is the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts a small town at the end of Cape Cod. She firmly believes her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Faithfully she stamps and sends the letters between people such as the newlyweds Emma and Will Fitch, who has gone to London to help out during the Blitz. But one day she slips a letter into her pocket, and leaves it there.

Meanwhile, seemingly fearless radio gal, Frankie Bard is reporting the Blitz from London, her dispatches crinkling across the Atlantic, imploring listeners to pay attention. Then in the last desperate days of the summer of 1941, she rides the trains out of Germany, reporting on what is happening to the refugees there.

Alternating between an America on the eve of entering into World War II, still safe and snug in its inability to grasp the danger at hand, and a Europe being torn apart by war, the two stories collide in a letter, bringing the war finally home to Franklin”
For me, this book was as much about war coverage of the period as it was about the characters that were living through it. When I think about WWII, I think about it from when the United States officially entered the war, although I know it started well before then. The whole premise of this story takes place before the US entered the war and I learned so much from this book about the American mind set of the time – we were safe, it was over there, it wouldn’t happen to us. Sarah Blake does an incredible job of portraying the people of the small Cape Cod town of Franklin, Massachusetts. I loved hearing their discussions about what was going on “over there”. Frankie Bard is over in the Blitz in London and later in France and Germany reporting back to those here in the US about the conditions in these places. She was the voice that brought this news back to the people and she tried to put emotion into the stories – so that people would actually feel what was happening.

Even though I certainly wasn’t around during WWII, I could connect some of the points of the novel to what has been happening today – we are safe, it is over there, it couldn’t happen to us. It’s amazing how the author can really drag your perceptions of today into the novel and you can connect to it.

Three characters are the central focus of the story – Frankie Bard (the radio reporter), Iris James (the postmistress), and Emma Fitch (the doctor’s wife). These three women are brought together by various events and consequences and really help each other survive. My favorite character by far was Emma Fitch. I think her hopes, fears, and desires were clear to the reader and consistent from start to finish – the most fleshed out character. I really had a hard time with the postmistress – who corrects people over and over that she is indeed a postmaster. I felt that she was a little all over the place. She starts out as this person who has always had all her ducks in a row and takes her job very seriously; when she withholds the letter, and her reasoning behind it, it felt very contrived and not within the character. For a book that is titled The Postmistress, I found Iris to not be the central focus or even the most important character.

Overall, I felt that this book brought home the feeling of ambivalence about the war in the US. The aspects of the book that were tied up the best were those that related to the war and what was happening. Some of the characters needed to be fleshed out a little more to be completely believable and that would have made the story much better.


To comment on the audiobook – I think that this was a great choice to listen to. When so much of the story is made up of Frankie’s radio broadcasts, you really felt like you were listening to it the way it was meant to be. It added a touch of reality and I think it put me into the mindset of the time period easier. See my post later this week for some real radio broadcasts from the war.

You can listen to a short sample from the audiobook below:


You can watch this video to see the author’s insights into the novel. There are some minor teasers/spoilers – so do not watch this if you do not want to know anything.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Sarah Blake:

grange house
Grange House


Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mailbox Monday #41

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. I can attest to the overflowing TBR pile that stems from this meme.

The mailbox has been very, very dry the last few weeks. But today I got a trickle.

From PaperBack Swap I received Stealing Athena by Karen Essex. I have had Leonardo's Swans on my shelf for a little while and when I realized it was about the Elgin Marbles, I had to have this one.

"At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the 21-year-old newly wedded Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, a Scottish heiress and celebrated beauty, enchanted the power brokers of the Ottoman Empire, using her charms to obtain their permission for her husband’s audacious plan to deconstruct the Parthenon and bring its magnificent sculptures to England. Two millennia earlier, Aspasia, a female philosopher and courtesan who presided with her lover, the visionary politician Pericles, over Athens’ Golden Age, plied her wits and allure with equal determination, standing with him at the center of vehement opposition to his ambitious plan to construct the most exquisite monuments the world had ever seen.

In parallel stories that resonate hauntingly, Aspasia witnesses the dramatic events that lead to the construction and dedication of the Parthenon, and Mary Nisbet witnesses that same magnificent building’s deconstruction and demise.

Rich in romance and intrigue, greed and glory, Stealing Athena is an enthralling work of historical fiction and a window into the intimate lives of some of history’s most influential and fascinating women"
(from author's website).

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, July 8, 2010

And the Winner of For the King is...

Today I have the honor of drawing the winner of For the King by Catherine Delors.

And the winner is...LibraryPat!

Congratulations!!! I will be emailing you to get your info. Thanks to everyone that entered - we had a very good turn out!

If you are not the lucky winner and still want a chance to win - check out these other giveaways still going on.

@ Enchanted by Josephine - winner selected July 15
@ Hist-Fic Chick - Ends July 13

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Old Sturbridge Village - An Introduction

If you happen to be in New England or planning to take a trip here at some point in the future and are looking for something interesting to do, consider stopping by Old Sturbridge Village. I just moved into Southbridge, Massachusetts – which is the next town over – and already dropped by to get myself a membership to OSV and I know I will be there frequently.

Old Sturbridge Village is a replica town right out of the early 1800’s. Most (if not all) of the houses are from that time period but have been moved to this site to create the town. You can tour their 59 buildings, walk nature trails, talk with costumed and knowledgeable “townsfolk” and take part in hands-on experiences. Events go on all day and they even have special event theme type days throughout the year. As I attend some of these events and learn and see some interesting stuff, I will be sure to fill you all in.
I went this past Saturday and it was a wonderful summer day, before this massive heat wave hit. I visited some of the houses (didn’t have time to see them all), walked a nature trail (learned about why there are few American Chestnut trees left) and enjoyed some demonstrations. I even got to try my hand at milking a cow (albeit a fake one, but still). I learned some interesting things about architecture of this time period that I had no idea about and thought I would share.

• During this time people hated wood floors – whereas today if you live in an old house you love to show off the awesome flooring. So, if they couldn’t afford expensive carpeting they used a floor covering (and when I walked in I was sure that this floor covering was not from the period because it was almost like linoleum). A floor cover was made of sailcloth that was painted beautifully and then had layers of varnish (or something like it) applied over the top. It looked beautiful but was less expensive.
• Ballrooms were almost always on the second floor of a two story house. This was so they could have expandable walls to change the room layouts – and you couldn’t do that with load bearing walls on the first floor!
• There was no such thing as a “bedroom” on a second floor – it was a “bedchamber”. Rooms on the second floor were called “chambers”, while those on the first were called “rooms”. Also, the naming for these “chambers” was after the room below it. So a room above the kitchen was called the “kitchen chamber” – even if it was a bed room.

I also wanted to share a video I took while I was there of a tavern song. The guy singing was actually my tour guide of the Towne House – who told me the above tidbits about architecture.

I hope to attend Fire & Ice day in 2 weeks where I will be able to check out some old school fire trucks and taste some handmade ice cream!

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Four Month Challenge Part 4

It's that time again - time for the next part (part 4) of The Four Month Challenge!

I wrapped up part 3 with 180 points out of 250. Not bad, I think that was better than I did in part 2.

The Four Month Challenge is again being hosted by Martina at She Read A Book. This will run from July 1 thru October 31.

Try to read as many books as you can to fill up each of the categories. And the categories are...

5 Point Challenges

Read a chick lit book - Complete- Gossip Girl: Nothing Can Keep Us Together by Cecily von Ziegesar

Read a name with a proper name in the title - Complete - The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen

Read a historical fiction book - Complete - The Countess and the King by Susan Holloway Scott

Read a book with a one word title

Read a book made into a movie

10 Point Challenges

Read a book with a Civil War theme (any country)

Read a Biblical fiction book

Read a hardcover book - Complete - A Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

Read a book about a king or queen - Complete - The Memoirs of Mary, Queen of Scots by Carolly Erickson

Read a book set in France

15 Point Challenges

Read a book by an author you’ve never read before - Complete - Heart of Lies by M. L. Malcolm

Read a biography or autobiography

Read a book with a number in the title - Complete - 5th Horseman by James Patterson

Read any book and then post a review - Complete - Dracula in Love by Karen Essex

Read any book but read it outside - Complete- Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

20 Point Challenges

Read a book in a series AND the one after it - Complete - 6th Target and 7th Heaven by James Patterson

Read a book that was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Read a book considered Christian fiction

Read a book from The Modern Library Top 100

Read a book by an author born in July, August, September or October

115/250 points

I will update as I go! This is one of my absolute favorite challenges and my most challenging.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court