I Am Madame X
By Gioia Diliberto
(Scribner, Paperback, 9780743456807, 272pp.)
Publication Date: May 4, 2004
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When John Singer Sargent unveiled Madame X -- his famous portrait of American beauty Virginie Gautreau -- at the 1884 Paris Salon, its subject's bold pose and provocative dress shocked the public and the critics, smashing Sargent's dreams of a Paris career. In this remarkable novel, Gioia Diliberto tells Virginie's story, drawing on the sketchy historical facts to re-create Virginie's tempestuous personality and the captivating milieu of nineteenth-century Paris. Born in New Orleans and raised on a lush plantation, Virginie fled to France during the Civil War, where she was absorbed into the fascinating and wealthy world of grand ballrooms, dressmakers' salons, and artists' ateliers. Even before Sargent painted her portrait, Virginie's reputation for promiscuity and showy self-display made her the subject of vicious Paris gossip.
Immersing the reader in Belle Epoque Paris, I Am Madame X is a compulsively readable and richly imagined novel illuminating the struggle between Virginie and Sargent over the outcome of a painting that changed their lives and affected the course of art history.
Gioia Diliberto has written biographies of Jane Addams, Hadley Hemingway, and Brenda Frazier, as well as the critically acclaimed novel I Am Madame X, based on the life of Virginie Gautreau. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.
Los Angeles Times
Diliberto fills in the blanks of Virginie's life with vivid brush strokes. What ensues is a complex and often incredibly fun portrait...[a] handsomely imagined story.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune Diliberto does not make the mistake of imagining a coherent biographical trajectory for her protagonist, but instead presents the messiness and difficulty of real life. In other words, her novelistic portrait of a real person turns out to have more psychological truth than many a biography.
Booklist Lively and provocative...Diliberto has created a heroine who is as capricious and vain and as compelling and seductive as [Sargent's] portrait suggests.
Chicago Tribune a Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2003 A romping good read.