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Cover for Lydia Cassat Reading the Morning Paper

Lydia Cassat Reading the Morning Paper

A Novel

Harriet Scott Chessman


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Other Editions of This Title:
Compact Disc (4/1/2002)


Harriet Scott Chessman takes us into the world of Mary Cassatt's early Impressionist paintings through Mary's sister Lydia, whom the author sees as Cassatt’s most inspiring muse. Chessman hauntingly brings to life Paris in 1880, with its thriving art world. The novel’s subtle power rises out of a sustained inquiry into art’s relation to the ragged world of desire and mortality. Ill with Bright’s disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world narrowing. With the rising emotional tension between the loving sisters, between one who sees and one who is seen, Lydia asks moving questions about love and art’s capacity to remember. Chessman illuminates Cassatt’s brilliant paintings and creates a compelling portrait of the brave and memorable model who inhabits them with such grace. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper includes five full-color plates, the entire group of paintings Mary Cassatt made of her sister.

Praise For Lydia Cassat Reading the Morning Paper: A Novel

"[A] flowing, lyrical novel. ... I suppose I could have gone to a biography of Mary Cassatt to learn about most of these matters, but I don't think the portrait of the artist I would have found there would have danced." –Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered

"A lovely, moving book—elegant in its economy, delicately powerful. Chessman beautifully captures the rich relationship between model and painter, and between sisters." –Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring

"This novel is shot through with … moments of recognition, some in silence, others in conversation, particularly with Degas. Most are balanced, however, by the author's awareness that her dying heroine is isolated, even among those she loves. There is a heartbreaking simplicity to Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper. Yet like Cassatt's art, its odd angles and delicate, inevitable details—some just out of our vision—make themselves felt long after one has finished long after one has finished this fine period piece." –Kerry Fried, Newsday

"Shaded with intimations of mortality, a second novel touches tenderly on the relationship between Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) and her ailing older sister Lydia. Chessman ... uses five of Cassatt's paintings and their circumstances to shape her story. ... A moving and intensely introspective portrait of the way art is created and life relinquished." Kirkus Reviews

Seven Stories Press, 9781583222720, 174pp.

Publication Date: October 2, 2001

About the Author

HARRIET SCOTT CHESSMAN is the author of the acclaimed novels Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper and Ohio Angels, as well as The Public Is Invited to Dance, a book about Gertrude Stein. Formerly associate professor of English at Yale University, she has also taught literature and writing at Bread Loaf School of English and at Wesleyan University, and has published several essays on modern literature. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.