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Victorine, Drēma Drudge’s debut novel, features Victorine Meurent, a forgotten, accomplished painter who posed nude for Edouard Manet’s most famous, controversial paintings such as Olympia and The Picnic in Paris, paintings heralded as the beginning of modern art. History has forgotten (until now) her paintings, despite the fact that she showed her work at the prestigious Paris Salon multiple times, even one year when her mentor, Manet’s, work was refused.
Her persistent desire in the novel is not to be a model anymore but to be a painter herself, despite being taken advantage of by those in the art world, something which causes her to turn, for a time, to every vice in the Paris underworld, leading her even into the catacombs.
In order to live authentically, she eventually finds the strength to flout the expectations of her parents, bourgeois society, and the dominant male artists (whom she knows personally) while never losing her capacity for affection, kindness, and loyalty. Possessing both the incisive mind of a critic and the intuitive and unconventional impulses of an artist, Victorine and her survival instincts are tested in 1870, when the Prussian army lays siege to Paris and rat becomes a culinary delicacy, and further tested when she inches towards art school while financial setbacks push her away from it. The same can be said when it comes to her and love, which becomes substituted, eventually, by art.
"If art is for us all and about us all, why isn't it by us all?"
Drēma Drudge's debut novel, Victorine, is a must for those that enjoy historical fiction. Especially for those that love art and strong female protagonists.
Victorine is not a privileged woman. As the daughter of a hatter and a print maker whose livelihoods are threatened by new technology, Victorine is a young woman with the odds against her. Despite this, Victorine doesn't shy away from judgement or controversy. Victorine's passion is art and she's more than willing to break France's social norms in order to prove herself.
Victorine is a fascinating look at 19th century France. Through careful and meticulous research, Drudge transports the reader to Victorine's era. There the reader is shown the the struggles of artists, the elitism and sexism rampant in the art world, and the struggles of Paris' working class as they attempt to adapt to a France that is modernizing quicker than most can keep up with. Victorine's journey to becoming an artist isn't an easy one, but it's most definitely an admirable one which makes Drudge's debut novel a fascinating read from beginning to end.
My Rating: 4/5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Drēma Drudge suffers from Stendhal’s Syndrome, the condition in which one becomes overwhelmed in the presence of great art. She attended Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program where she learned to transform that intensity into fiction. Drēma has been writing in one capacity or another since she was nine, starting with terrible poems and graduating to melodramatic stories in junior high that her classmates passed around literature class. She and her husband, musician and writer Barry Drudge, live in Indiana where they record their biweekly podcast, Writing All the Things, when not traveling.
Her first novel, Victorine, was literally written in six countries while she and her husband wandered the globe. The pair has two grown children. In addition to writing fiction, Drēma has served as a writing coach, freelance writer, and educator.
For more about her writing, art, and travels, please visit her website, and sign up for her newsletter to receive a free historical fiction story. She’s always happy to connect with readers in her Facebook group, The Painted Word Salon, or on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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