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Marie, Dancing    by Carolyn Meyer order for
Marie, Dancing
by Carolyn Meyer
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (2005)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

The inspiration for Carolyn Meyer's historical novel Marie, Dancing is Marie von Goethem, the subject of painter Edgar Degas' only publicly displayed statue, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans or Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. While the late 1800s was a golden age for French art as Impressionists came to the forefront, times were hard for those struggling to make their way in Paris, and Meyer captures this in her story.

Marie von Goethem is the middle sister of a destitute family whose father is dead and whose mother drinks away their earnings. The one bright point in Marie's life is her job dancing for the corps de ballet at the Paris Opera. Always dreaming of becoming a star, she gets her chance in an unsuspected way when the famous artist Edgar Degas hires her to pose for a statue he is working on. This begins drastic changes in young Marie's life.

While waiting for the sculpture to be unveiled (a process that seems to be taking Monsieur Degas longer than expected), Marie befriends and then falls in love with Jean-Pierre, the carriage driver for Degas' friend Mary Cassatt, the famous American female Impressionist. By the time Degas finishes his masterpiece, Marie has risen in the ranks of the corps de ballet but Jean-Pierre has gone to help his family in the country. While he is away, Marie sees more of her wealthy suitor from the Opera, but her heart belongs to Jean-Pierre. When her older sister gets angry with Marie for pining over Jean-Pierre and not buttering up her suitor to get more money for the family, she goes to desperate measures that end up devastating Marie.

Meyer creates rich characters based on only scraps known about the real Marie von Goethem and her family. Marie is a sympathetic character and Meyer portrays her well. It is interesting to see how greatly the opulence of the arts world and the destitution of the working class clash in 1880s Paris, and Caroline Meyer encapsulates the contrast fully and emotionally in Marie, Dancing. While this is not a happy story, I was so caught up in Marie von Goethem's life that I could not put it down.

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