The Painted Girls, a historical novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan.
The story takes place in 1878 Paris and is inspired by the real-life model for artist Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, as well as the era’s notorious criminals. The characters are real. Buchanan has taken the real characters and intertwined their stories with each other making this a brilliant work of fiction.
Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opera where, for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister Antoinette finds work – and the love of a dangerous young man – as an extra in a stage adaptation of Emile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society and must make the choice between a life of honest labour and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde – that is, unless her perilous love derails her completely.
This historical novel is a story of sisters, family, love, poverty, culture, and even murder. It is brilliantly written with extensive knowledge of ballet, the era, and Parisian ways and language. One cannot help but feel sorry for the sisters and their living situation. Situations separate them emotionally and the reader wants them to come together. Their story tugs at the heart. You may know the real story of the characters but you will not see the events of this story coming. You will have to read it and see for yourself.