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Likely Stories - Reading the Morning Paper by Lydia Cassatt

Reading the Morning Paper by Lydia Cassatt

A collection  of the best women artists of their day.


Those of you who have followed Likely Stories for Public Radio 103.3 FM for many years, I would like to point out something about me.  I am a voracious reader; a large percentage of my reading is by and/or about women; and I have often woven works by women into my own imagination.  The five stories in this novel—by Harriet Scott Chessman—are all collections from woman painters I have admired.  This is my attempt to gather all these works into one sublime experience.  We begin with Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper.

Paris, Septembre,1878. ‘‘Could you model for me tomorrow, Lydia?’’ […]  ‘‘Mother thinks it will make you too tired.’’  […]  .  May looks up.  I can see she is studying me with her painter’s eyes.  Inwardly, I flinch; I feel shy, always when someone looks at me.  […]  sometimes, I can’t help wondering when she sees.  I’m as plain as a loaf of bread. […] ‘Maybe you can just do the back of my head,’ I suggested. […] ‘Lyddy, I want your lovely face’ […] ‘How about a profile?’ Mat asks.  ‘If it helps you out, May, yes.’ (5-8).

Paris, Avril, 1880.  “May felt angry with Degas, just as Pissarro and the others did.  Yet she has not stayed angry.  ‘After all, I could have painted more,’ she says.  ‘I’ll have to do more this year, that’s all there is to it.  ‘I’ll have the critics on their knees next Spring.’ (48).  Her father, ‘tried to prevent her from doing so many things: taking art classes in Philadelphia, studying and traveling on her own in Europe, living in Paris” (48). […] To touch shoulders with [Degas] and Renoir, Caillebotte, Pissarro, and others—to feel alive in that bright crowded space, makes a heady kind of joy” (50).

Marly-le-Roi, Septembre, 1880.   “Your ambition, Lyddy?  What do you desire in the world? // Me?  I don’t suppose my desires are much different from any other woman’s.” // May holds her brush in the air.  She looks as if she wishes to say something, but then she looks at her canvas. // “I would have married, for instance, if I could have,” I added. // “Although I wouldn’t call that my ambition.” // May’s moving quickly now, brush to palette to canvas, and I resist the urge to move.  To pose, after all, is to agree to a form of enchantment. // “I think I might walk over to see Berthe Morisot,’ May says, “tomorrow or the next day.” // “Is Berthe painting again, May?” I ask. // “She writes that she’s done some of the child, and the nurse” (88-97). // I see May, sitting upright, in front of her canvas, holding her palette and her brush, and looking at—air”

Mai, 1881, Paris.  The 6ême Impressionist exhibition, which opened in April on the boulevard des Capuchins, has been a triumph, especially for May and Edgar Degas.  She garnered excellent reviews // and has had offers on eleven of her entries.  People are saying she’ll never have to worry now about whether she’ll be able to sell her art, at a good price too. // “I have a new idea for you, Lyddy.”  Nay says this hesitantly, as she pours herself another cup of café. // ‘Tell me.’ // ‘A painting outdoors, in the Bois.  With figures in a carriage.’ // ‘With Bichette?’  May laughs.  ‘Yes, of course, Bichette.  The carriage must have a horse.’ // ‘And—someone in the carriage?’ // Could it be you, Lyddy?  I’m thinking of you, driving, with a little girl, and maybe Mathieu could be in it too, as a groom” (111-112).

This collection of fine art, by some of the best women artists at the time, are nothing less than passionate mistress-of-arts.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!




Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.