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Picturing a World

Women of the night

Degas’ pastel of two women sitting at a café table provided the image of a prostitute biting her thumb as a sign of availability. I didn’t think that Edward would be attracted to anyone in this picture, however, and so I imagined a younger, sadder example of a girl who had to resort to the streets to make a living. Prostitution does not play an important part in Where the Light Falls, but it was a reality in the Paris of that era (or any era). The anxiety people felt about not being able to identify them is touched on earlier in the book when Edward tips his hat to a streetwalker before realizing what she is. A life on the streets also threatens the model with a baby whom Amy hires and has probably supported La Grecque in her downward spiral.

Degas’ painting is discussed in one of the first and most important books I read in my research, Robert L. Herbert’s Impressionism: Art, Leisure and Parisian Society.

For more about depictions of prostitution in 19th C France, you can now read Hollis Clayson’s Painted Love on-line at the wonderful new Getty Publications Virtual Library.

For a pertinent post at the Victorian Paris blog, click here.
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