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Picturing a World

Omnibus

In their first week in Paris, Jeanette and Effie explore the city on foot and by omnibus. When I first began sinking myself into the Paris they would see, I spent a lot of time with Atget’s photographs even though they were taken a generation later. It was revelatory to be guided by Atget's eye. As for the omnibus, comparison of this photo to an 1877 etching in a set by A-P. Martial shows that the design had changed little if at all in forty years. The entire set will take you on a tour of the city that Jeanette and Effie saw. Read More 
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Erasmus

Before there were photographic reproductions, artists copied in museums as part of their exploration of past masters' work; and the second-rate among them could make a living copying pictures that other people wanted as souvenirs for their walls. In a passage that was cut from the final text of Where the Light Falls, Jeanette watches a hardened old pro making yet another copy of Holbein's Erasmus. She has a brief exchange with him and reflects on how much her father would like to have the portrait in his study. As far as I'm concerned, the encounter took place and so I'm slipping it back into the world of the novel via this blog. Authors, do some scenes that fail to make the final cut remain potent in your memory? And, readers, when deleted material is subsequently published, do you incorporate it into your idea of a book? Read More 
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Ladies at the Louvre

I loved finding this image early on—Jeanette and Cousin Effie! Or, no, what fun: Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia posing for Edgar Degas, who reworked this basic composition in several media. (Besides this version, see also, for example, an etching and a study.)

On her first visit to the Louvre, Jeanette is humbled by the glories she encounters; but on later visits a part of her would want to strike a pose of confident, nonchalant connoisseurship. Effie would forever bury her nose dutifully in a guidebook. Read More 
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The Pont des Arts

On her first full day in Paris, Jeanette enters her new life by crossing the Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge from the Left Bank to the Louvre. Béraud’s Windy Day illustrates the place; and from the first time I saw it, its tone of urbane self-awareness represented for me Jeanette's move into a bigger world. The self-possessed young woman in the foreground is certainly the very image of the chic Parisiénne that Jeanette would love to become. By its angle of view and the wide horizontal spread of pavement, moreover, the picture emphasizes the physical breadth of public spaces in Paris. Read More 
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Hotel breakfast

Literary criticism uses the term "misprision" to refer to an author's creative misreading of another writer's work. Morisot's young woman is presumably in a private house and the meal is specified as luncheon; but for me the flowers in the background call to mind the little garden behind the Hôtel des Marronniers on the rue Jacob, where breakfast was served Read More 
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All aboard in a New Year!

Because I love building fictional worlds, early in my research I spent time investigating exactly how Jeanette would get to Paris. To my delight, shipboard scenes on passenger liners were a popular painting genre in the mid 19th C. Tissot here catches the glamour attached to sea travel—not that Jeanette and Effie were wearing such clothes on board ship! Still, the fashion details are reminders of how important hats and fans were in the 19th C, and what sexual signals attire that covers every inch of the female figure can send.
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Vassar College

Where the Light Falls opens as Jeanette Palmer is being expelled from Vassar College. To imagine what the college meant to her, I read a lot about the campus and student life. With its Mansard roofs and symmetrical wings, the original main block was said to have been based on the Tuileries Palace in Paris (a nice echo for the novel). It embraced Old World grandeur and intellectual aspirations at the same time that it kept the girls contained within its protective walls. I like the way this print shows how impressive the college was in its rural setting and also hints at the surrounding beauties of the Hudson River Valley countryside where Jeanette's art class could go sketching.

For an image of a Vassar sitting room like the one in Jeanette's suite, go to dorm room.  Read More 
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In the Studio

When I began research on women artists in the nineteenth century, I had no idea how many there were. Every new picture of women in an art class or an artist in her studio was an exciting revelation. Among the many, Alfred Stevens’ In the Studio stood out because it seemed to capture a moment in a story.

Once, just for the fun of it, I thought of the standing artist as Sonja. The visitor might be Jeanette. Maybe Amy was posing. Or was that Emily? In fact, no identifications from Where the Light Falls fit exactly. Nevertheless, every time I look at this image, I feel like I’m peeking into their world. Read More 
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