Cover image for Lydia Cassatt reading the morning paper
Lydia Cassatt reading the morning paper
Chessman, Harriet Scott.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Auburn, CA : Audio Partners, [2002]

Physical Description:
3 audio discs (3 hr., 45 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
General Note:
Compact disc.

"Complete and unabridged"--Container.
Format :
Audiobook on CD


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Set in the lively Parisian art world of the 1880s, this novel imagines a poignant time in the lives of the American impressionist Mary Cassatt and her sister, Lydia.Lydia narrates the story as she poses for five of her sister's paintings. Ill with Bright's disease and conscious of impending death, Lydia contemplates her narrowing world. The novel's subtle power comes from its sustained inquiry into the very evanescence of life that the paintings record.


In the 1880's, the world of art begins to evolve. Popular artist Mary Cassatt uses her sister, Lydia as the subject for five paintings. However, with Lydia dying of Bright's disease, she becomes jealous of her sister's wholesome life as her slowly draws to an end.

Author Notes

Harriet Scott Chessman teaches writing at Yale University & is on the faculty of the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. She has written a book on Gertrude Stein, "The Public Is Invited to Dance," as well as essays on modern literature. Her most recent book was "Ohio Angels". She lives with her family in Connecticut.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Chessman's second novel is a fictitious but plausible account of the relationship between famed American-born impressionist painter Mary Cassatt and her terminally ill sister, Lydia. Mary's sorrow for her sister's chronic struggle with Bright's disease compelled her to render Lydia immortal through the implements of color and canvas. The inspirational moments behind the five paintings featured in this book are relayed in Lydia's courageous voice, and the artwork itself captures the pallid decline of Mary Cassatt's dearest muse. Aside from her expressive paintings and a stoic devotion to family, little to nothing is known about Mary's personal life--though Chessman does hint at a relationship between Mary and the radical painter Edgar Degas. Lydia's view of her receding world is at times laden with bitterness, but mostly there is an unearthly, ladylike composure to Chessman's characterization of her. Despite Lydia's looming death, this translates into a light, enjoyable read, and Chessman does an outstanding job of articulating the wordless exchange between a model and a painter. --Elsa Gaztambide

Publisher's Weekly Review

Elegantly conceived and tenderly written, this cameo of a novel ushers readers into a small, warmly lit corner of art history. Inspired by five Mary Cassatt paintings of Cassatt's older sister, Lydia, Chessman (Ohio Angels) paints her own intimate portrait of the admirable Lydia, chronicling Lydia's thoughts and feelings as she models for Mary in Paris in the late 1870s and early 1880s. All the while, Lydia is conscious that she is dying of Bright's disease, and her thoughtful contemplation of her life and dashed hopes give shape to the tale. Lydia, who is in her 40s, never married the man she loved was killed in the Civil War but she reveals a sharp, sophisticated awareness of desire in her observations of her sister Mary (May), and May's lover, the painter Edgar Degas. Chessman sees May as vividly as she does Lydia, describing her as a live wire, a woman with outsize ambitions for her times, but also as a devoted sister. Chessman's prose can be obvious and overcareful "I think May's sadness, when she heard my diagnosis, was increased by her memory of earlier sorrows" but her instinctive understanding of the sisters' relationship and her thoughtful description of their studio collaborations elevate this understated effort. The five paintings, beautifully reproduced, appear at intervals and acquire new depth even as they enrich Chessman's story. 4-city author tour. (Nov. 1) Forecast: Published in an unusual joint venture by Seven Stories and the Permanent Press, this title the #1 BookSense pick for November/December is attracting much early attention. The small trim size and glossy art inserts make it an appealing gift book, and it's a safe bet that holiday sales will be strong. U.S. paperback rights to Plume; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Greece, Italy and Australia/New Zealand. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As you read Chessman's second novel (after Ohio Angels), be prepared for an insightful and moving tale about a great American painter and her family. Here is the poignant story of Lydia, Mary Cassatt's sister, who details the important role she played in the creation of Cassatt's early Impressionist paintings. Each chapter centers on a painting by Mary that involves Lydia, and the narrative offers wonderful insight into Cassatt's bold life and her relationships with artists such as Renoir, Caillebotte, and especially Degas. Though Lydia is fighting a horrible battle against Bright's disease, she continues to pose for her sister and to live her life with courage and dignity. As Degas observes to Lydia, "You show me how to live, if only I could do it as you do." A special treat is the inclusion of color plates of famed Cassatt works like "Lydia Crocheting in the Garden." Like Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring (LJ 10/15/99), this book beautifully limns the impact of art on a woman close to a great artist though the women involved are very different. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. Vicki Cecil, Hartford City P.L., IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.