The Painted Girls

Cathy Marie Buchanan's novel follows two sisters struggling financially after their father dies.

Cathy Marie Buchanan

Paris, 1878. 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 as an extra in a stage adaptation of émile 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 14. Meanwhile, Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous émile Abadie, must choose between honest labour and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of "civilized society." In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation — her survival, even — lies with the other. (From HarperCollins Canada)

From the book

I spend my mornings sitting at a little desk reciting from the catechism the Act of Contrition or reading from a little book the story of Joan of Arc or writing out from memory the Ten Commandments or copying from the blackboard the column of figures I was told to add, Sometimes I look up and catch the corners of Sister Evangeline's lips lifting to a smile and I feel the warm glow of a flaring lamp. Even so, ever since Papa got sick, I have wondered about the usefulness of all the hours, the greediness in staying put in the classroom instead of earning a wage.

From The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan ©2012. Published by HarperCollins Canada.