Dec 4, 2010

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

by Harriet Scott Chessman

A quiet, musing sort of novel that I liked well enough, but didn't feel any deep connection to or admiration for. O dear. Seems like I'm starting lots of posts off that way lately.... I can't remember what first landed Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper on my TBR list, but I recently borrowed it from the library to read for my last challenge of the year (wondering if I can get four more books done before the month's over!)

The little book is written from the viewpoint of Mary Cassatt's sister, who sits as a model for several paintings. It gives an intimate look into the daily life of the artist's family, in a particularly painful time of their lives. Because Lydia had just been diagnosed with Bright's disease, and was facing her inevitable death. Her musings presented here are broken, wandering from childhood memories to painful moments of illness and death among family and friends (some of which I never quite sorted out) to her desires to comfort her sister who felt bereft at the idea of loosing her sister. It was hard for me to keep track of the family or really feel close to them- I don't know much about Mary Cassatt's life and this book just felt like a brief snapshot, so I was confused by the mention of names and places left unexplained. A few things did become clear to me- the story of Mary Cassatt's relationship with Edgar Degas, and also of the family's friendship with May Alcott (sister to the writer Louisa). I did like very much to read of Mary's paintings, what inspired them, the creative process she took, her family's reactions to them, criticisms Degas made, etc. But much of the rest of the book, although presented quite tenderly, somehow did not touch me. I think because I spent so much time puzzling over who was who and lived where when... I felt like I should go look up wiki to read more about her life so it would be clear to me, but was too tired to bother.

I've been feeling kind of dissatisfied with my reading lately. I can't tell if it's the books, or just me! Because most other readers were very charmed with this book (see a few samples below).

Rating: 3/5 ....... 164 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
A Fondness for Reading
The Captive Reader
Bermudaonion's Weblog


  1. Maybe it is just a phase? when I was pregnant I hated just about everything I read, even books that normally I dont mind (the cat who series, read one while pregnant and hated it). That was of course if I read at all.

    But now I seem to be coming out of my reading slump yay!

    If it is a phase hope you come out of it soon. If its not maybe the book just didnt strike a cord with you?

  2. Well, finally I've found one I like! I'm very much enjoying my current read. So I think it was just a string of books that didn't appeal to me very strongly. I'm so glad to have found something better.

  3. I liked this book a lot, but I'm a fan of Cassatt's work.

  4. Meh. This sounds all meandering and not full of plot like I like. :p

  5. I'm in something of a slump myself. I am a fan of Mary Cassatt. I think she's unjustly under-rated. But I prefer actual biography to historical fictions. I've a hard time trusting the notion of fiction based on real historical people, too.

    Still, I'm glad to see Mary Cassatt getting attention. Maybe someone will mount a major show of her work. She deserves one.


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