With Violets

With Violets

by Elizabeth Robards

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is WithViolets by Elizabeth Robards.

So, have you been to Paris? If not, go. Seriously, I’ll wait. I got there for the first time this past year and everything you’ve heard that’s good is true. It’s a city that is devoted to art and beauty. (And eating cheese and drinking wine. Plus, everyone smells good. I am not kidding, the subway at midnight smelled like the perfume counter at Bloomingdales. And the perfume counter at the department store — it was to faint!) If you can figure out a reason to be there other than wandering around gasping at the architecture and the gardens — and the unbelievably chic inhabitants — good for you. It’s not a big surprise that so many writers have said to themselves: “Paris! That’s what I’m going to write about!” The city remains an inspiration as the work of one generation moves and ignites the creativity of the next.

That’s the case with Elizabeth Robards, a pen-carrying wanderer around the city, who, in her novel, With Violets, took her inspiration from the most shocking revolution of the 18th century: Impressionism. I always thought of the Impressionists as placid painters of waterlilies and sunrises, so I was surprised to read about their history of rebellion — in the art world, it was a very big deal. Along with the revolution on the canvas, the world was changing with regard to the position of women. With Violets is the story of one woman in particular — Berthe Morisot — a very fine painter in her own right, who does the opposite of what was expected: she was a serious painter who worked in a style of her own, and she didn’t fall instantly into the arms of the charming, but married, Edouard Manet. Robards introduces us to the painters, their wives, children and mistresses; we eavesdrop on catty cocktail party conversation and follow them to war — the Franco Prussian war that is — and when Berthe steps outside to paint you can almost smell the oils.

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