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Hello, friends! Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Drēma Drudge to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the publication of her novel, Victorine, which tells the story of artist Victorine Meurent. Drēma is here to explain her inspiration for the novel and to share an excerpt. Please give her a warm welcome!


Many thanks to Anna for allowing me to write a guest post for her awesome blog. I’m delighted to share the origins of my novel, Victorine, with you on the one-year anniversary of my book, also marked by the release of the ebook version.

The glow of the overhead projector was the only light to permeate the classroom as our professor began the slideshow. It was a class that combined art and literature, and being a fan of both, I was enthralled. Almost immediately, he stopped on an 1863 painting of a nude by Édouard Manet in Paris. That’s when my acquaintance with Olympia, or should I say, Victorine Meurent, began. I just had to know more about the saucy looking woman.

Her unabashed stare said she had more to say than the few minutes the professor had allotted the slide, the woman. While I had no way of knowing it then, it was the beginning of a journey that would take me to Paris, to standing in front of the Manet painting, weeping. It was the beginning of me writing my debut novel, Victorine.

The only problem was, for all that Victorine was telling me that she wanted me to bring her back to the world’s consciousness, there wasn’t very much known about her. Eventually, I discovered that she wasn’t just a model, but also a painter, one whose work was good enough to be exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon, one year even when the well-known Edouard Manet, the painter she sat most for, was rejected. But history hadn’t bothered to remember that she herself had also painted.

Ah, that’s why she wanted me to tell her story.

My husband and I scoured the internet, researched in Paris, and in the process rediscovered not only the one painting that had come back to light of hers in 2004, but three others that had been lost to time. Most importantly, these encompassed her self-portrait. We could see from it how she saw herself, something very important for a woman who was painted by so many men.  

The flamboyant, spirited woman was a sexual libertine in 1860’s Paris, loving both men and women. She lived for art and eventually put herself through art school, the model becoming the artist. Along the way, she learned that she loved art more than anyone or anything else. The woman who once was made art of, in turn made art. I have sought to make art from her life, completing the chain, reminding the world of this talented artist.

I was overjoyed when the owner of her self-portrait allowed me to put it on the back cover of my book, the first time it’s ever been published. (A larger image of the painting is on the inside of the ebook, I’m happy to report.) Please join me in welcoming her back to herstory!


An excerpt from Victorine by Drēma Drudge:

I am called The Shrimp, Le Crevette because of my height and because I am as scrappy as those little question-mark-shaped delights that I used to study when my father took me to Les Halles. I would stand before the shrimp tank and watch the wee creatures paw at the water, repeatedly attempting to scale the tank, swimming, sinking, yet always rising again. I hoped eagerly for one to crest the tank, not realizing until later that the lid was there precisely to prevent their escape. 

          So why am I reminded of that tank today?

            Today, while I am giving a guitar lesson in my father’s lithography shop, the gifted yet controversial painter, Édouard Manet, enters the shop. He gives me the nod.

            I cover the strings of my guitar with my hand to silence them.

Pѐre has mentioned Manet’s recent patronage of his shop, of course, but I have never been here when the artist has come by.

            “M. Manet, this is my daughter, Victorine. I believe you’ve. . ..”

            “We’ve met,” I say. 

            “And where is it we have met, Mademoiselle?” he asks, wincing as he looks in the vicinity of my nose.

Is this a snub? I run my hand over the swollen, crooked lump of flesh on my face.

            “I must be mistaken.” I turn away, smiling bitterly at my quick temper, at my trying to turn up a nose such as this. Of course he doesn’t recognize me.

            I motion for my student to put her guitar away: “That’s enough for today, dear.” Though she looks at the clock with a puzzled brow, she does as I say.

            My father graciously allows me to give lessons in his shop, claiming he loves to hear young musicians learning to play, though I suspect it’s more because my mother hates allowing anyone into our house besides her regular millinery clients.

Manet moves toward me, puts his face close to mine; I don’t pull away, but only because that is the way painters see.  I would have punched another man for standing so close. He snaps his fingers. “Le Crevette?” he exclaims, backs away.

             I raise my chin to regard the posters on my father’s wall. The Compagnie Francaise de Chocolats et des thes declares my father’s fine sense of color, his signature mingling of coral and scarlet. The other posters reveal his repeated twinning of these colors.

            Manet grasps my hand with frank friendliness that I almost believe. Want to believe. “It is you; I’ve seen you model at Coutoure’s. But what has happened to your nose?”

            I rise on my toes, though the height it gives me is minimal. I motion for Gabrielle to gather her music, and she shuffles the sheets.

            I move closer to him while withdrawing my hand from his, take out my emerald green enamel cigarette case (a gift from a wealthy student at Coutoure’s studio) and light a cigarette. I empty my lungs straight at the yellowing ceiling, though my torso is not a foot from his.

            My father frowns and waves the smoke away; how many times must I tell him that I am eighteen and I will smoke if I please? He smokes a pipe sometimes. What’s the difference?

            “I give guitar lessons now. Obviously, I’m no longer a model.”

            Manet’s eyes graze on me. I stand straighter. When I realize it, I relax.

            “I know just how I’ll paint you. Shall we say tomorrow at one?”

            My father runs his grungy shop cloth through his hands.

            I raise my chin, art lust in my eyes.

“We shall say two.”

            He crooks his eyebrow. “Wear something else, will you? That frock does nothing for your apricot skin tone, much less your eyes. And wear your hair down….” He touches a section of my red hair that flows forward, and I jerk away. “No. Better wear it up.”

            I glance down at my mud-colored calico dress, pick up my guitar case and make to lead my young charge out the door. 

            “Meurent?” he says. I smile, erase it before turning back.

“Do you know where my studio is?”

“You may leave your card with my father.”

I am well aware of the opportunity I have been offered. If it weren’t for this trouble with Willie, I would be ecstatic. As it is, I am just a flicker beyond moved.

“My boyfriend, Alphonse, is taking me to my first fight, where I meet Willie.

“There’s an Englishman named Willie Something fighting against one of ours tonight,” Alphonse says one evening as we are eating supper.

“Boxing? Let’s go.”

“You know you can’t.” He waves his hand. I leave the room and return in a suit of his, my hair jammed into one of his hats. Though he doesn’t want to take me, he does. Of course he does.

We rush through the gray and black buildings, gleaming in the wet night,

to an old theater near Notre Dame, one slated to be torn down. Suits of all shades and qualities mingle. The room smells of liquor and sweat and the pungent scent of men packed together. A heady mix.

I thrust my hands in my pockets and stand astride, occasionally kicking a leg to feel the freedom of wearing pants.

Usually the French do savate, kickboxing, but I have heard of this boxing with the hands. That seems like a more honest, intimate way to fight to me— there is nothing distinctive about our limbs, but our faces are unique. It makes the resentment seem real.

An announcer introduces the bare-chested fighters, has them shake hands. The men wear breeches and thin-looking shoes. The Frenchman fighting tonight is short and small. The Englishman, Willie, is of medium height and red-haired, with a pale face which will be overlaid with ruddiness when he is fighting. Or, I will discover, while making love.

The bell unleashes Willie. He leaps off the double ropes tied to a wooden frame, coming at his opponent as though he holds an ancient grudge. I lean forward. My heart pounds with each shot he takes, each hooked punch he pushes from himself. Soon his knuckles drip blood, but whose is it? I look to this side, then that.

My right fist bunches and thrusts with his. Sweat dripping from his face, he grins madly and looks our way as his opponent hits the ground and “slowly rises. For a moment I fear he has discovered that I am a woman, until I realize he is an automaton who sees no one and nothing.

The two collapse onto one another in an exhausted hug of sorts until, it seems, a secret signal intrudes, and they head to their corners and come out, enemies again.

Delacroix-red blood flows from the Frenchman’s forehead, into his eyes, and he shakes his matted mane, flinging the blood. Willie stares at it as if it alone is his enemy and he pounces. One-two-one, go his fists and I rise and shoulder my way up front. Ringside, I watch Willie hit the man as if he must slay him. I cheer with my fingers in my mouth, whistling up something deep. Willie glances my way, and, with a grin, lands one last blow. The Frenchman falls.

Willie waits long enough to see his opponent groggily sit up, and then he runs from one side of the ring to the other, hands raised, before abruptly leaving the ring. The wooden floor shakes and I look down to find I am the one causing the quake; I cannot stop bouncing up and down. I follow Willie into the makeshift dressing room.

“What are you doing?” Alphonse hisses, grabbing my arm. I knock it away and walk straight up to Willie and lick the sweat from his face. He jerks away, cursing, until I take the hat from my head, my hair fireworking down my back. He laughs and pulls me onto his lap. Alphonse makes a noise, but only one.


About Victorine

Victorine Meurent is a forgotten, accomplished painter who posed nude for Edouard Manet’s most famous, controversial paintings such as Olympia and The Picnic in Paris, paintings heralded as the beginning of modern art. History has forgotten (until now) her paintings, despite the fact that she showed her work at the prestigious Paris Salon multiple times, even one year when her mentor, Manet’s, work was refused.

Her persistent desire in the novel is not to be a model anymore but to be a painter herself, despite being taken advantage of by those in the art world, something which causes her to turn, for a time, to every vice in the Paris underworld, leading her even into the catacombs.

In order to live authentically, she eventually finds the strength to flout the expectations of her parents, bourgeois society, and the dominant male artists (whom she knows personally) while never losing her capacity for affection, kindness, and loyalty. Possessing both the incisive mind of a critic and the intuitive and unconventional impulses of an artist, Victorine and her survival instincts are tested in 1870, when the Prussian army lays siege to Paris and rat becomes a culinary delicacy, and further tested when she inches towards art school while financial setbacks push her away from it. The same can be said when it comes to her and love, which becomes substituted, eventually, by art.

Buy: Amazon


About the Author

Drēma Drudge suffers from Stendhal’s Syndrome, the condition in which one becomes overwhelmed in the presence of great art. She attended Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program where she learned to transform that intensity into fiction.

She has been writing in one capacity or another since she was nine, starting with terrible poems and graduating to melodramatic stories in junior high that her classmates passed around literature class.

Along with her husband, musician and writer Barry Drudge, she lives in Indiana where the couple records their podcast, Writing All the Things. Her first novel, Victorine, was literally written in six countries while she and her husband wandered the globe. They have two grown children.

For a free short story about the tragic alleged affair between Henri Matisse and Olga Meerson, his art student as well as his model, sign up to Drēma’s newsletter at: www.dremadrudge.com.


Giveaway

Drēma is generously giving away two ebooks copies of Victorine. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway is open internationally though Sunday, March 21, 2021. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you for being my guest today, Drēma, and happy one-year book birthday!

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