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A Woman with No Clothes on [Hardcover]

V.R. Main
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
RRP: 14.99
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Book Description

18 Sep 2008
A Woman with No Clothes On won the Trafalgar prize for work in progress in 2005. In 1967 in a laboratory in the Louvre, a radiologist discovers a picture underneath Edouard Manet s Le déjeuner sur l herbe. The composition of the two pictures is the same, but the style is very different. Clearly, the canvas was painted over by someone other than Manet. Edouard Manet creates a scandal in the 19th century art world with his paintings Le déjeuner sur l'herbe and Olympia. In each of them, the naked model is an eighteen-year old Parisian Victorine Meurent. Critics ridicule the works, dismissing Victorine as a common prostitute. But, in a world utterly dominated by men, she harbours a secret ambition to become an artist. Victorine works in bars and tries to teach herself to paint. Throughout her sexual encounters, she retains a ruthless obsession with her ambition. The events of 1862 and 1863 are narrated by Manet and Victorine Meurent. The aristocratic Manet and the working class Victorine share a passion for art and a longing for success. Fuelled by jealousy, sexual tensions develop between them which are reflected in the painting Olympia. Main creates the characters and the atmosphere of 1860s Paris with a compelling simplicity that renders them authentic. Victorine s bitter struggle to emerge from her background contrasts sharply with the esoteric exchanges between Manet and his friend Baudelaire on the nature of modernism.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Delancey Press Ltd (18 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0953911977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0953911974
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 719,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Winner of Trafalgar Squared Prize Outstanding. A powerful novel. The writing is original, literary, intense, and well observed. --Wendy Robertson, Chair of Judges

Main rescues Victorine from her invisibility in the Parisian art world of the nineteenth century. A Woman with No Clothes On confronts our cherished ideas about genius, originality and fame. --Lesley Stevenson, Author of Manet

From the Publisher

Winner of the Trafalgar Squared Prize for Work in Progress 2005

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Identity, Modernity and Art 4 Dec 2008
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
VR Main plays with identity, examining the interplay between freely adopted roles and forced roles. Gender, class, ethnicity, age, nationality, sexuality, profession, etc. are all shown within the context of the 19th century Parisian art world. In doing this Main scrutinizes the paradoxes, the strengths and the impact of modernity and its aesthetics. Yet, despite such a subject matter Main's novel is not burdened by monological authorial intrusion; the narrative is not weighed down by the writer's instrumental purpose. Rather, each concern is unobtrusively melded to the story as a whole so that `A Woman with No Clothes On' is an impressively subtle work that encourages the reader to engage fully with its ideas.

As with all historical novels a lot of the author's onus is on capturing the time, people and place, which Main does with adept skill. From the violent absinthe selling bars and poverty stricken desperate to the extravagant lifestyles of the wealthy artistic elite there is always a sense of brutal authenticity; most pertinently of all is the realism with which Main shows the collision of these contrasting, concomitant worlds. In the characters too Main is superbly genuine; from the ambitious and complex protagonist Victorine to Manet and his companion Baudelaire. Victorine Meurent makes for a fascinating focus and is perfect for Main's thematic concerns.

If I have a criticism it is with the plot, which at certain points could do with more momentum. It is not a major complaint, but at intervals it felt like there could be more pushing the reader through the narrative. That it could be less laborious. However, the occasional intensity of the story considerably makes up for this minor fault.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The impressionists' world 30 Nov 2008
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a curiously entertaining book. Curious because, for the first time, we see the Parisian art world from the perspective of a budding female artist, something unheard of in the high strata of Manet and his circle of Impressionists.

Initially, I was slightly put off by the method of telling the same story from the girl's view interspersed with Manet's own take on the situation. Once you come to terms with this, it works well.

Of course, the story itself is a work of fictional supposition but there is plenty of fact, making the life and times of Victorine Meurent seem real enough. That she goes on to become a successful, though not well-known artist in her own right, does not spoil the story. You know from the outset that this girl will stop at very little to achieve her goal. Her emotional side would indicate that she has, shall we say, a liberated lifestyle though certainly in real life she resolved that successfully also. That Manet plays no less a strong role in helping her achieve this is a credit to the way the author has portrayed the pair of them.

The novel does have one or two niggling proof-reading errors and it does move jerkily in parts but these minor issues should not prevent great enjoyment in the story itself.

If this is a debut novel, then maybe we can await further takes on what have been deemed, up to now, as supporting roles in the art world of 19th. century Paris - after all, there is plenty of subject matter just waiting to be unravelled.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive first novel 28 Dec 2008
I saw Manet's 'Déjeuner sur l'herbe' at the Musée d'Orsay on a trip to Paris a few years ago and was struck by the visual composition and the presence of a naked woman amongst three clothed men. Main's portrayal of Victorine as an artist in her own right as opposed to the traditional representation of her as a prostitute was truly insightful. The writing itself was lucid, controlled, intelligent. A very impressive first novel; I bought it for several friends this Christmas, two of whom have already finished.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Edouard and Victorine 27 Dec 2008
This is an interesting and original book, but quite self-indulgent and by no means a page-turner. It certainly helps you have an interest in 19th century arts, and Manet in particular, although it is not essential by any means to enjoy it as you will learn about them as you read.

It centres on real person Victorine Meurent, artist and favoured model of Édouard Manet and their uneasy and often misfiring relationship in the mid 1860s. Spotted in the street, humble waitress and aspiring painter Victorine was chosen to be his muse for several of his defining works including Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Neglecting her job, she would spend her days posing for the taciturn and highly strung Manet, hiding her aspirations from him at first, just grateful to be in his presence to learn what she could from him. Things became complicated when she began a lesbian relationship with the tempestuous former slave girl Lola Sancho who then modelled for Manet with her (Olympia) , and latterly solo. Jealousies come to the fore, and relationships suffer before imploding.

As mentioned earlier, a passing interest in the arts helps the enjoyment of this book and the author does a good job of imagining the contrasting lives of Victorine Meurent and Manet. Whilst Manet enjoys the wealth and privilege of his family, Victorine often results to stealing to buy food and paints. Her fierce ambition is commendable but does little to endear her to the reader. Similarly, the aristocratic and spoilt Manet, never having worked a day in his life, had a full "artistic temperament" that showed itself many times. Lola is just plain moody.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay historical novel of how historic paintings came to be made
The inevitable comparison in my mind when I got this book was always going to be with "The girl with the pearl earring" which I rate highly. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Siriam
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insights into a world now lost - but ultimately...
This book provides fascinating insights into a world now lost but which still seems familiar because of the painters who recorded the experiences of living in it. Read more
Published on 13 Oct 2009 by Mark Meynell
3.0 out of 5 stars Caveat Emptor
Do not believe in the hype of a prize-winning novel. As others point out below, the prize this book won was based not on the complete work but on a synopsis and the first 1,000... Read more
Published on 3 Sep 2009 by Paul Robinson
3.0 out of 5 stars A story with some bits missing
The history of art fascinates me, and on that subject this novel performs well. I was able to look up the portraits featured in the novel and to know more about both the artist and... Read more
Published on 29 Aug 2009 by littlepig littlepig
3.0 out of 5 stars Struggled To Really Take To The Plot Line.
Whilst the book itself is well written, I must admit I found it hard to keep my focus reading it. This only usually happens when I'm bored, and although the book had the big... Read more
Published on 26 Aug 2009 by Astore Stargazer
2.0 out of 5 stars Great idea shame about the book
I wanted to like this book as the storyline sounded fascinating - a famous painting, an unknown artist, a founding father of modern art Manet all set in a fascinating city Paris... Read more
Published on 9 Jun 2009 by Elizabeth Taylor
2.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to like this, but...
I really did want to like this: the initial premise is a good one, reclaiming and giving life to the women who so often appear in art only as passive objects of male scrutiny. Read more
Published on 18 Mar 2009 by Earthshaker
4.0 out of 5 stars A lively, feminist take on a key moment at the birth of French...
VR Main's promising historical novel captures the era of French Impressionist painters in a lively, sexy, passionate tale based on real events. Read more
Published on 1 Mar 2009 by Jeff Markham
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting first novel
Taking place in the atmospheric setting of 19th century Paris, A woman with no clothes on, evokes the feel of this romantic period of history very well. Read more
Published on 26 Feb 2009 by D. Evans
4.0 out of 5 stars Endearing and imaginative
As someone who rarely delves into fiction about history or art, I was pleasantly surprised by this gentle trip into Parisian art history. Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2009 by Amazon Customer
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