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I Always Loved You: A Novel

I Always Loved You: A Novel

3.9 10
by Robin Oliveira

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A novel of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas’s great romance from the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter

The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce


A novel of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas’s great romance from the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter

The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce determination wavers. Her father is begging her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged for the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.

In I Always Loved You, Robin Oliveira brilliantly re-creates the irresistible world of Belle Époque Paris, writing with grace and uncommon insight into the passion and foibles of the human heart.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her second novel, Oliveira (My Name Is Mary Sutter) expertly draws us into the life of another famous Mary—this time in 1877 Paris, where a revolution is underway in the art world, as a few renegade painters snub (and are snubbed by) the juried exhibitions at the Paris Salon, which were then organized by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. American painter Mary Cassatt has just moved to the City of Light, not to fall in love, but to pursue her dream of becoming an artist, and she longs to get the academy’s stamp of approval. But a chance meeting with Edgar Degas, one of the leading impressionist-era rebels, changes the course of her career and life. Though it’s never been proven that the two painters were lovers, Oliveira explores the next 40 turbulent years of their relationship, and what might have been, crafting a tale of inspiration, desire, and restraint between two great artists of the 19th century. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Paris in the mid-to-late 19th century was the place to be if you were an artist, especially an artist trying to shake up the stodgy traditional art institutions. It was the beginning of impressionism, a movement whose birth was quite painful for all involved. Oliveira's (My Name Is Mary Sutter) new novel purports to be about the decade-long, convoluted, and complicated relationship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, yet it encompasses so much more—the relationships among other luminaries of the period, the difficulty of being a single woman and an artist in a harsh and often unforgiving male-dominated world, and the complexities of dealing with family. VERDICT Oliveira has woven a rich tapestry of the artist's life in Belle Époque Paris, in a close, intimate rendering rather than a grand, sweeping landscape. Readers who enjoy historical fiction set in this time period will enjoy the novel, as will those who like fictionalized accounts of historical figures.—Pam O'Sullivan, Coll. at Brockport Lib., SUNY
Kirkus Reviews
Oliveira (My Name is Mary Sutter, 2011) draws from research and imagination to recreate the years when two impressionists--Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas--engaged in an on-again, off-again relationship. Cassatt, the daughter of well-to-do Philadelphians, is a determined woman whose first stay in Paris is interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War. Following her return and mild success with portraiture, she's ready to pack her brushes and leave France behind a second time after her submission to the Paris Salon exhibition is rejected. However, an arranged meeting with admirer Degas and his invitation to exhibit with a group of independent artists are all the incentives Cassatt needs to stay. Although the relationship is often contentious, and Degas' promises leave much to be desired, Degas introduces Cassatt to his inner circle of friends, a socially prominent group that includes writer Émile Zola and artists Édouard Manet and his paramour, Berthe Morisot, who's married to Manet's brother, Eugene. Degas, frustrated with increasingly poor eyesight and possessing a cruel and insensitive demeanor, becomes Cassatt's mentor and, at times, tormentor. Often at odds, they send missives back and forth. Cassatt discovers a passion for vivid colors and embarks upon a productive period painting women and children; Degas studies the human form and strives to replicate his observations in his paintings and other renderings of ballerinas. Although sometimes they're completely alienated, they remain linked through their art and (although Degas is almost loath to admit it) love. The book is accomplished and well-researched, but the relationship between Cassatt and Degas isn't as engaging as the secondary story: the love affair between Morisot and Manet. Readers may come away with little understanding of what made Cassatt and Degas click; nevertheless, they'll gain a better understanding of impressionism.
From the Publisher
“In smart and supple prose….Oliveira’s lively work illuminates these ambitious artists and rings true in the way the best fiction can.”—The Seattle Times

“[This] book is accomplished and well-researched….Although sometimes [Degas and Cassatt] are completely alienated, they remain linked through their art and love.”—Kirkus

“[Oliveira]’s illuminating portrayals of the inner lives of artists—Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet—are beautifully colored and as richly detailed as the paintings for which they are celebrated.”—The Chicago Tribune

“Oliveira has woven a rich tapestry of the artists’s life in Belle Époque Paris, in a close, intimate rendering.”—Library Journal

“Art lovers will fall for this story full of beautiful details about the world of the Impressionists in Belle Époque Paris.”—Examiner.com

“I Always Loved You is a beautifully composed — and extensively researched — blend of art history, vintage travelogue and good storytelling.”—Dallas Morning News

“Emulating the powers of observation and expression possessed by the artists she so vividly and sensitively fictionalizes, Oliveira illuminates with piercing insight the churning psyches of her living-on-the-edge characters. This is a historically and aesthetically rich, complexly involving, and forthrightly sorrowful novel of the perilous, exhilarating, and world-changing lives of visionary artists breaking new ground and each other’s hearts.”—Booklist

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Praise for My Name Is Mary Sutter

 “Think of Mary Sutter as a northern Scarlett O’Hara without the man-killer good looks or feminine wiles; more a Louisa May Alcott Plain Jane with a will of scalpel-sharp steel…Oliveira… peels back Mary’s vulnerable, human side in this intriguing slice of Civil War history.” – USA Today
 “The title of Robin Oliveira’s debut historical novel, My Name Is Mary Sutter, perfectly evokes its eponymous heroine’s style: clear, determined, and, unlike most women of the Civil War era, unapologetically direct.” – O, The Oprah Magazine 
“This work of fiction is built on years of research. The payoff comes in the rich details of this feminist story, which follows a young midwife from her upstate New York home to battlefields of the South as she pursues her ambition to become a surgeon…more than a dozen women who went into the Civil War as nurses did indeed emerge as physicians. “My Name Is Mary Sutter” give an idea of the immense sacrifices these women made in terms of social acceptance, close relationships and personal health.” – The Seattle Times 
“At the center of Robin Oliveira’s enthralling and well-researched debut novel is an ambitious young woman who refuses to accept the limited roles women played in the field of medicine during the mid-19th century…With war as her canvas, Oliveira captures the campgrounds and battlefields of Virginia as vividly as the scenes of Mary’s midwifing, and the book’s sensuous language, wealth of period details, and unflinching descriptions of battles like Manassas and Antietam place it solidly in the ranks of the best historical fiction. [A] Believable, nuanced…sweeping portrait…Absorbing drama about a little-known side of the Civil War.” – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 
“There's more than a whiff of the classic in Robin Oliveira's compulsively readable historical tale about Mary Sutter, a young midwife and aspiring physician making her way through Lincoln's war—a new iconic American heroine.” – Janice Lee, author of The Piano Teacher
“A simply remarkable book. Robin Oliveira brings the Civil War era vividly alive with a heroine no reader will ever forget.” - Ron Rash, author of Serena
"A vivid, dramatic novel about love, medicine, and the Civil War, My Name Is Mary Sutter features an indomitable, memorable heroine whom the reader will root for until the very end." – David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife and The Danish Girl


Meet the Author

Robin Oliveira is the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter. She holds a BA in Russian and studied at the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow. She received an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is also a registered nurse, specializing in critical care. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

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I Always Loved You: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
jlking More than 1 year ago
I ALWAYS LOVED YOU begins slowly and the story develops quietly, but the novel as a whole is more like an Impressionist painting, which begins as a blurry image and subtly, through many layers, becomes something significant, beautiful, resonant. At least, that is my experience with reading I ALWAYS LOVED YOU by Robin Oliveira. The relationship between Degas and Cassatt begins tenuously, and builds and falls throughout, but it is in the moments shared between the pair, in the pull and tug of conversation and gesture, that the genius of this novel develops. By the final page, the tenderness between Cassatt and Degas is palpable and moving. It is in the pages between the first and last that the reader comes to know and understand the complex relationship between two of history's most important artists. I personally love the way the author worked each layer of their story, the subtlety of their relationship and the way Cassatt and Degas spurred one another on. It is an intimate story so beautiful I read it with a pen in hand, to note the passages which struck me. I ALWAYS LOVED YOU is about art and the struggle of the artist to balance their passion with life, love, and friendship, and to serve the work which already lives inside their hearts and heads. It is a tribute to those who have overcome the attacks of critics, of those who do not understand art or beauty, and is a testimonial to the brilliance of love in helping us to become who and what we are meant to be. I ALWAYS LOVED YOU is a book I recommend to all artists, to those who enjoy a delicate, masterful novel. It is a story which will linger in memory for its truth. I ALWAYS LOVED YOU by Robin Oliveira is now one of my favorite books of all time.
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
Great Disappointment. This author's first novel, 'My Name is Mary Sutter' is one of my favorite novels of the last ten years--maybe ever. I had waited eagerly for a follow up, and while the premise of this book is promising (the Impressionists and La Belle Epoque Paris), for me it absolutely fell flat. Ultimately, I did not feel this novel WENT anywhere. I got to the end and thought, 'That's it?' Oliveira is a fine writer; I'm wondering if it's just the subject matter that is the problem. Plenty has already been researched, dissected, and analyzed on the Impressionists; it's easy enough to Google any one of this colorful cast--Cassatt, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Manet, Pissarro, etc--and find out what you want to know. Additionally, with the exception of Cassatt, her friend Abigail Alcott (Louisa May's sister), and Cassatt's family, there was no I liked or wanted to know more about. Degas comes across as emotionally abusive to everyone in his life and manages to alienate just about everyone; Manet is just about as bad, and the others are depicted in page after page of the kind of pompous, self-absorbed, pretentiousness, that made me want to scream. There is a great deal of backstory on how certain pieces were conceived and created--it drags--and endless debates on the nature of art, what makes something artistically valuable, is realism better than impressionism? Then there are the woman (including Cassatt) who put up with this and often suffer the emotional fall out. The Impressionists have always been some of my favorite artists; I have been very fortunate to see many of their pieces in museums and galleries around the world. Anyone familiar with the work will recognize the descriptions here, but with the exception of Mary Cassett, I can't say I would want to know any of these people. I will wait for the author's next effort, and I will continue to enjoy the art described--separate from the probable personalities of their creators.
jpcoggins More than 1 year ago
I was kind of disappointed with this second book, honestly.  I had so enjoyed her first novel about Mary Sutter.  And I've read many of Susan Vreeland's books about artists, so when she endorsed the book I expected to really enjoy this story.  Overall it was just kind of a sad story that never redeems itself.  I found the storyline hard to follow too.  One of my own family members is an artist, so I realize that creative people are not always happy, or joy-filled.  However this book focused too much on the negative, and didn't invite the reader into the exultant highs and fulfillment that motivates artists to keeping making things of beauty.  If you are looking for insight into the life of art, I recommend Susan Vreeland instead.
Anonymous 10 months ago
AnnieAA More than 1 year ago
Degas and Mary Cassatt will live on in their masterpieces. If you want to be taken to a time when and where they lived and loved please read I Always Loved You…Robin Oliveira did an excellent job of filling in the pages…I am inspired to read about the paintings and sculptures now that I am reminded of the joy and pain that it took to create them.. I cried. A good thing. I never did that while reading a book….
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the book much more disappointing them the author's previous effort (My Name is Mary Sutton). If you like art history or descriptions of how artists use color in their paintings you would probably enjoy this. The human story takes backstage to the artist craft, which is maybe what she was intentionally trying to create. Descriptions of Paris are very well done but the characters are not central to the story with the exception of Degas.
KimBullock More than 1 year ago
I knew from the first page that this was a novel that would stay with me well after I finished it. When I came to this passage on page 43, after swallowing a lump of writer’s envy, the book shot into my top ten books of all time: “Mary thought he might as well have said he had seen her at her bath, had seen the imperfections of her figure, had spied the most personal things about her. Instead, he was undressing her mind and rummaging around in the pleats and folds of her brain, a voyeurism more intimately invasive than any physical violation would have been.” This passage was taken from the scene where Mary Cassatt first meets Edgar Degas. That tired old cliché about being able to cut the sexual tension with a knife does no justice to Oliveira’s portrayal of their relationship. In this case, you can’t chop through the tension with an ax. Every glance, every touch, nearly every word exchanged between the two is charged. The scenes where one or the other creates art in presence of the other are especially sensual. While it is not necessary to have knowledge of the Impressionists to enjoy I Always Loved You, it will add a further layer of tension if you do. Any love story involving Edgar Degas could not be conventional in scope and will not involve a happily ever after unless the author takes major liberties with history, which Oliveira does not. What she does do, brilliantly, is find the story hiding in a gap of known history. After Degas’ death, why did Mary Cassatt search his apartment for her letters to him? Why did she burn she burn both sides of the correspondence when she sensed her own end neared? Interwoven into the novel is a second, yet equally doomed, love story between painters Édouard Manet and his sister-in-law Berthe Morisot. Some reviewers thought this story detracted from the first, but I disagree. I believe it enhanced readers’ understanding of the societal constraints of the time and served as an interesting foil to the Degas/Cassatt plot line. I made the mistake of reading the ending of I Always Loved You at a local Starbucks, mentally cursing my eyes for clouding up (much like Degas’) and preventing me from reading easily. It wasn't until I closed the book that I fully realized the “cloud” was tears. On my way out, the barista asked what book I had been reading because she wanted a copy. I Always Loved You is literary historical fiction at its best. Highly recommended.
bettysunflower More than 1 year ago
This is the story of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas during a time of great changes in the art world of Paris. Mary had moved to Paris from America to pursue a career as an artist to learn for the locals. It was there that she met Edgar who offered to help her show her work. They seemed to have an a rather unusual relationship but fairly understandable for the time period. It is pretty obvious that they loved each other. However, they never seemed to be able to give each other what was needed. The strength of this book is the author's incorporation of the growth of certain styles of art and how they developed and the people who developed them. The characters and their interactions in relation to each other and to their art is fascinating. It also shows us how the artists seem to have to suffer in order to produce superior art. I felt the book was very well written and easy for someone with limited art history knowledge to understand and to enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
indiereadergirl More than 1 year ago
Mary Cassatt had admired always admired Degas as an artist; what came after she never expected It’s 1877 and American artist Mary Cassatt is almost at her wit’s end, living in Paris, rejected by the Salon for the first time. She is becoming broke, with her father telling her to come home. Not knowing what to do, it is when she meets the impressionist painter she admires most that she decides to stay in Paris, until her death many years later. Edgar Degas is difficult, needy, brilliant, and ever the match for Mary. Spanning years, the novel details their tumultuous relationship; the ups- with encouragement, exhibitions, a few kisses, and kind words; and downs- periods of being frozen out, rude comments,not so chivalrous actions, and slight betrayals. The relationship, often hot and cold is hard to decipher on many ends. Told in third person narrative, Mary Cassatt and Degas’s relationship isn’t the only plot in the novel. Also taking narrative is Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot’s somewhat twisted love affair, as well. There were many famous French Impressionist name drops. However, these two couples were the center points; Degas and  Cassatt taking center stage, with Cassatt’s story the primary focus. Growing up in a house with posters of Renoir’s and Monet’s’ loving French impressionists, I was excited to read this book. I have always loved the French culture, specifically Paris, having visited there three times. I liked learning about the complicated relationship between Degas and Cassatt;but, mostly learning about her since I did not know much about her. I found Degas, sadly, whiny, immature, rude, and not a nice guy. He would allude to the almost affair Manet was having with his brother’s wife, Berthe; make promises he wouldn’t keep, like an art show and an art journal because it wouldn’t benefit him. He didn’t care it affected other people. The novel, to me, started off slow. It took me over a hundred pages to really get into it; but, I don’t think I ever was fully immersed in Nineteenth Century Paris as I hoped I would be. The descriptions were there, I just didn’t feel it as much. It did like the narrative; the writing style wasn’t very unique, or vibrant, but had consistency and was enjoyable enough. I wouldn’t highly recommend this book, but if you do like to read historical fiction novels about art, this isn’t a bad novel to choice. It focuses on a love story that isn’t very romantic at all, more platonic than focusing on art techniques; but you as a reader can still learn and appreciate certain aspects about the Impressionist movement in the late Nineteenth Century.