Crossing on the Paris

Crossing on the Paris

by Dana Gynther

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451678253
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 11/13/2012
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 61,534
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Dana Gynther was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and Auburn, Alabama. She has an MA in French Literature from the University of Alabama. She has lived in France and currently lives in Valencia, Spain, where she and her husband work as teachers and translators. They have two daughters and an extremely vocal cat.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Woman in the Photograph includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Model and woman-about-town Lee Miller moves to Paris determined to make herself known amidst the giddy circle of celebrated artists, authors, and photographers currently holding court in the city. She seeks out the charming, charismatic artist Man Ray to become his assistant but soon becomes much more than that: his model, his lover, his muse.

Coming into her own more fully every day, Lee models, begins working on her own projects, and even stars in a film, provoking the jealousy of the older and possessive Man Ray. Drinking and carousing is the order of the day, but while hobnobbing with the likes of Picasso and Charlie Chaplin, she also falls in love with the art of photography and finds that her own vision can no longer come second to her mentor’s. The Woman in the Photograph is a richly drawn, tempestuous novel about a talented and fearless young woman caught up in one of the most fascinating times of the twentieth century.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Early in their affair, Lee notes that “from the outside” she and Man “looked like opposites: old and young, short and tall, dark and light, serious and gay” (p. 33). While these are superficial differences based on Lee’s first impressions of the other artist, discuss the deeper chasms that separate Man and Lee. Do you think that they were a mismatch from the beginning, or is there truth in the saying that opposites attract?

2. Man and Lee’s love for each other and their love for art are entwined from the beginning, while modern workplace romances are often frowned upon. Do you think they would have been smarter to disconnect their work from their affair after their initial meeting?

3. Though she leaves New York in search of a less conventional life, one of the things Lee says that she loves about French Vogue, or Frogue, is that “relationships there were simple” (p. 86), while her time in the studio with Man is anything but. What keeps Lee tied to her complicated life with Man? Can you relate to her reasons?

4. Were you shocked by some of the descriptions of the erotic photos Man and Lee take? Do you think viewers of the 1930s would have had similar reactions?

5. Gynther notes that Lee had “few close female friends” (p. 116), but a few key female figures feature prominently in Lee’s life. Discuss her relationships with Tanja, Kiki, and her mother. How do these women shape her story and sense of self?

6. “It was actually the art history class that made me want to quit painting. . . . I thought, what could I possibly do that was new? Then I came here and saw what Man and his friends were doing. Turning art upside down and on its head. . . . And I think it’s more than just interesting, funny, or what have you. It’s necessary” (p. 125). What do you think Lee means when she talks about “necessary art”? Do you think art is necessary?

7. Would you describe Man as Lee’s muse? Why or why not? What inspires her most?

8. Compare the ways that men “use” Lee to the ways Lee “uses” men—whether sexually, socially, or professionally. You might examine her relationships to Man, her father Theodore, de Brunhoff, Jean Cocteau, Zizi, and Aziz Eloui Bey.

9. Lee is infuriated at the art world’s double standards when she sees the caption of Man’s photo of her in Le Surrealism au service de la revolution (“Young women: the raw material to power the creative arts”) and laughs at the notion of her father and Man being asked to kiss and fondle each other in erotic photos as she and her fellow female models do. Why do you think sex and women are such important themes in Man’s art? What do they add to his art that men cannot?

10. How do you think Lee’s early sexual trauma relates to her views on sex and relationships? Did her constant fear of being “tied down” to a man strike a chord with you?

11. Lee compares herself to the Seabrooks’s slave girl, remarking at how different she is from the muse she plays in Cocteau’s film. What do the women have in common? What separates them, other than their appearances?

12. While sex is an important part of Man and Lee’s relationship, in what ways does it keep them from seeing eye to eye?

13. In the end, Lee wonders whether all artists need either extreme pleasure (sex, love, beauty) or extreme pain (madness, war, death) to create their most meaningful works. Which do you relate to more?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Man mentions the music of “Django Reinhardt, tango, and Strauss” that he used in his films, and Lee connects to the showtune “Love for Sale” by Cole Porter. Use these mentions as inspiration and create an avant-garde playlist inspired by the novel to provide a soundtrack for your book club.

2. Display photos of Lee by the artists mentioned in the book like Arnold Genthe, Edward Steichen, and Man Ray, as well as photos taken by Lee, both in her surrealist days and as a groundbreaking war photographer in Europe.

3. Learn more about the author and her other works of historical fiction at her personal website,

Customer Reviews

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Crossing on the Paris 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
Crossing on the Paris is a novel about three very different women, all strangers to each other, whose paths cross while travelling aboard an ocean liner named the Paris to America. Vera Sinclair, an elderly, ill, wealthy socialite, reflects on her life as she returns to America to die after having lived most of her life in France. Constance Stone, a young married mother, analyzes her life and happiness as she leaves her husband and three children behind to convince her wayward sister in France to return home to America. Julie Vernet, a poverty stricken, unmarried woman takes a job as a waitress on the ocean liner in order to immigrate to America for a better life. For each of the three women in the story, the voyage is more than a simple journey – it is a life-altering event providing each woman time to reflect on their past or dream of their future or value what they already have. Their stories are poignant, sometimes painful to read, sometimes beautiful in simplicity. This character driven novel is deep and profound, set in a luxurious setting, and filled with the stories of three women who are impossible to forget. Readers will see a little of themselves in each woman while enjoying a most entertaining story. Highly recommended.
Mary6 More than 1 year ago
Crossing on the Paris is simply a great book. The story of three women whose lives come together aboard the ocean liner, The Paris, in the 20's is the perfect backdrop for Gynther's fine storytelling. She sees right through the frail human condition, and takes us into the lives of her characters as they each reach their own defining moment. Crossing on the Paris is one of those rare books that transcends genre, and has a wide appeal to an enormous range of readers. This makes it not only a great novel for you bookshelf, but a great gift as well. Well done!
RichardJB More than 1 year ago
I felt like I had crossed on the Paris too by the time I finished. And in spite of the losses at the heart of her character´s lives Gynther manages too to pen a tale of heartwarming optomism. We are drawn into the complex class ridden world of the great liner and also given a window into the rich inner lives of her three heroines. A really mature first novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never read any books by this author and was pleasantly pleased to read a lovely story of three different women experiencing trials and tribulations at various times in their lives. It was a little Titanic, but wholly different story that still resonates with women today. Thoroughly enjoyed the story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written-loved the characters and their stories
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AJenkins More than 1 year ago
Dana Gynther’s Crossing on the Paris tells the tales of three women whose lives are inextricably intertwined on the Paris, a ship travelling from Paris to New York. Below the deck is Julie Vernet, a young servant with a pretty face and a strong will. Leaving home for the first time, she is determined to succeed aboard the ship. Constance Stone travels second class on her disheartened trip back to New York. She previously travelled to Paris to fetch her sister but returns home alone, unable to convince her younger sister to return to their dying father. Finally, Vera Sinclair travels in first class on her retreat to New York after living several decades in Paris. Each woman brings her own experiences and outlook on life to the journey. Though I decided on the rating of five stars, I was at first hesitant to award this perfect score because the relationship between the three women feels a bit forced. They meet while they are boarding the ship—and are even caught in the same photograph. They bump into each other later in the doctor’s office, in the dining rooms, and so on. While it is important that they do meet, these interactions feel intentional and could occur more organically. Especially on such a large ship, their chance encounters should be few and far between. However, I decided to stick with a rating of five stars because the relationship between the three women is so important to the novel. Even though the method of their meetings could be smoother, the juxtaposition of and contrast between the three characters makes this novel so dynamic and interesting. The most powerful aspect I notice at the beginning of this book is the setting. The era—early 1920’s—is pervasive and inviting. Everything from the photographs they snap to the imagery of the opulent ship to the stratification of the classes is dripping in the conventions of the 1920’s. I find it interesting that although this story follows the historical date of the sinking of the Titanic, it is not overshadowed by the tragedy. This tale brings friendship and self-discovery in addition to romance, forging its own path among stories with similar premises. Romance is a compelling aspect of this story. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the women’s romantic interests. Julie, a young girl away from home for the first time, struggles to comprehend the attention of another young worker, Nikolai, aboard the Paris. Constance is away from her domineering husband for the first time in ages and dabbles with the affection of the handsome doctor aboard the ship. Vera, in her later years, laments the close friend she left behind in Paris and reflects on the romantic adventures she had as a young woman. Finally, I was very pleased with Gynther’s style of writing. Her prose is unobtrusive and effortless so that the reader can focus on the content and is not caught up in the words themselves. I particularly loved the images that Gynther spun, all of which contribute to the vibrant setting and rich sensory details. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in period pieces, friendship tales, romances, or a unique blend of all of the above. Thanks to Gynther’s fluid prose and vibrant setting, I felt as though I was able to board the Paris with Julie, Constance, and Vera for a brief time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BeachRead245 More than 1 year ago
Crossing on the Paris is the debut novel by Dana Gynther. Thank you to Simon and Schuster for a copy to review. She brings a story of three womens’ journey from three different classes. The Paris is an actual ship that sailed the seas in the early 1900s. How many of you remember the movie Titanic? No, I am not talking about a sinking ship which does not happen in this story. The film Titanic illustrated so well the class restrictions in the story. Synopsis: Three women have a plan for the journey on the Paris. Vera hopes that by leaving on the Paris her longtime companion might stop her, and choose to spend out the rest of her days together. Did I mention that she is first class? But will he? Who are these other women she keeps running into? Constance Stone is coming back from trying to convince her sister that she should come home and help in the care of their mother. Constance journeys in second class. How successful will she be? How can she occupy herself on the journey back? The third woman in third class is Julie Vernet who is working on the Paris as a stirrage maid. She has great dreams of actually working on one of the ships that come into the port town of Le Havre. Will it be everything she hopes? Will these three women meet? My Thoughts: I liked Crossing on the Paris. It is the journey of these three women that keeps the story interesting. The author compels you to continue through story switching seamlessly between each woman’s story. I felt a great deal of compassion for the character of Julie Vernet and her story. I felt so bad for all of them. It is amazing how conflicts can lead to great character and perseverance. The historical setting for this novel is set in 1921. The actual Paris set sail in 1913 according to the author’s notes. She changed the setting slightly for her story. It still works to tell the stories of Vera, Constance, and Julie. by Jencey Gortney/Writer's Corner
LivetheLines More than 1 year ago
Dana Gynther has created a beautiful tale of love, loss, self-discovery and fate. Crossing the Paris is set on the maiden voyage of the Paris, departing from Le Havre, France and stopping at New York, this story centers around three women from very different backgrounds. The three women board the ship at the same time, briefly coming into contact. Though they do not speak to one another until the end of the novel, Crossing details their paths on the ocean liner and weaves their tales together beautifully. You can see the moments in which they just miss one another, and how their experiences on the ship lead them up to their big meet. Young Julie Vernet boards the Paris in hopes that she can not only go on an adventure, but to escape the grief that has befallen her since the deaths of her three older brothers in WW1. Her life in France was joyous but difficult. With little money, she applied for a job in the steerage class (3rd class) as a maid, and found her offer of employment was fate. Life on board is not what she hoped and just when she begins to think her choice of change was wrong she meets Russian, Nikolai who pursues her with passion and aggression. Julie’s experiences on the ship make her stronger and help her realize that this was the right choice. I like Julie quite a bit and found that I could connect with her- her insecurities and hopes for adventure. Her reactions to life in 3rd class are real and the imagery definitely makes you feel as if you are there with her (the mouse scene made me itch for days!). Constance Stone had traveled to Paris in hopes of persuading her younger, carefree sister, Faith, to return home to help care for their ailing mother. Faith has found her place in France, and Constance boards the ship reflecting on their lives as children, her own daughters, and her loveless marriage. You get to see Constance struggle with who she was and who she has become, and how she works towards making herself happy and finding inner peace. She falls for the ship’s doctor, Serge, and comes to see that though she returns his feelings, she has a wonderful life at home with her family. Constance’s journey is also one of reflection and self-discovery, and she comes to realize that change and fate wear the same hat. Though Constance could be a bit boring, I loved her trying to be someone different. She does everything that is expected of her and she wants to do the things that no one would think she c/would do. I must say though, it was nice to see her prepare to leave the ship, accepting who she is and the live she has created. Vera Sinclair has spent the last thirty years in France and is returning home upon the discovery that she is dying. Staying in first class, we get to see a different life than that of Julie and Constance. Vera reads through her journals, books she has been keeping for years and realizes that the life she lived is slowly coming to a close. She meets Julie and Constance by chance. She is above deck in a bit of a fever the two women come to her aid, and they retreat back to her room to talk about their lives before the Paris, on the Paris and what their hopes are for when they dock. The three women connect instantly, with each one learning something from the others. I think having a character like Vera not only displays the difference in class but the difference in age among the three. Without her, the other two would fall short. I found Vera to be the glue that kept everything together and moving. Ms. Gynther’s research on ocean liner terminology, the living quarters, duties, events and dialect of all on board is exquisite. I often found myself slipping away into the world of the Paris, and hoping that I would stumble into one of the three women. Incredibly entertaining, but equally mysterious, Crossing on the Paris expertly delivers complex yet relatable characters, an impeccable plot and intriguing secrets.
JLdeBrux More than 1 year ago
Loved this book, I enjoyed reading it so much. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OHA More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! Perfect blending of stories about three different women. I found myself experiencing the same feelings and emotions as the women in the book. I can't wait for more books from Dana Gynther!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was touched by the three women dealing with issues and feelings that we all have to deal with at some times in our lives.