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With Violets
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With Violets

4.0 10
by Elizabeth Robards

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Paris in the 1860s: a magnificent time of expression, where brilliant young artists rebel against the stodginess of the past to freely explore new styles of creating—and bold new ways of living.

Passionate, beautiful, and utterly devoted to her art, Berthe Morisot is determined to be recognized as an important painter. But as a woman, she finds herself


Paris in the 1860s: a magnificent time of expression, where brilliant young artists rebel against the stodginess of the past to freely explore new styles of creating—and bold new ways of living.

Passionate, beautiful, and utterly devoted to her art, Berthe Morisot is determined to be recognized as an important painter. But as a woman, she finds herself sometimes overlooked in favor of her male counterparts—Monet, Pissarro, Degas.

And there is one great artist among them who captivates young Berthe like none other: the celebrated genius Édouard Manet. A mesmerizing, breathtaking rogue—a shameless roué, undeterred and irresistible—his life is a wildly overgrown garden of scandal. He becomes Berthe's mentor, her teacher...her lover, despite his curiously devoted marriage to his frumpy, unappealing wife, Suzanne, and his many rumored dalliances with his own models. For a headstrong young woman from a respectable family, an affair with such an intoxicating scoundrel can only spell heartbreak and ruin.

But Berthe refuses to resign herself to the life of quiet submission that Society has dictated for her. Undiscouraged, she will create her own destiny...and confront life—and love—on her own terms.

Editorial Reviews

Times Record News (Wichita Falls
“Set among the beauty and majesty of Paris at the height of its articits period, Robards’ novel weaves the story of passion and lust among the historical events. A masterpiece in itself, With Violets is a delightful novel.”
Tracy Grant
“With deft brush strokes, Elizabeth Robards creates a wonderfully vivid portrait of the Second Empire and the dawn of Impressionism.”
Time Magazines Record News (Wichita Falls))
"Set among the beauty and majesty of Paris at the height of its articits period, Robards’ novel weaves the story of passion and lust among the historical events. A masterpiece in itself, With Violets is a delightful novel."
Time Magazines Record News (Wichita Falls)
"Set among the beauty and majesty of Paris at the height of its articits period, Robards’ novel weaves the story of passion and lust among the historical events. A masterpiece in itself, With Violets is a delightful novel."
Publishers Weekly

In her debut novel, Robards takes up the story of impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, who was a friend and lover of fellow artist Edouard Manet, and imagines a love affair between them against the backdrop of a disapproving time. After they first meet in the Louvre, Manet invites Morisot to his studio, where he paints the first of what would be countless portraits. Morisot basks in the great man's attention, but she must learn to tread carefully around Manet's wife. Together, the painters test the limits of propriety, engaging in a risky affair that is compromised bit by bit over time, leading to unexpected ends. Robards constructs a convincing plot for these real-life characters, her sense of emotion is keen and the setting serviceably rendered, but readers looking for insight into the art should look elsewhere. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot is the subject of this first novel by former journalist Robards. Using letters and four years' worth of research, Robards attempts to fill in the blanks regarding this unusual figure, who was ahead of her time. Berthe, a headstrong young woman with a talent for painting, chooses a life of art over marriage. Yet immersing herself among the rebellious young painters of her day leads to an unforeseen circumstance-entering into a stormy love affair with married contemporary Édouard Manet. Robards's effort is uneven; mature dialog between Berthe and Édouard too often gives way to jarringly tacky love scenes better suited to a serial romance. Though the historical details are brilliant, history is against this story, with interruptions of war and familial visits slowing down the narrative just as it gets engrossing. Still, this is a strong first effort, and readers can look forward to seeing how Robards's talent develops. Recommended for larger fiction collections or where historical fiction is popular.
—Leigh Wright

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

With Violets

Chapter One


When I awoke, I did not know I would make his acquaintance that afternoon. As I opened my eyes and set my bare feet on the cold floor, I had no idea a simple meeting would shatter my existence and refashion it into a world I would scarcely recognize.

If I had known, I might have chosen differently. Alas, it is effortless to retrace one's steps and spot the turn you should have taken.

What is not quite so simple is to opt for the safe route and spend a lifetime out of harm's way pondering what might have been.

I have seen him in the Louvre. We have exchanged glances. Polite nods. Single words. No more. It isn't proper because we have not been formally introduced.

I cannot help but notice him. His fine clothes and fair hair set him apart from any man I have ever laid eyes upon. He commands attention and compels the beholder to drink in his being. A masterpiece who speaks to the soul.

It happens weeks later, as I study the Italian painters, copying Rubens with my friend Rosalie. I hear men's voices echoing behind us. Indiscernible, only tones and inflections, patterns of speech reverberating like a symphony of color in the nearly empty musée gallery. One timbre dark and rich as umber shadows. The other, vibrant as vermilion.

I do not have to turn around to know. I had memorized his voice, his gestures, as he copied the Italians and the Spanish.

The manner in which he attacked his brushwork—painting. Stopping. Retreating. Studying. Stepping forward to begin again. Then, as if he sensed me watching, he would momentarily abandon his dance andglance up, his gaze snaring mine like a mesh net. He would smile, nod. Before I could summon the grace to look away, he was lost again in Tintoretto.

I should have felt ashamed for staring so brazenly, but I did not. Odd that Propriety would drop her weighty baggage now, prohibiting a look at him.

The murmur of voices stops, all is quiet save the rhythmic tap, tap, tap of shoes and walking stick on the parquet floor.

The conversation resumes, not ten feet behind us, muted by veiled whispers.

Rosalie paints in oblivion. How I envy her calm.

Chewing the wooden end of my brush, I fix my gaze upon the bare breast of Rubens's water nymph, determined not to falter in the face of this contingency.

I'm glad I wore my green dress, although it is covered by the frightful gray painting smock. Of course, I shall not remove the cover-up. Nor will I preen and primp like an idiot. I will act natural, as if his footfalls are not sounding directly behind me.

Rosalie murmurs. The sound washes over me in cobalt waves. I plunge the tip of my brush into the vermilion, swirling it around so the lovely brashness coats the bristles. I dab at the water nymph's nipple.

"Bonjour, Mesdemoiselles."

I tighten my grip on my palette.

In my peripheral vision, I see Rosalie whirl around. Too anxious. "Bonjour, Monsieur Fantin."

Moistening my lips, I kept my gaze upon my canvas, wait five beats, then turn, as if I have just realized we are no longer alone.

"Bonjour." My voice sounds cold and thin, an icicle melting under the brilliance of spring sunshine.

"Mesdemoiselles, may I present Monsieur Édouard Manet."

I press my thumb into the edge of my palette until my hand begins to tingle.

"Monsieur Manet, I give you Mesdemoiselles Rosalie Riesener et Berthe Morisot."

"Bonjour." He bows, quick and proper, over his silver-tipped walking stick. "I am quite familiar with Mademoiselle Morisot's work. I have often enjoyed it at the Salon. I am a great admirer."

His words resonate in the musée's great gilded hall. Admirer? Of moi? I had no idea he even knew my name.

Is he teasing me?

His smile appears genuine, but if I ponder his words too long, I sense a hint of mockery in the upturned corners of his mouth.

"Merci." I fight the urge to retreat. I am not good at conversing with men. Words never come easily. Maman berates this fault. She says people will think my silence proud or sullen. Still, I would rather remain mute than spew nonsense.

Oh yes. It is best the meeting came as a surprise, that Monsieur Fantin gave me no notice of the introduction. You see, I am of a mind to create monsters in my head. Not that I think Monsieur Manet a monster.

Au contraire.

Although, the sheer magnitude of his persona frightens me as much as it thrills me. I admire his freedom, his sincerity, his willingness to explore and express what is real, what is true. He is at once terrifying and glorious. And breathtaking.

A true master.

He steps closer, walking around to the working side of my easel. "What have we here?"

My throat tightens, and I believe I understand how Eve felt in the garden when she realized the full magnitude of her nakedness.

It is just a painting, Rubens's Queen's Arrival at Marseilles. I tilt my chin to meet his gaze.

His eyes search my face, and his lips, curve into a pleasing smile. "Beautiful."

Mon Dieu, he is bold. I have heard tales of his exploits, but who was to know how much had been embellished. He is not a bohemian. For all appearances, he is a proper gentleman, if not a dandy.

My gaze shoots back to the water nymph's lush form. I feel Monsieur Manet watching me, a casual assessment. Yet, I sense the man is fully capable of consuming all in his possession.

If I were prone to blush, it would happen now. Thank heavens my body does not make a habit of betraying my emotions. Of all my strengths, I am grateful for containment.

I take a deep breath. The smell of linseed oil calms my rattled nerves. I touch the tip of my brush to the ocher paint intending to deepen the shadow under the nymph's breast, but as the brush strokes the flesh-colored curve, the vermilion bleeds through. The resulting orange-tinged streak resembles a gruesome, bleeding gash.

With Violets. Copyright © by Elizabeth Robards. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Tracy Grant
“With deft brush strokes, Elizabeth Robards creates a wonderfully vivid portrait of the Second Empire and the dawn of Impressionism.”

Meet the Author

Award-winning author Elizabeth Robards formerly lived in France and has studied art and writing. She earned a degree in journalism only to realize reporting "just the facts" bored her silly. Much more content to report to her muse, Elizabeth has found Nirvana doing what she loves most—writing contemporary and historical women's fiction full time. She loves to travel—and when she can't, her imagination transports her all over the world.

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With Violets 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love her writing. This is a great book. It is worth the price. Enjoy it... I did!
psummers More than 1 year ago
With Violets by Elizabeth Robards is the story of Berthe Morisot, a woman trying to become a successful artist in a time when males dominated the profession. Berthe falls in love with Édouard Manet, a married man, who is one of the most famous artists of his day. Something that drives the plot is Berthe's determination to show that even though she was a woman, she could create masterpieces. The author uses formal language that reflects the time period in which the story is set. Robards uses phrases that are unfamiliar to contemporary readers, but represent what conversations were like in the 1800's. This is apparent when Berthe is engaged in debates with her family members. The novel is filled with dramatic irony considering that only the reader knows the relationship between Berthe and Édouard. The book is hard to put down because if at any moment anyone discovers them, their reputations will be destroyed. The author explains what is going on in Berthe and Édouard's minds through the use of internal monologue. As a female, it is hard to accept the way Berthe let Édouard control her. It seems like Édouard is in total control of their relationship, and he can use Berthe whenever he pleases. It is arguable that the author is trying to convey the point that some women let men control their lives and that this is destructive. It would have been nice to see Berthe stand up for herself and make her own decisions. However, the element that interested me the most was that in her professional life she was extremely strong-willed, yet in her personal life she gave away all her power.
LadyLucyLehn More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Robards is an extremely talented story teller. I found this book to be incredibly enjoyable, I just couldn't put it down. Her writing style was so profound that I found myself underlying text, I've never before done that with fiction. Great great great rendition of history. I look forward to reading more by Robards.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
The cover of the paperback version of "With Violets" is bright and inviting with a white-dressed figure reclining off the edge of the page, holding violets in her hand. Something in the sharp-edged flowers or speckled grays on the dress is reminiscent of the era Robards is writing about, the time of the French impressionists, putting me in the right mood to read. The book transports you to a very real depiction of Paris in the 1860s, introducing the reader to wonderful characters with complicated lives and loves, and inviting you to ponder fascinating mysteries of human relationships, history and art. As evidence of how much I enjoyed the book, I found myself looking up the main character, Berthe Morisot, on the internet as soon as I finished reading. I found a painting by her of a woman in a white dress that matched the book's cover, and another painting, by Manet, of Morisot holding a bunch of violets. As I read the articles I felt like I was reading about real people who I'd already come to know through Robard's novel. With Violets is written in the first person, giving it an immediacy that draws the reader quickly into the era. And Robards' language, right from the start, splashes the colors of impressionism onto the page. As Morisot becomes aware of Manet in the room behind her (on page 2), she describes "patterns of speech reverberating like a symphony of color... One timbre dark and rich as umber shadows. The other, vibrant as vermillion." It sounds completely natural in the context of a young woman with paintbrush in hand, and gives an immediate insight into the way the artist thinks and experiences the world. Sometimes the switches in tense in the book startled me, but they soon became part of the flow -- a story told in vivid colors, unmixed, placed side by side like the paintings she describes. And just occasionally there were words or turns of phrase that seemed to miss the mark (but perhaps I'm too English). Touches of French, and French phrasing, are unobtrusively placed, and well-paced, giving background and flavor. And the world of Morisot and Manet is fleshed out beautifully with references to world events. I was fascinated to realize how little I had considered where the impressionists fitted into the timelines of revolution, war and politics. At the end of the book, Avon gives a two-page "author insight," where Robards describes the awe and respect she holds for Morisot and Manet, which led her to sketch a love story of what might have been. I'd have to say, she's done a wonderful job, and I'll look forward to reading more by her. Meanwhile, if you're looking for more than your average romance, where relationships and the historical world are painted with breadth and depth, then I would certainly recommend you try "With Violets" by Elizabeth Robards.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Izzie_reads_books More than 1 year ago
It was a very cute story, though I'm sure that--well, at least for me--people can control feelings (I know I can). But Berthe didn't always do that very well,and I like when the characters can hide their feelings which includes overcoming the feeling of love. It was really a cute story though and at the end, I'm glad she found someone else. Besides, she doesn't deserve to be with a married man who probably will always give her heartache.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1868 Paris, they have seen one another at the Louvre; they have nodded hello in passing, but not talk. She knows who he is as he is perhaps the most famous painter in the world while she is a novice in comparison. Finally a few weeks later his friend Monsieur Fantin introduces artist Rosalie Reisener and impressionist painter Berthe Morisot to the great artist Edouard Manet, who invites the latter back to his studio.

Over the next few years he paints several portraits of her including her in a black hat WITH VIOLETS. They become friends and lovers although he is married. Their affair is risky until it is finally exposed.

This is an engaging historical biographical fiction of Berthe Morisot whose contemporaries thought nothing of her work and more of her modeling for Manet; her work is now considered some of the best of the French impressionists. However, WITH VIOLETS focuses on her relationship with Manet and not much on her art. Still this is a well written enjoyable fictionalized account of Berthe Morisot starting from the moment she first saw Manet.

Harriet Klausner