Lightly flecked with fantasy and anchored in vividly detailed settings, the 14 stories in Sherman's first collection are distinguished by their depictions of determined women who challenge gender roles in order to make their way in the world. In "The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor," a servant girl parlays her acquaintance with an ancestral ghost into a professional relationship with the descendant whose house it haunts. The title story toggles between present and past as an art history student researching the life of an Impressionist painter unravels the hitherto unknown role his model played in the creation of his art. Although Sherman (The Porcelain Dove) grapples with serious themes, she leavens a number of her tales with gentle humor, notably "Walpurgis Afternoon," in which a pair of lesbian witches comically discompose an ordinary suburban neighborhood when their Victorian estate springs up in a vacant lot overnight. Readers who enjoy sophisticated modern fantasy fiction, both light and dark, will greatly admire Sherman's skill with a variety of narrative forms and the gentle touch of her magic wand. (Nov.)
In her vivid and sly, gentle and wise, long-anticipated first collection, Delia Sherman takes seemingly insignificant moments in the lives of artists or sailorsthe light out a window, the two strokes it takes to turn a small boatand finds the ghosts haunting them, the magic surrounding them. Here are the lives that make up larger histories, here are tricksters and gardeners, faeries and musicians, all glittering and sparkling, finding beauty and hope and always unexpected, a touch of wild magic.
Praise for Delia Sherman's previous books:
"Multilayered, compassionate, and thought-provoking." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Fantastic in every sense of the word, Sherman's second novel (Through a Brazen Mirror) is a skillfully crafted fairy tale that owes as much to E.T.A. Hoffman as to Charles Perrault. . . . The Porcelain Dove is no dainty vertu but a seductive, sinister bird with razored feathers." Publishers Weekly
Delia Sherman was born in Japan and raised in New York City. Her work has appeared most recently in the anthologies Naked City, Steampunk!, and Queen Victoria's Book of Spells. She is the author of six novels including The Porcelain Dove (a New York Times Notable Book), The Freedom Maze, and Changeling, and has received the Mythopoeic and Norton awards. She lives in New York City.
In this first collection from Sherman (The Porcelain Dove; The Freedom Maze), what seems ordinary consistently veers into the extraordinary and often downright surprising. From a scientist studying a merman in her pond to two neighbors connected by matching ominous red pianos, these 14 stories are all full of surprising fantasy details (fairies, ghosts, werewolves, witches, magic), and distinctive voices. Ranging in length and style, these tales are captivating and odd, with characters and settings fully and memorably fleshed out. VERDICT Sherman has won several awards for her fiction, and her literary talent is reflected in the depth and variety of stories presented here. For fans of the author's previous works as well as those seeking quirky, fantastical short stories.—Katie Lawrence, Chicago
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Read an Excerpt
Young Woman in a Garden
By Delia Sherman
Small Beer PressCopyright © 2014 Delia Sherman
All rights reserved.
YOUNG WOMAN IN A GARDEN
Edouard Beauvoisin was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, a provincial doctor. When he demonstrated a talent for drawing, however, his mother saw to it that he was provided with formal training. In 1856, Beauvoisin went to Paris, where he worked at the Académie Suisse and associated with the young artists disputing Romanticism and Classicism at the Brasserie des Martyrs. In 1868, he married the artist Céleste Rohan. He exhibited in the Salon des Refusés in 1863, and was a member of the 1874 Salon of Impressionists. In 1875 he moved to Brittany where he lived and painted until his death in 1898. He is best known for the figure studies Young Woman in a Garden and Reclining Nude.
Impressions of the Impressionists
Oxford University Press, 1970
M. Herri Tanguy
Musée La Roseraie
January 6, 1990
I write to you at the suggestion of M. Rouart of the Musée d'Orsay to request permission to visit the house of M. Edouard Beauvoisin and to consult those of his personal papers that are kept there.
In pursuit of a Ph.D. degree in the history of art, I am preparing a thesis on the life and work of M. Beauvoisin, who, in my opinion, has been unfairly neglected in the history of Impressionism.
Enclosed is a letter of introduction from my adviser, Professor Boodman of the Department of Art History at the University of Massachusetts. She has advised me to tell you that I also have a personal interest in M. Beauvoisin's life, for his brother was my great-great-grandfather.
I expect to be in France from May 1 of this year, and to stay for at least two months. My visit to La Roseraie may be scheduled according to your convenience. Awaiting your answer, I have the honor to be
Your servant, Theresa Stanton
When Theresa finally found La Roseraie at the end of an unpaved, narrow road, she was tired and dusty and on the verge of being annoyed. Edouard Beauvoisin had been an Impressionist, even if only a minor Impressionist, and his house was a museum, open by appointment to the public. At home in Massachusetts, that would mean signs, postcards in the nearest village, certainly a brochure in the local tourist office with color pictures of the garden and the master's studio and a good clear map showing how to get there.
France wasn't Massachusetts, not by a long shot.
M. Tanguy hadn't met Theresa at the Portrieux station as he had promised, the local tourist office had been sketchy in its directions, and the driver of the local bus had been depressingly uncertain about where to let her off. Her feet were sore, her backpack heavy, and even after asking at the last two farmhouses she'd passed, Theresa still wasn't sure shed found the right place. The house didn't look like a museum: gray stone, low-browed and secretive, its front door unequivocally barred, its low windows blinded with heavy white lace curtains. The gate was stiff and loud with rust. Still, there was a neat stone path leading around to the back of the house and a white sign with the word "Jardin" printed on it over a faded black hand pointing down the path. Under the scent of dust and greenery was a clean, sharp scent of saltwater.
Theresa hitched up her backpack, heaved open the gate, and followed the hand's gesture.
"Monet," was her first thought when she saw the garden, and then, more accurately, "Beauvoisin." Impressionist, certainly — an incandescent, carefully balanced dazzle of yellow light, clear green grass, and carmine flowers against a celestial background. Enchanted, Theresa unslung her camera and captured a couple of faintly familiar views of flower beds and sequined water before turning to the house itself.
The back door was marginally more welcoming than the front, for at least it boasted a visible bell-pull and an aged, hand-lettered sign directing the visitor to "Sonnez," which Theresa did, once hopefully, once impatiently, and once again for luck. She was just thinking that shed have to walk back to Portrieux and call M. Tanguy when the heavy door opened inward, revealing a Goyaesque old woman. Against the flat shadows of a stone passage, she was a study in black and white: long wool skirt and linen blouse, sharp eyes and finely crinkled skin.
The woman looked Theresa up and down, then made as if to shut the door in her face.
"Wait," cried Theresa, putting her hand on the warm planks. "Arretez. S'il vous plait. Un moment. Please!"
The woman's gaze travelled to Theresa's face. Theresa smiled charmingly.
"Eh, bien?" asked the woman impatiently.
Pulling her French around her, Theresa explained that she was making researches into the life and work of the famous M. Beauvoisin, that she had written in the winter for permission to see the museum, that seeing it was of the first importance to completing her work. She had received a letter from M. le Directeur, setting an appointment for today.
The woman raised her chin suspiciously. Her smile growing rigid, Theresa juggled camera and bag, dug out the letter, and handed it over. The woman examined it front and back, then returned it with an eloquent gesture of shoulders, head, and neck that conveyed her utter indifference to Theresa's work, her interest in Edouard Beauvoisin, and her charm.
"Fermé" she said, and suited the action to the word.
"Parent," said Theresa rather desperately. "Je suis de la famille de M. Beauvoisin."
From the far end of the shadowy passage, a soft, deep voice spoke in accented English. "Of course you are, my dear. A great-grand niece, I believe. Luna," she shifted to French, "surely you remember the letter from M. le Directeur about our little American relative?" And in English again. "Please to come through. I am Madame Beauvoisin."
In 1874, Celeste's mother died, leaving La Roseraie to her only child. There was some talk of selling the house to satisfy the couple's immediate financial embarrassments, but the elder Mme Beauvoisin came to the rescue once again with a gift of 20,000 francs. After paying off his debts, Beauvoisin decided that Paris was just too expensive, and moved with Celeste to Portrieux in the spring of 1875.
"I have taken some of my mother's gift and put it towards transforming the ancient dairy of La Roseraie into a studio," he wrote Manet. "Ah, solitude! You cannot imagine how I crave it, after the constant sociability of Paris. I realize now that the cafés affected me like absinthe: stimulating and full of visions, but death to the body and damnation to the soul."
In the early years of what his letters to Manet humorously refer to as his "exile," Beauvoisin travelled often to Paris, and begged his old friends to come and stay with him. After 1879, however, he became something of a recluse, terminating his trips to Paris and discouraging visits, even from the Manets. He spent the last twenty years of his life a virtual hermit, painting the subjects that were dearest to him: the sea, his garden, the fleets of fishing boats that sailed daily out and back from the harbor of Portrieux.
The argument has been made that Beauvoisin had never been as clannish as others among the Impressionists — Renoir and Monet, for example, who regularly set up their easels and painted the same scene side by side. Certainly Beauvoisin seemed unusually reluctant to paint his friends and family. His single portrait of his wife, executed not long after their marriage, is one of his poorest canvases: stiff, awkwardly posed, and uncharacteristically muddy in color. "Mme Beauvoisin takes exception to my treatment of her dress," he complained in a letter to Manet, "or the shadow of the chair, or the balance of the composition. God save me from the notions of women who think themselves artists!"
In 1877, the Beauvoisins took a holiday in Spain, and there met a young woman named Luz Gasco, who became Edouard's favorite — indeed his only — model. The several nude studies of her, together with the affectionate intimacy of Young Woman in a Garden leaves little doubt as to the nature of their relationship, even in the absence of documentary evidence. Luz came to live with the Beauvoisins at La Roseraie in 1878, and remained there even after Beauvoisin's death in 1898. She inherited the house and land from Mme Beauvoisin and died in 1914, just after the outbreak of the First World War.
Lydia Chopin. Lives Lived in Shadow: Edouard and Céleste Beauvoisin.
Apollo. Winter, 1989.
The garden of La Roseraie extended through a series of terraced beds down to the water's edge and up into the house itself by way of a bank of uncurtained French doors in the parlor. When Theresa first followed her hostess into the room, her impression was of blinding light and color and of flowers everywhere — scattered on the chairs and sofas, strewn underfoot, heaped on every flat surface, vining across the walls. The air was somnolent with peonies and roses and bee song.
"A lovely room."
"It has been kept just as it was in the time of Beauvoisin, though I fear the fabrics have faded sadly. You may recognize the sofa from Young Woman Reading and Reclining Nude, also the view down the terrace."
The flowers on the sofa were pillows, printed or needlepointed with huge, blowsy, ambiguous blooms. Those pillows had formed a textural contrast to the model's flat black gown in Young Woman Reading and sounded a sensual, almost erotic note in Reclining Nude, As Theresa touched one almost reverently — it had supported the model's head — the unquiet colors of the room settled in place around it, and she saw that there were indeed flowers everywhere. Real petals had blown in from the terrace to brighten the faded woven flowers of the carpet, and the walls and chairs were covered in competing chintzes to provide a background for the plain burgundy velvet sofa, the wooden easel, and the portrait over the mantel of a child dressed in white.
"Céleste," said Mme Beauvoisin. "Céleste Yvonne Léna Rohan, painted at the age of six by some Academician — I cannot at the moment recollect his name, although M. Rohan was as proud of securing his services as if he'd been Ingres himself. She hated it."
"How could you possibly. ..." Theresa's question trailed off at the amusement in Mme Beauvoisin's face.
"Family legend. The portrait is certainly very stiff and finished, and Céleste grew to be a disciple of Morisot and Manet. Taste in aesthetic matters develops very young, do you not agree?"
"I do," said Theresa. "At any rate, I've loved the Impressionists since I was a child. I wouldn't blame her for hating the portrait. It's technically accomplished, yes, but it says nothing about its subject except that she was blonde and played the violin."
"That violin!" Mme Beauvoisin shook her head, ruefully amused. "Mme Rohan's castle in Spain. The very sight of it was a torture to Céleste. And her hair darkened as she grew older, so you see the portrait tells you nothing. This, on the other hand, tells all."
She led Theresa to a small painting hung by the door. "Luz Gascó," she said. "Painted in 1879."
Liquid, animal eyes gleamed at Theresa from the canvas, their gaze at once inviting and promising, intimate as a kiss. Theresa glanced aside at Mme Beauvoisin, who was studying the portrait, her head tilted to one side, her wrinkled lips smoothed by a slight smile. Feeling unaccountably embarrassed, Theresa frowned at the painting with self-conscious professionalism. It was, she thought, an oil study of the model's head for Beauvoisin's most famous painting, Young Woman in a Garden. The face was tilted up to the observer and partially shadowed. The brushwork was loose and free, the boundaries between the model's hair and the background blurred, the molding of her features suggested rather than represented.
"A remarkable portrait," Theresa said. "She seems very ... alive."
"Indeed," said Mme Beauvoisin. "And very beautiful." She turned abruptly and, gesturing Theresa to a chair, arranged herself on the sofa opposite. The afternoon light fell across her shoulder, highlighting her white hair, the pale rose pinned in the bosom of her high-necked dress, her hands folded on her lap. Her fingers were knotted and swollen with arthritis. Theresa wondered how old she was and why M. Tanguy had said nothing of a caretaker in his letter to her.
"Your work?" prompted Mme Beauvoisin gently.
Theresa pulled herself up and launched into what she thought of as her dissertation spiel: neglected artist, brilliant technique, relatively small ouvre, social isolation, mysterious ménage. "What I keep coming back to," she said, "is his isolation. He hardly ever went to Paris after 1879, and even before that he didn't go on those group painting trips the other Impressionists loved so much. He never shared a studio even though he was so short of money, or let anyone watch him paint. And yet his letters to Manet suggest that he wasn't a natural recluse — anything but."
"Thus Luz Gascó?" asked Mme Beauvoisin.
"Luz Gascó. Perhaps you think she was the cause of Beauvoisin's — how shall I say? — Beauvoisin's retreat from society?"
Theresa gave a little bounce in her chair. "That's just it, you see. No one really knows. There are a lot of assumptions, especially by male historians, but no one really knows. What I'm looking for is evidence one way or the other. At first I thought she couldn't have been ..." She hesitated, suddenly self-conscious.
"Yes?" The low voice was blandly polite, yet Theresa felt herself teased, or perhaps tested. It annoyed her, and her answer came a little more sharply than necessary.
"Beauvoisin's mistress." Mme Beauvoisin raised her brows and Theresa shrugged apologetically. "There's not much known about Céleste, but nothing suggests that she was particularly meek or downtrodden. I don't think she'd have allowed Luz to live here all those years, much less left the house to her, if she knew she was ... involved with her husband."
"Perhaps she knew and did not concern herself." Mme Beauvoisin offered this consideringly.
"I hadn't thought of that," said Theresa. "I'd need proof, though. I'm not interested in speculation, theory, or even in a juicy story. I'm interested in the truth."
Mme Beauvoisin's smile said that she found Theresa very young, very charming. "Yes," she said slowly. "I believe you are." Her voice grew brisker. "Beauvoisin's papers are in some disorder, you understand. Your search may take you some weeks, and Portrieux is far to travel twice a day. It would please me if you would accept the hospitality of La Roseraie."
Theresa closed her eyes. It was a graduate student's dream come true, to be invited into her subject's home, to touch and use his things, to live his life. Mme Beauvoisin, misinterpreting the gesture, said, "Please stay. This project — Beauvoisin's papers — it is of great importance to us, to Luna and to me. We feel that you are well suited to the task."
To emphasize her words, she laid her twisted hand on Theresa's arm. The gesture brought her face into the sun, which leached her eyes and skin to transparency and made a glory of her silvered hair. Theresa stared at her, entranced.
"Thank you," she said. "I would be honored."
Young Woman in a Garden (Luz at La Roseraie) 1879
Edouard Beauvoisin's artistic reputation rests on this portrait of his Spanish mistress, Luz Gasco, seated in the garden of La Roseraie. As in Reclining Nude, the composition is arranged around a figure that seems to be the painting's source of light as well as its visual focus. Luz sits with her face and body in shade and her feet and hands in bright sunlight. Yet the precision with which her shadowy figure is rendered, the delicate modeling of the face, and the suggestion of light shining down through the leaves onto the dark hair draw the viewer's eye up and away from the brightly-lit foreground. The brushwork of the white blouse is especially masterly, the coarse texture of the linen suggested with a scumble of pale pink, violet, and gray.
"The Unknown Impressionists"
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Excerpted from Young Woman in a Garden by Delia Sherman. Copyright © 2014 Delia Sherman. Excerpted by permission of Small Beer Press.
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