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Degas In New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable Hardcover – November 11, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 294 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (November 11, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067943562X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679435624
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,296,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

This lifeless account of Edgar Degas's 1872 visit to New Orleans unsuccessfully tries to link his artistic breakthrough with the city's Reconstruction-era social turmoil. Benfey (American Literature/Mt. Holyoke Coll.; The Double Life of Stephen Crane, 1992) claims the French painter's five-month sojourn with his mother's family ``is something of a legend in New Orleans.'' There's nothing legendary in Benfey's workaday account. A private man bent on being ``famous but unknown,'' Degas stayed indoors because his eyesight (which he fancied was failing) couldn't stand the intense southern light; he pined for black models but painted family members instead. Admitting the challenge posed by his ``notoriously secret'' subject, Benfey expands his critical field of vision to encompass New Orleans writers George Washington Cable and Kate Chopin--even though there's no evidence they crossed paths with Degas. Their work, obsessed with the enormous changes transforming New Orleans society in the Civil War's aftermath, is supposed to help us ``decipher the underlying meanings in Degas paintings and letters.'' Chopin gets top billing, but the largely forgotten Cable gets more ink, including a provocative but unsubstantiated suggestion that this creator of the archetypal ``tragic mulatto'' is the granddaddy of southern literature. Benfey, the first biographer to focus on Degas's American roots, adds valuable insight to the artist's work with his analysis of the effects American technology, architecture, and commerce had on his paintings. But Benfey's glosses of Chopin and Cable don't bring Degas into sharper focus; they push the enigmatic Frenchman further to the edges of an already sprawling, speculative biography. Conjecture about the psychological root of Degas's racial ambivalence--namely the possibility of black blood in the American side of the family--is overstated and underdocumented. Ambitious, perhaps, but Benfey's wide net nevertheless allows his primary subject to slip away, lost in a fog of lit-crit theory and psychobabble. (illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review

When Benfey writes about Degas and his paintings in Degas in New Orleans, he seems to have his material firmly in grasp, but when he writes about the city's racial discord and literary history, his argument sometimes squishes out between his fingers. -- The New York Times Book Review, Robert Wilson

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on June 13, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Maybe the most important thing for you to know about this book is that it isn't just, or even mostly, about Edgar Degas. If you're in the market solely for an art book about Degas, you may not like this book. What this book is really about is 19th century New Orleans. Degas' 1872-1873 trip is the main theme which the author has used as his framework. Mr. Benfey "improvises" on this theme and goes off in interesting directions. He talks about what made New Orleans unique- the early Creole settlers vs. the "Americans" that arrived after the Louisiana Purchase; the free black population (pre-Civil War) vs. the slaves who became free because of the war; the rupture caused by the war- as New Orleans was occupied by Federal forces through almost all of the conflict. (Many of the local women proved to be fairly feisty in showing their contempt for the Yankees. One woman in the French Quarter supposedly downloaded the contents of a chamber pot onto Admiral Farragut's head. On another occasion, the soldier in charge of keeping order, General Benjamin "Beast" Butler, was riding by some women and they all turned their backs to him. Butler remarked, "those women evidently know which end of them looks best.") After the Civil War the economy, based almost solely on King Cotton, took a beating in the Depression of the 1870's. Yankee "carpetbaggers" were despised. Liberals who wanted integration of the races did battle, sometimes literally, with reactionary forces who yearned for a return to the days of slavery. Mr. Benfey works in some analysis of the writers Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable, who were interested in some of the above themes.Read more ›
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By K. Walsh on February 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
I learned alot about the life of some in a unique city in American history ..during that precarious time when slavery was ending and everyone was puzzling over how to deal with each other- black, white, mixed, rich, poor etc. I wasn't aware of the extent that some slaves intermingled on nearly equal footing or on the other hand were just plain raped by the upper echelon of society. Many of the slaves held power in their own way, and were the American aristocrat's closest friend and confidant. Light skinned blacks and the strange 'couplings'..fascinating. Also very informative about Degas and his life and his art. What a different book! Refreshing and thought provoking. I'm obviously not a reviewer..but I do read a lot and feel that I have pretty good judgement. Enjoy this one!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a wonderful history of Degas and his family. Anyone who loves art and enjoys history of any kind about New Orleans will like this book.
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