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The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman: A Novel Paperback – May 13, 2014


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 13, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061579505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061579509
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In a lively and pointed variation on James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, popular and conceptually adventurous Naslund (Adam & Eve, 2010) portrays two women artists in a novel-within-a-novel. Successful writer Kathryn Callaghan lives in present-day Louisville, Kentucky, in a lovely, old neighborhood surrounding a fountain depicting “Venus Rising from the Sea,” a graceful embodiment of the novel’s inquiry into the obstacles confronting women artists. Battered by her third divorce yet buoyed by her neighbors and friends, Kathryn completes a novel about the brilliant and resolute French painter Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755–1842). After surviving childhood loss and a disastrous marriage to become a renowned portraitist, Élisabeth is forced into exile for her friendship with Marie Antoinette (the subject of Nasland’s novel, Abundance, 2006). It’s a challenge to match the powerfully rendered drama of Élisabeth’s historic struggles with Kathryn’s subtler suffering, and Naslund—who has Kathryn admire Virginia Woolf while striving to write “accessible” fiction—veers into contrivance and sentimentality. Still, this is an incisive and keenly pleasurable novel about women artists overcoming adversity to create “joyful work” that celebrates life’s beauty and wonder. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“[A] lively and pointed variation on James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man…this is an incisive and keenly pleasurable novel about women artists overcoming adversity to create “joyful work” that celebrates life’s beauty and wonder.” (Booklist on THE FOUNTAIN OF ST JAMES COURT)

Sena Jeter Naslund’s eloquent language, her mastery of technique have the power to transport readers from the inner turmoil of a successful contemporary writer to the harsh realities of life among the splendor of eighteenth-century French society. The lyrical, poetic rendering of her prose is magical. (Alabama Writer's Forum News and Reviews on FOUNTAIN/PORTRAIT)

“[U]nexpectedly addictive. Naslund once again creates memorable characters, surprising scenarios and astute notions on living life with intention.” (Seattle Times on FOUNTAIN/PORTRAIT)

Customer Reviews

So beautifully written, well researched and memorable.
j. mcgregor
The novel is very up to date, but also gives you a look into a the life of a gifted artist of ong ago.
B. Sirkin
The writer seemed to try too hard to use descriptive language, coming off stilted and overly flowery.
Robyn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on September 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was on a kick of reading novels set in a single day. I wish Sena Jeter Naslund's latest, THE FOUNTAIN OF ST. JAMES COURT; OR, PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS AN OLD WOMAN, had been published back then, as it would have fit the bill perfectly. Plus, it has the added element of being a novel-within-a-novel, also always appealing to those of us who love books and reading and challenging plots.

Here Naslund sets a historical novel --- a sort of fictionalized autobiography of the 18th-century French artist Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun --- within a contemporary novel that takes place in a single day. The protagonist of the contemporary novel, Kathryn Callaghan, is the author of the other one. She has just finished the manuscript and dropped it off with her lifelong friend Leslie, who has recently moved to the Louisville, Kentucky, neighborhood of the book's title. The idea here is that we are reading Kathryn's novel at the same time Leslie is.

Either part of Naslund's novel could have been called PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS AN OLD WOMAN. Ryn isn't old, exactly, but is definitely getting up there in years and is unsure whether and how to move forward following completion of this most recent manuscript. She has lived through three failed marriages, the most recent of which ended within the last two years, and is tentatively ready to move on. But as she travels throughout her day, she finds her mind moving backwards in time more than forward, reflecting on those relationships that defined her life --- not only her romantic relationships but also (and particularly) the relationship with her son, Humphrey.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M Denise Costello on September 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I finished an advanced reader's edition of the above book that is a novel within a novel, hence the title. My trend continues for being drawn towards reading a southern, female author whose protagonist is from the modern day. The story of the protagonist is intertwined with a character from the past whose own story also unfolds for readers to compare and contrast with the modern one. Readers are given the opportunity to follow 70-year-old Kathryn, a writer, as she lives through an entire day after having completed a novel. Kathryn's story is juxtaposed with that of real life painter Élizabeth Vigée-le Brun (1742-1855), portrait artist of Marie Antoinette.

Many juxtapositions exist between the two fascinating characters. The foremost is that while readers follow the complete full day of Kathyrn's after her work is completed, we follow Elizabeth's story throughout her entire life. Both artists have only one child, Kathryn a son and Elizabeth a daughter. Both characters have mothers they are extraordinarily close to but Kathryn's mother is with her most of her life, while Elizabeth travels Europe to escape the revolution and is forced to leave her mother behind. Kathryn is thrice divorced and Elizabeth is married only once in her long life. When writing about Kathryn, or the "Fountain" chapters, readers also get some narration from some of Kathryn's friends and acquaintances, including a little girl who was playing "hooky." Elizabeth, from the "Portrait" chapters, is the only narrator in her story.

I enjoyed being in the mind of Kathryn as she reflected on her marriages and on the lives and deaths of her many friends. I also enjoyed Ms.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By WestMetroMommy on September 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Review originally published on my blog at westmetromommy.blogspot.com
2.5 Stars

I have to be honest...this book was a chore for me to read. There is much to commend this book. Naslund has a beautifully poetic style and a very introspective point of view. I also really loved the "within" story of Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. I think if this book had just been that story, this would have rated among the best books I've read this year.

For me the problem was with Kathryn's story, which is the more substantial of the two storylines. I was never able to connect with Kathryn and, frankly, I felt that nothing really happened in her part of the book. While I enjoy character-driven novels, I do think there should be some plot and that seemed to be missing with Kathryn.

Part of my inability to relate to Kathryn might be circumstantial. She is a 70 year old woman and most of her story is about her looking back on her life. I still have a few decades to go before I reach that point so I just couldn't find any anchor with her. I am planning to have my mother, who is much closer to Kathryn's age, to give this book a try to see if her experience differs from mine.

This is not a book that would turn me off any other works by Sena Jeter Naslund--as I said, I found her prose to be just lovely. But this one was really an uphill battle for me.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rikhit Arora on November 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
First, I LOVE this author and have read many of her books. Ahab's Wife is one of my all time favorite books by any author. So I was anxiously awaiting this new book. I read it, and enjoyed the descriptions, and the characters, and the complexity - but it feels a teensy bit "navel-gazing" and autobiographic in a self important kind of way. To give the author the credit she is due, it is entirely possible that I am missing some deep point she is intending with this introspective, slightly defensive (???) mood, but for me it was off-putting.
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More About the Author

Sena Jeter Naslund is the author of the novels Four Spirits and Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette and a short story collection, The Disobedience of Water. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, she is a winner of the Harper Lee Award; Distinguished Teaching Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville; director of the Spalding University brief-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing program; former poet laureate of Kentucky; and editor of The Louisville Review and the Fleur-de-Lis Press.

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