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The Flower to the Painter Paperback – June 23, 2011
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Marcia Brownlow was down on her luck when she came to Europe as a governess, a position that quickly became intolerable. Pleading her case before the wealthy aunt of her best friend, Marcia is faced with a risky but lucrative proposition. She accepts the challenge of working for a famous writer not as Marcia but as her brother, Mark. The combination of Mark's gender advantage and Marcia's artistic talent quickly propels her into a promising career. Her "unnatural" bent toward women allows to her romance her wealthy patronesses with pleasure, but only up to a certain frustrating point. Which will Marcia choose: her love or her art? Does it have to be one or the other?
Inbinder's intuitive sense of the sights, sounds, and smells of the period help the reader to feel that Marcia's conflicted, quixotic adventure is their own. It's not easy for a male author to convince the reader that he's inside the head of a female narrator, but even that metaliterary tension contributes to the success of this delightful novel.
In short, Inbinder's vivid language and memorable characters immerse the reader in the nineteenth-century European art scene. This book is a must-read for any art history fan as well as readers interested in a satisfying, gender-bending romance.
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There is fine mood setting and character delineation in the opening chapters, with a nice achievement of dramatic equilibrium in the ruthless ambitions of the two main women portrayed there. And we quickly realise that we are reading not a lightweight romance novella but a potentially much richer and deeper literary work.
And then the author sets himself a classic challenge. Let's face right up to it here: Can the reader seriously believe in any story where a woman decides to impersonate a man and gets away with it for more than thirty seconds? Well, we believe in it without blinking in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" ... and perhaps mainly because it's Shakespeare. Thankfully we can accept it all the more readily here, because Inbinder steadily and surely suspends our disbelief with the finest attention to every little detail (both nice and nasty, both public and private) of his heroine's partly enforced subterfuge.
And once we do believe, we can luxuriate without a care in the richness of the story itself!
Soon, our new "hero" -- a talented young artist -- has managed to hoodwink both a man of the world and a sought-after heiress. Or has he really? And there will be many other men and women to be deceived (or not) along the way. The reader, largely (but not completely) in sympathy with Marcia (now Mark) Brownlow's successive challenges and crises, will ponder such agonising questions along with "him" throughout the star-studded story.
This carefully crafted novel does not rely much on dramatic action, let alone melodrama, for its powerful effect.Read more ›
It's like he's trying to resolve the classic armchair time traveler's dilemma - you'd love to be able to escape into an idyllic past, but in the past they would have hated and feared you and all you stand for, and you'd hate and fear them right back. I've had to set down a number of Regency-era books over the years because of an author's vocal opinions on "the weaker sex" and their foibles, conniving, innocence, cunning, and general unsuitability. Inbinder returns some of that escapist pleasure to feminists by providing some measure of comeuppance or I-told-you-so, while at the same time giving his characters' own thoughts about gender and homosexuality some measure of historical credulity. It's a difficult balance, and I'm impressed Inbinder so often manages it.
The Flower to the Painter's first-person narrator is a penniless American of good name who spends most of the novel in Europe, masquerading as a young male artist to try to improve her financial situation. Marcia exhibits unusual frankness for a narrator of the era, both in her evaluations of other characters and in her discussions of bodily functions; one imagines how Vanity Fair might have sounded if told by Becky Sharp (presuming Miss Sharp did not dissemble, as she likely would).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Marcia Brownlow, a young artist among a group of American expatriates in late 19th century Europe, began her journey as a governess when her family fell on hard times and left her... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Arleigh C. Johnson
Gumption and style: the ingredients that have had lectors love heroines from Moll Flanders through Becky Sharp and Scarlett O'Hara to Lisbeth Salander are definitely present in... Read morePublished on September 24, 2013 by Johanna Miklos
Gary Inbinder has created a very powerful character in Marcia Brownlow. I found this book to be beautifully written. Mr. Read morePublished on June 17, 2012 by Lauren G
What I enjoyed most about Gary Inbinder's fascinating and impeccably researched novel, THE FLOWER TO THE PAINTER (Fireship Press) was its power to make me question the feasibility... Read morePublished on March 26, 2012 by Mary Donnarumma Sharnick
1876; Florence, Italy.
Marcia Brownlow, a young American woman sojourning in Italy, has just been fired from her position as a governess for fighting back when her... Read more
This was a quick read which takes one through the salons of Italy, France and England during the period of the budding movement in Impressionism. Read morePublished on August 29, 2011 by Denise Louie