Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination


Harriet Scott Chessman takes us into the world of Mary Cassatt's early Impressionist paintings through Mary's sister Lydia, whom the author sees as Cassatt's most inspiring muse. Chessman hauntingly brings to life Paris in 1880, with its thriving art world. The novel's subtle power rises out of a sustained inquiry into art’s relation to the ragged world of desire and mortality. Ill with Bright’s disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her narrowing world. With the rising emotional tension between the loving sisters, between one who sees and one who is seen, Lydia asks moving questions about the capacity of love and art to remember. Chessman illuminates Cassatt's brilliant paintings and creates a compelling portrait of the brave and memorable model who inhabits them with such grace. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper includes five full-color plates—the entire group of paintings Mary Cassatt made of her sister.


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“[A] flowing, lyrical novel. ... I suppose I could have gone to a biography of Mary Cassatt to learn about most of these matters, but I don't think the portrait of the artist I would have found there would have danced.”

“A lovely, moving book—elegant in its economy, delicately powerful. Chessman beautifully captures the rich relationship between model and painter, and between sisters.”

“This novel is shot through with … moments of recognition, some in silence, others in conversation, particularly with Degas. Most are balanced, however, by the author's awareness that her dying heroine is isolated, even among those she loves. There is a heartbreaking simplicity to Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper. Yet like Cassatt's art, its odd angles and delicate, inevitable details—some just out of our vision—make themselves felt long after one has finished long after one has finished this fine period piece.”

“Shaded with intimations of mortality, a second novel touches tenderly on the relationship between Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) and her ailing older sister Lydia. Chessman ... uses five of Cassatt's paintings and their circumstances to shape her story. ... A moving and intensely introspective portrait of the way art is created and life relinquished.”


HARRIET SCOTT CHESSMAN is the author of five novels: The Beauty of Ordinary Things (2013), Someone Not Really Her Mother (2004 & 2015), Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper (2001), and Ohio Angels (1999), and the libretto for a contemporary operatic piece, MY LAI, commissioned by the Kronos Quartet / Kronos Performing Arts Association. Harriet’s fiction has been translated into eight languages. She has taught English and creative writing at Yale University, Bread Loaf School of English, and Stanford University. After twelve years in the San Francisco Bay Area, she lives in Connecticut.