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The Girl From the Lighthouse tells the compelling story of Emma Dobbins.
Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she was raised by her father, a lighthouse keeper at Point Conception in California, where early on she discovers her artistic talent. At the age of 17, Emma travels to Paris with a chaperone, to attend art school but is separated from the chaperone when the woman becomes ill. Emma arrives alone in Paris with no money, no language skills, and no friends. A chance meeting with a young working girl in the train station becomes her first Parisian friend.
The setting is Paris in the 1860s-70s, the start of the Belle Èpoque. France soon is involved in the Franco/Prussian War and the Commune Uprising; difficult times for Emma and all Frenchmen. Initially rejected by art schools, her determination keeps her moving toward her goal in the art world, where the Impressionists are starting to change the world. Frenchmen fall in love with her beautiful face and lustrous dark hair. Some wanted to paint her, others to court her, but either way, she does not abide by the rules they try to impose on her because she never learned them. She grows into an accomplished artist but never gives up her own principles... even when someone steals something precious to her and she fights to get it back.
The story is told in the first person, present tense, allowing the reader to enter the story and feel a part of it as it unfolds, sharing with Emma her highs and lows, loves and rejections, all focused in the art world of Paris. The novel is filled with vivid characters, both fictional and real people, and the story unfolds gracefully from the 1870s until 1912, just prior to the start of WWI.
This was one of those fiction books I really enjoyed reading but also the kind of book that makes you want to look things up and learn more about them. The setting is a sheltered young girl from California with much artistic talent trying to attend an art school in Paris. She very quickly finds that women are not a part of the intellectual society (or so men think) at least not in art. This is the time of the French-Prussian War and as the war ends and she (Emma) begins to meet people and find her way, she also becomes painfully aware of the class sects in Paris. Definitely not something she has experienced in gold rich California.
The descriptive writing of people and places is almost like Jane Austen in this book. Maybe it was the class differences and the cold unacceptance of one group towards another that made me feel this way. The characters here were very real, many depict a few famous painters you will recognize. There is a certain amount of romantic feeling between them, a feeling of young people courting one another. And yet, the essence most captured is really and truly of history. Even though this is fiction the time of the setting is correct, the late 1800’s, the feeling of Parisians suffering so much from hunger and pain, the classes fighting so much amongst themselves and even a young naïve girl, a girl young enough to know none of the ways of womanhood and yearning to become an artist.
An enjoyable read worth your time.
Read an excerpt...
Paris lays prostrate in front of me, like a mortally wounded warrior, as I walk down ave de Saint-Ouen from the city gate into Montmartre. Pulling my mantle tighter around me to fight the chill in the air, I look out at the cemetery, bare and bleak. The streets of the city far below seem lifeless, stone buildings in the distance stand like tombstones. The frozen river is a thread woven in a death shroud. Closer by, the few men and women on the avenue move along like zombies. Putting one reluctant foot in front of the other, they drag their emaciated bodies over the cobblestones. Heads down, eyes glazed, ribs protruding beneath tattered clothes. I pass a chiffonnier in front of an apartment building sifting through the garbage searching for anything salvageable, anything that might fetch a sou or a morsel of food. The stench of starvation is in the air. At the corner of ave de Clichy I come upon a middle age-looking woman sitting on the curb with a baby pressed against her sagging breast. Her long skirt is hiked up above her knees as she stares down at the cobblestones, her upturned palm extended. I stop for a moment and look down on her, shuddering in disbelief at her hopelessness. Hopelessness that seems to have infected the city in the time I've been away. Dropping a single centime in the woman's hand without looking at her, I continue on toward the Durands' apartment.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Willard Thompson is an award-winning historical fiction and romance writer living in
Thompson is a past president of the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. He is a native of Manhasset, New York and a graduate of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Willard-Thompson/e/B00UCFSMDU