Books

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen Camille Laurens
Original publisher Gallimard (France), August 2017
Publisher (UK) Les Fugitives, July 2020
Publisher (US) Other Press, November 2018

 

 

 

This absorbing, heartfelt work uncovers the story of the real dancer behind Degas’s now-iconic sculpture, and the struggles of late nineteenth-century Parisian life.

She is famous throughout the world, but how many know her name? You can admire her figure in Washington, Paris, London, New York, Dresden, or Copenhagen, but where is her grave? We know only her age, fourteen, and the work that she did—because it was already gruelling work, at an age when children today are sent to school. In the 1880s, she danced as a “little rat” at the Paris Opera, and what is often a dream for young girls now wasn’t a dream for her. She was fired after several years of intense labor; the director had had enough of her repeated absences. She had been working another job, even two, because the few pennies the Opera paid weren’t enough to keep her and her family fed. She was a model, posing for painters or sculptors—among them Edgar Degas.

Drawing on a wealth of historical material as well as her own love of ballet and personal experiences of loss, Camille Laurens presents a compelling, compassionate portrait of Marie van Goethem and the world she inhabited that shows the importance of those who have traditionally been overlooked in the study of art.

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