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Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas's Masterpiece

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  411 ratings  ·  78 reviews
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
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published November 20th 2018 by Other Press (NY) (first published August 30th 2017)
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Diane S ☔
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
It was on an eighth grade school trip to the Chicago Art museum when I fell in love with the paintings of Degas. His painitings of ballerinas fascinated me, at that time I thought the life of a ballerina was one of elegance and grace. Of course, now I know it also includes a great deal of work and pain.

This is a slim book, and instead of focusing on his paintings, though of course that is mentioned on well, focuses on a sculpture he made of a young ballerina. Her features distorted to look almo
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction-btr
3.5 stars for this book. If you are interested in a lengthy description of the body of work by Degas and don’t mind some personal musings by the author then this is the book for you, filled with descriptions of some of Degas body of work and some of degas contemporaries opinions of the artist, but if you are interested in getting to know more about the story of the “little dancer” which this book said that’s what it would be about then you are for a sad surprise, basically the whole information ...more
Mar 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
Honestly, I could sum up all of the actual historical information about Marie Van Goethem presented in this book in one paragraph.

I can't decide whether reading this felt like reading a class-assigned essay that had an excessively large word count (so the student just prattled on and on without reason) or like reading something written by someone in love with the sound of their own words.

In my opinion, the author comes off as many things: obsessed, imaginative, narcissistic, condescending. The
Paul Fulcher
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is the translation by Willard Wood of Camille Laurens’ 2017 novel La petite danseuse de quatorze ans, and the 12th book my one of my favourite publishers, Les Fugitives.

It is based around Degas’s sculpture of the name (and the casts taken from it) and, in particular, the model for the artwork:

She is famous the world over, 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 k
Caleb Hoyer
Feb 26, 2019 rated it did not like it
There is some interesting information about Marie van Goethem and the famous sculpture that Degas modeled after her in this book. Unfortunately, there’s only about 4 paragraph’s worth of it, and the book, though short, is over 140 pages. Aside from the few nuggets of actual information, the book is padded with the author’s musings, assumptions, and analysis, which were well-written and may be interesting to some, but were simply not what I was looking for in the book. So much of it felt so specu ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it liked it
I give this a 2.5 stars but I rounded up to 3.

I was very interested in learning more about the little dancer. I always found this statue to be inspiring and special. I look at this statue differently now after reading this book. This story didn’t offer much information about the little dancer, but what we know of her is a sad and unfortunate. I felt like there was a lot a rambling of words in this book. We hardly learn anything about the little dancer, which I found disappointing. The author ass
Shawn Callon
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a moving story of a short-lived relationship between a famous Impressionist painter who had little love for his fellow human beings and a fourteen year old Parisian child born into poverty. Many of these girls were enrolled by their mothers into the Paris Opera as a possible way to exit their poverty-stricken lives; they had small walk-on parts and would scurry around backstage. They were called 'rats'. There were badly treated and were expected to work long hours holding ballet poses; t ...more
Mar 18, 2019 rated it liked it
The book is rather oriented towards the writer's empathy towards the model rather than the sculpture itself. It is endearing to attest how warming a masterpiece can still be, but don't be mislead into thinking the complete mystery surrounding the model will be unveiled either, although it does bring some light about topics such as the exact birthdate. All in all, a good read for anyone who has enjoyed contemplating Degas' works.
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Biography of Marie van Goethem, a model of Edgar Degas. Translated from the French.
Marie is the fourteen year old girl who was also a dancer at the Paris Opera and did some modeling for Degas, particularly the "Little Dancer" sculpture that Degas is famous for, which today can be seen in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. You get a glimpse, but she had a hard scrabble life and not a lot is known about her. Late 1800's France.
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
Unexpectedly moving.
Paulette Illmann
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Having read the historical fiction The Painted Girls, when I saw Little Dancer Aged Fourteen on the shelf at my local library, I couldn't resist. So little is known of the girl who posed for the famous statue by Degas, the book is a mere 147 pages, most of it trying to piece together what is known of the young ballet dancers of the time with the reality of one. It's like a genealogy project that provides some answers, but leaves you with more questions.
Jun 05, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Marie is still a mystery thanks to this ill named book. I know more about the author's grandmother than I do about the subject of this sculpture. Slim, unsatisfying, overpriced at $2.99, and a total disappointment. If I wanted to read someone's rants about Paris, women's rights, ballet moms, art reviews, or heritage, I'd save the money and go browse Facebook or Reddit. Skip this mess.
Caterina Pierre
Feb 05, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a literary musing on the famous sculpture by Edgar Degas, Little Dancer Fourteen Years Old, in the vein of Eunice Lipton’s book on the model for Manet’s Olympia. The reader will not learn much about Marie Van Goethem, the model who posed for the sculpture, and the art historical information here is sketchy at best. Nothing except maybe the clarification of van Goethem’s birthdate is really new here. The literary parts of the book wherein the author imagines Degas’s working method with va ...more
Erin Simone
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The sculpture allows the emptiness around her to be suggested: no scenery, no company. You walk around a sculpture, taking it in from all sides the way you might examine a question from every angle. The 'little Nana' stands against a backdrop of nothingness." p. 38
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Camille Laurens was a fascinating study of the young model in one of Degas’s most famous works of art. Laurens writes about how young ballerinas were treated — common laborers at best, pimped out as whores by their mothers at worst. Referred to as “rats” by society.

Degas’s model Mlle Marie van Goethem didn’t have a chance in life. Born into poverty in Belgium, Marie’s mother and three sisters moved to Paris with the hope of a better life. Poverty, hard work, and d
Jan 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Before reading this book, I thought of Degas as an impressionist who captured the technique of dancers and their glamorous world of the Paris Opera in the 19th century. Degas frequently depicted ballet dancers at class, on stage, or among their demi-monde patrons. I now see the réalisme of his art after having read this book that investigates the identity of a young girl he used her as his model for the "Little Dancer."

When Degas first exhibited the "Little Dancer" , art reviews were harshly cr
Justin Harnish
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: homelibrary
A touching, heart-wrenching slice of life of the model and sculpture, the arts and the extras, the famous and the forgotten. Ms. Laurens does a masterful job of interrogating history and questioning our moral progressivism, of wishing for more from Degas and hoping against history to find the Little Dancer, Marie Genevieve van Goethem, a second generation Belgian that settled in Montmartre, then one of the poorest Parisian districts.

This book reads like a detective novel and an art history, a Di
Mélie Boltz
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had seen the statue and been shocked by what I had read near it: in all likelihood, this young girl was already exposed to prostitution, for the little opera dancers were not paid enough to survive and were fetishized by high society. So naturally, when I discovered this book, I picked it up.

I was very taken by the descriptions of Parisian life at the time: migrations, art, poverty, scandal... It seems that the little dancer evolved in a surprisingly sordid environment, despite the prestige at
Feb 14, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hesitated for quite a time between giving this book 3 or 4 stars.

Some of it is amazing and touching, some of it is, in my opinion, quite boring. I was a bit put out that a book called " The little dancer of fourteen years old", that was presented as a way to flesh out this young model, was so centered around Degas himself and the art controversies the scultupture provoked.

I really loved the last 30 pages of the book, where it feels like there's a true effort from the author to give back some d
May 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As a former dancer and fine art major -- I couldn't wait to read this. It's not an easy read. Laurens puts the sculpture in the social context of the time, which all in all is fairly grim. These young girls would dance often as a prelude to a shady future. Often, it was one of multiple jobs to bring in money and not the glamorous dream as it is today with young girls. The book is serious, philosophical and requires attentive reading. It is a book I would have preferred to read in French as the t ...more
May 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I had anticipated that this would contain historical content about the creation of Degas' ballerina sculpture "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen." However, this book seemed stretched out and more like an essay or diary entry. There was a great deal of analysis, guessing and jumping to conclusions about the creation of the sculpture and Degas' intentions until the author realized that she could research the model, Marie van Goethem, in genealogical records. About two thirds of the way through the book, ...more
Jen Blair
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I reviewed this one in the Spring 2019 issue of World Lit Today:

“This journey through artists’ studios and ballet slippers also presents the unsettling task of removing our icons from pedestals yet still appreciating them. Moments where it’s deeply enriching to admire Degas’s work collide with ones that might leave the reader to pace around him like the art critics did on the unveiling of Little Dancer. Does it matter whether Degas’s intent was to direct an empathetic eye on young women like Mar
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
This book is an exquisite gem. The author has researched the identity, life, and times of the model for Degas’s sculpture called “little dancer aged 14”. It is clear that the author identifies, empathizes and respects this little girl and the courage it took to live in her circumstances. She presents this information with such feeling and consideration for the real human beings behind the sculpture that She draws the reader in and makes them a part of it.

The book is extremely well written. I re
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
The Little Dancer is my favorite sculpture - I wrote a research essay about her during my undergrad studies, and I've seen the bronze reproductions three separate, breathtaking times. So I was really excited to discover this book and picked up a copy without hesitation.

I was completely disappointed by it.

This is a fairly short book - only about 140 pages - and it doesn't have a lot of substance or "scholarly-ness" to it. I didn't learn anything I didn't already know about Marie, but I got an e
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoy works by Degas! Receiving this book was a real joy!This short read is a bio on Marie Genevieve van Goethem, who modeled for Degas to earn extra money. She was a young dancer for the Paris Opera, but did not advance very far in the profession. It didn't pay very well either. The story also tells of her family and the poverty they suffered. One really never thinks about the models used in paintings and sculptures, so finding books written about them is really very fascinating. This one is ...more
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
What an interesting book! I discovered so many things about Degas, his work and the young girl who was the model for his statue of The Little Dancer. Incites to the ballet school in Paris during the 1880s and beyond. The author lets us see the side of Paris that is not often explored. The reader gets to know the dancer and her family and what they went through to survive. It talks about Degas' work and his reason for doing the statue. A fascinating read full of "I didn't know that" and "what was ...more
I borrowed this book from the library because I have always been enchanted by Degas’s little dancer. Unfortunately, this book did not give you much more information than a good Wikipedia search could give you. The author spent a lot of time lamenting over the lack of information available. Without the lamentations, it probably would have been the length of an article. When the author realized there was no information to tell about Marie, or at least not enough information to fill a book, she sho ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Hmm. Well, this isn't exactly what I expected, but most of it was pretty interesting anyway. I was hoping for some kind of magic info on the young model of Degas', but no, there is no magic source really. Most of this book is about the sculptures themselves, Degas, dance halls, Paris neighborhoods, and the author's angst at not being able to find out more about the model. Still, pretty interesting in itself. I'm fortunate to have seen one of the castings (St Louis Art Museum) and this was a nice ...more
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I began thinking it was an imagination of the life of the model. I found, rather, a careful and thoughtful thesis delving into the relationships of artist, model, and sculpture. We meet Marie and Degas in their parallel lives and their respective roles in society. That sounds very academic, but the book rather creates a nebulus and then finds a spark of truth, I think.
Fascinating read; drags a bit in the middle, and then really takes off. Stick it out until the end - it's worth it.
Jul 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book was torture to read. It was 120 pages that could have been condensed into about 20. An art history senior thesis would probably do this topic more factual and concise justice without romanticizing poverty and prattling on about the facial features of criminals.

The author rambles and meanders along with a few facts and interesting bits interspersed throughout her drivel about personal life and tangents.

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Camille Laurens sur les hommes qu'elle décrit dans son livre..

Elle ne va pas à leur rencontre, du moins pas comme on pourrait croire. Elle ne fond pas sur eux pour les capter, les saisir, leur parler. Elle les regarde. Elle se replit de leur iamge comme un lac du reflet d'un ciel. Elle les maintient d'abord dans cette distance qui permet de les réfléchir. Les hommes restent donc là longtemps, en f

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