It’s not often I find a kindred spirit in a writer who loves the craft of writing, art, and the joy of travel as much as I do, but author Drēma Drudge fits that bill. Wit and a serious respect for writing and art, Drēma takes the reader on a journey into the past that delights and educates at the same time. So enjoy our little “fireside chat”, and feel free to comment or ask questions at the end. Welcome, Drēma!
Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure
Victorine features Victorine Meurent, a forgotten model/painter who posed nude for Edouard Manet’s most famous, controversial paintings such as Olympia in Paris.
What inspired you to write this novel? Why this novel now?
I was inspired by a slide in a literature class I took, The Painted Word, which was about books based on artworks. It combined two of my favorite things! The professor put some famous artwork on-screen to get our brains working, and when he showed the slide with Edouard Manet’s Olympia, the first time I’d seen it, I felt like the model had so much she wanted to say, like she had a story and she wanted me to share it. Little did I know how much she wanted to say! I certainly didn’t know she was an artist in her own right.
The position of women in the world is an evergreen topic, and Paris is a place people love reading about. What better way to bring attention to this issue of women trying to fight for their rightful place in art during the birth of Impressionism than to situate it in a time and place and with a protagonist who was a real artist that no one remembers. I believe my novel, Victorine, does this.
Was it difficult to uncover the life of this artist remembered primarily as a model?
Much more difficult than I anticipated! Not much is known about her; not much was preserved in the way of historical documents. I always say we only know a handful of facts about her. Because of that, I turned to paintings of her for clues as to who she was.
At first, I thought I would have to rely solely on paintings of her. There were many by Manet and Alfred Stevens, in particular. A few other artists had also used her as a model.
When I discovered she was also an artist, I was disappointed to learn that initially it was thought that none of her paintings survived. In 2004, one was recovered, Palm Sunday. But by the time I was writing my novel, I thought I would have to make that one do.
Are you going to write any more novels about art?
I am. Not right away, not visual art, anyway, but I have two or three in mind for the future. I’m also broadly defining art—my second novel deals with music, and that’s certainly art. I’d like to eventually write about all art forms. I think writing about dance would be the most challenging, and I like challenges, so I could see myself taking that on.
Miraculously, through digging deeply, my husband I discovered three more that are little known that have more recently been found. Most of the world doesn’t even know they exist! (If Wikipedia doesn’t know, then you know you’re onto something.)
What did you learn about your protagonist that surprised you?
I was shocked and horrified at just how little history has remembered about this woman, Victorine Meurent, who was much more than a model. She was also an accomplished artist whose work was accepted by the Paris Salon on six different occasions, but all we remember her for (if we remember her at all) is as the model who posed nude for Édouard Manet in the mid 1800s.
Did you get personally attached to your protagonist, a historical character, and do you think you would be friends with her in real life?
I did get extremely attached to her, and I feel possessive of her: when others write about her, I feel indignant—she’s mine. But we’re very different people, and so in real life, would we like one another? I think I’d admire her moxy, but I’m not sure we’d run in the same circles. I’d probably admire her from afar. I’d like to think she would be happy with my portrayal of her. Maybe that would make her friendly toward me. I hope it would.
Which do you like better, writing or revising? Why?
I love writing, but revising is where the magic happens. Massaging the words, bringing forward beautiful language along with story, that’s what I love best. It’s a dance all its own.
How much and what kind of research did you do for your book?
I was privileged to go to Paris to research my book briefly, which was thrilling, of course. Standing in front of paintings of Victorine tied me to her in a way I can’t begin to describe. I did an extremely deep dive on the internet, of course, with the wonderful skills of my husband. I read many books, although there weren’t really any about her. The stories around her, the stories of the males who are remembered, helped me figure out who she was. How I wish we knew more about her, but I did my best.
What themes does your novel cover?
Loyalty, art vs. love, men vs woman, being true to yourself vs taking care of others. But art permeates the novel. Victorine sees it as the most important thing in the world and battles when things or people try to distract her from it. It colors every relationship she has. Art never lets her down.
What have learned about the marketing, promotion and publishing aspect of writing that surprised you or has been the most challenging?
While I already knew that marketing my book was going to fall largely on me (as it does all authors nowadays, whether at a small press or large), I was unprepared for how much I’d enjoy reaching out and seeing others as excited by learning about Victorine Meurent as much as I was. And if you want people to get to know your book, you have to keep at it. Promoting a book is worthwhile, but you have to be prepared for how time consuming it is.
Did you achieve your purpose for writing Victorine?
With each interview I come a step closer. Every time someone else has heard about her art, I feel I’m getting there. While I had a wonderful time writing the book, I will just be happy if people learn her name and what she did. If they see her paintings, thought lost for so long, I’ll feel I was successful.
What’s next for you?
My second novel, Briscoe Chambers’ Southern Fried Woolf, is forthcoming in June of this year. It combines two very different things—a graduate student who is the manager of her country music star husband while studying the writing of Virginia Woolf. I hope to get people excited about Woolf’s To the Lighthouse while putting it beside something so dissimilar, country music. It creates a nice tension, I think.
In the meantime, I’m working on a third novel. It’s so new I’m not sure I want to say a whole lot about it yet, although it does put a modern twist on an author’s biography.
FB: The Painted Word Salon
Fleur-de-Lis Press: https://www.louisvillereview.org/books/