I Always Loved You
“Paris is raining,” Mary Cassatt says at the beginning of Robin Oliveira’s second historical novel, revealing Cassatt’s fondness of thinking of the city as a character in her life. I Always Loved You inhabits the Paris of La Belle Époque, seen mostly through the third-person point of view of Cassatt, the American woman whose acceptance into the informal group that came to be known as the Impressionists marked a turning point in her career.
Oliveira’s premise concerns an emotional entanglement between Edgar Degas, remembered mostly for his unromantic, non-idealistic portrayals of ballet dancers, and Mary Cassatt, known for her representations of mothers and children in a similar style. Degas was a notoriously difficult and reclusive character, traits Oliveira explores in this novel. Mary Cassatt, the only American among the Impressionists, formed lifelong friendships with those artists while continuing to participate in exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic.
Oliveira’s representation of Degas and Cassatt’s relationship with each other as artists is fascinating, but the repeated occasions when Cassatt must forgive Degas for his insults becomes frustrating. Although the setting is evocative, the love story betrays the historic Cassatt’s sensibility as a supporter of women’s suffrage. Mary’s last visit with Degas and the last act of kindness she executes for him climax this novel and render the title ironic, or, at least, complex. If you are fascinated with Paris under the great artistic influences of Baron Haussmann and the Impressionists, you will enjoy this book.