. . .here he was, having come thousands of miles from France, across a whole ocean and half a continent, to be our guest. I rallied myself, and called to the children to welcome our dear cousin. . .

Ten years after Edgar Degas’ 1872 visit to New Orleans, a lost sketchbook surfaces. His Creole cousin Tell—who lost her sight as a young woman—listens as her former child-servant describes the drawings and reads Degas’ enigmatic words. The experience is both cryptic and revelatory, leading Tell to new understandings of her marriage, her difficult, brilliant cousin Edgar, her daughter Josephine, and herself.

A lyrical novel about what art can reveal, and a nuanced imagining of the familial, racial and financial forces on Edgar Degas and his work.

Advance praise

"Harriet Scott Chessman has once again invented an utterly beguiling story inspired by art. This time, in her novel inspired by a Degas sketchbook that may have once existed, she has given us a richly evocative and emotionally true portrait of Edgar Degas during his 1872 visit among his Creole cousins in New Orleans. With the clarity and simplicity of a piano sonata, THE LOST SKETCHBOOK OF EDGAR DEGAS is a novel about perception, enduring love, and the complex family legacy of a great artist."
Katharine Weber, author of The Music Lesson

"It's a brilliant notion, to imagine what might have happened when Edgar Degas visited his New Orleans family in 1872. In this novel, we see the artist through the eyes of his cousin Tell, and while Degas is seemingly at the periphery of her story of quietly contending with blindness and with a scapegrace husband, the connection between Edgar and Tell proves to be a profound and haunting one. Tell's story illuminates her tragic mistake and his: to assume one is meant to shoulder one's burdens in uncomplaining loneliness and so leave unspoken the words that might have meant a chance at happiness. Chessman's lyrical language, her authoritative take on an artist's process, and her deep compassion for her characters make this novel a compelling read."
Catherine Brady, author of The Mechanics of Falling

"A beautiful meditation on the interplay of art, time, and memory, that is itself a luminous portrait of a woman without vision who is just beginning to see."
Ann Packer, author of The Children's Crusade and Swim Back to Me

"Few writers would have the courage to tell a story of one of the most famous male visual artists of all time through a blind female narrator. Harriet Scott Chessman does it with simple grace in THE LOST SKETCHBOOK OF EDGAR DEGAS, delivering in Estelle Degas' engaging voice--and in astonishingly vivid detail--1880s New Orleans, the famous artist's lost sketchbook, and the challenges of marriage, family, and love. The result is deeply affecting, and compelling."
Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Race for Paris and The Wednesday Sisters

"In this mesmerizing novel, Harriet Chessman gives us intimate glimpses of a celebrated artist’s eloquently human landscape, saturated with the dense complexities of family life in 19th century New Orleans. This nuanced story of love lost and found, wrapped around the experience of seeing and being seen, is itself a masterful work of art."
Elizabeth Rosner, author of Electric City and Gravity

"Can a single day reveal a life? It can and it does, in Harriet Scott Chessman’s incandescent new novel. New Orleans in the winter of 1883 is described by Tell, Edgar Degas’s sightless sister-in-law, in language both dazzling and lush. Yet it is the discovery of a sketchbook lost by Edgar during his visit 10 years prior, that illuminates a family’s precarious architecture. An exquisite addition to Chessman’s previous novels."
Tracy Guzeman, author of The Gravity of Birds

"Harriet Chessman is a writer of exquisite warmth and delicacy, artful and wise. This is a beautiful and haunting novel."
Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen

"THE LOST SKETCHBOOK OF EDGAR DEGAS reveals what we see, what we refuse to see, and how beautiful and sad love is either way. Chessman brings us 19th-century New Orleans on one monumental day in which the discovery of a sketchbook leads to the reevaluation of a whole life. This novel is a profound delight from beginning to end."
Micah Perks, author of What Becomes Us and Pagan Time

“I read THE LOST SKETCHBOOK OF EDGAR DEGAS with deep admiration for Chessman’s empathetic powers. She inhabits this sumptuous world of New Orleans with grace and a kind of heightened sensual alertness, a mystery that unravels level by level as Tell, a fetching character, comes through the oblique sketchbook of her gifted cousin to an awareness of herself, her world, her family – a reality that has become ‘simply history’ in the best way: imaginatively conceived and assimilated. This is a lovely novel that I would recommend to anyone.”
Jay Parini, author of The Last Station

"There is heartbreak here and very few escape, but there also is enormous love. Chessman has invented a touching story within the page-turning notebook story. Both are beautiful."
Suzanne Levine, author of Grand Canyon Older Than Thought

Acclaim for Harriet Scott Chessman’s
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

”The Lost Sketchbook of Edgar Degas reveals what we see, what we refuse to see, and how beautiful and sad love is either way. Chessman brings us 19th century New Orleans on one monumental day in which the discovery of a sketchbook leads to the reevaluation of a whole life. This novel is a profound delight from beginning to end. ”

— Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue

”Beautifully captures the rich relationship between model and painter and between sisters.”

— Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl With a Pearl Earring

“Entrancing . . . heartbreaking . . . Makes [itself] felt long after one has finished the book.”

New York Newsday

“Chessman has allowed herself to inhabit another’s world with grace and humility.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Harriet Scott Chessman’s story . . . adds to our understanding of these paintings and to our understanding of the painter’s life. One feels the author’s magnifying glass over their lives, with its genteel distortions and the enormous eye of the writer.”

Los Angeles Times Book Review

March 1, 2017, R.J. Julia, Madison, CT
March 5, 2017, Why There Are Words, New York
March 9, 2017, Why There Are Words, Sausalito
March 13, 2017, Books, Inc., Palo Alto
March 15, 2017, Folio Books, San Francisco
March 16, 2017, Mrs. Dalloway's Literary and Garden Arts
March 26, 2017, The Concord Bookstore, Concord, MA
March 28, 2017, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA
April 1, 2017, Blue Umbrella Bookshop, Westfield, MA
April 2, 2017, Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT
April 4, 2017, Water Street Books, Williamstown, MA
April 8, 2017, Vermont Book Shop, Middlebury, VT
May 18, 2017, Guilford Library, Guilford, CT
May 21, 2017, Savoy Books, Westerly, RI

"through eloquent and sparse language...Chessman deftly plays with time, ellipses and recollection" - Elizabeth Block at the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

""...From the start, Tell came to me as an energetic, compassionate, engaging, vivid character. Her loss of sight -- which had happened gradually, in her 20s, and which was complete by the time Edgar visited New Orleans in 1872 -- came to me simply as part of her, something with which she lived and coped, yet not the center or the primary thing. "However, for Edgar, I imagined her loss of vision to be frightening, since he had the same condition in his own eyes (a blankness in the center that slowly increased), and he feared his coming blindness. "In another sense, Tell's true blindness became the heart of this story, in a way I couldn't have predicted at first: her blindness to her marriage, to her feelings about her cousin Edgar, and to herself. This was what I learned as I wrote..." - Harriet Scott Chessman in a Q&A with Deborah Kalb

"a perceptive book about the artistic expression of perception"
- Historical Novel Society

Stay tuned for more event news and reviews.

Harriet Scott Chessman is the author of the acclaimed novels The Beauty of Ordinary Things (2013), Someone Not Really Her Mother (a 2004 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book, and a Good Morning America Book Club Choice), Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper (2001), and Ohio Angels (1999). She is also the author of the libretto for My Lai, a contemporary operatic piece commissioned by Kronos Quartet in 2015. She has taught literature and creative writing at Yale University, Bread Loaf School of English, and Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program.

Harriet Scott Chessman
The Lost Sketchbook of Edgar Degas
165 pages
$14.00 paperback ISBN 9781944853136
$9.00 ebook

March 2017

I have been unpacking boxes in this new house all morning, hoping to comb through as many as I can. Soon Didi will come over to help. . .

"It was really the paintings that tipped me over into having the courage to start a novel about Edgar Degas in New Orleans."

copyright 2015 OP19 Books LLC