IN THOSE ARMS (2004) was critically acclaimed in the GUARDIAN LITTLE DANCER AGED FOURTEEN was selected as A HUFFPOST "Fall 2018 Books We Can't Wait to Read", A SPECTATOR USA "Books of the Year 2018, One of ArtNet News' "Surprising, Macabre, and Illuminating Books for Art Lovers to Read Over the Holidays", WORLD LITERATURE TODAY Editor's Pick UK edition front cover illustration from an original woodcut by Jessica Jane Charleston
Camille Laurens's fiction and non-fiction has been published in France since the early 1990s. In 2000, she won the Prix Femina, one of France's most prestigious literary prizes, for the autofiction IN THOSE ARMS, which was published in the UK in 2004, and was translated into twelve languages. Her most recent novel, WHO YOU THINK I AM (2016), was adapted for the cinema in the eponymous film starring Juliette Binoche. In 2020, Laurens became a member of the Academie Goncourt. She lives in Paris.
'"Which counts for more, the painting or the model, art or nature?" Society has no interest in the living subject represented; to pose for a sculpture is to submit oneself entirely to the artist's gaze (...) The book adeptly evokes the "canvas of suffering" endured by Marie and her ilk in a world dominated by the male gaze.' - iNews '[E]rudite investigation into the story behind Degas's masterpiece...[Laurens] provides a glimpse into the art world of 19th-century Paris.' - Moira Hodgson, The Wall Street Journal 'An evocative tribute to a model, a man, and a moment. Sensitive, human, and profound, this vivid recreation of the sights, sounds, and smells of the nineteenth-century art world is underpinned by solid research, and written in a style that is assured and decisive.' - Catherine Hewitt, author of Renoir's Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon 'Laurens is one hell of a writer. Beyond the facts, she reconstructs an era, the harshness of which brings a lump to your throat.' - ELLE (France) 'Laurens' project is not simply a matter of adding another voice to the myriad artistic critiques of Degas' work.(...) Under the pen of an author intent on uncovering all there is to be known of Marie's life, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen develops into a curious form of investigative literature, exposing the unspoken moral failings of nineteenth-century culture in its search for Marie. The criticism throughout, if implicit, is certain.(...) Its status as a passion project, though, takes nothing away from the achievement of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Reverting to the author's own life in its closing moments, this book wills its reader to look beyond the surface, to discover the writer behind the writing, and the girl behind the sculpture.' - The Arts Desk 'Part historical account, part imagining and part love letter (...) Laurens' deeply felt, even obsessive connection to the sculpture (...) is outlined through connections to Laurens' children, love of dance, her Parisian grandmother, and to present-day dialogues around race, class and representation. This is a revised edition. The first, published in 2018, bore the subtitle The True Story Behind Degas's Masterpiece. It is right that this has been removed, for as Laurens is at pains to impart, little is truly known about Van Goethem. We think we know the work intimately but we don't, not really.' - Art Quarterly 'Laurens' book arrives at a cultural moment when the morality of the artist-subject relationship has landed under heightened scrutiny....Laurens' scholarship seeks to amend history's gendered bias, undoing the persistent myth that a woman's greatest accomplishment is inspiring a man's creative genius. Her objective is simple: Treat van Goethem as a human rather than a catalyst....With Little Dancer, Laurens broaches the persistent contemporary problem: What do we do with beloved artworks with unsavory origin stories? Don't look away, Laurens urges by example. On the contrary, dig deeper into the work itself and the people who collaborated to create it. It's tempting to project fantasy onto history, casting humans as geniuses or monsters, temptresses or victims. But art history isn't as simple as canceling bad actors and celebrating unsung heroes. Little Dancer pierces through Degas' rose-tinted reputation to depict an artist who is no hero and a subject who is no ghost.' -Priscilla Frank, Huffington Post 'The essence of late 19th century art: Famous man paints nameless woman, her body and image becoming a mantle upon which his notoriety hangs. Who were these women? Typically, no one cares. So it's refreshing to see an author like Camille Laurens who does.' - Claire Fallon, Huffington Post 'Good artists transform private obsession into something that can be shared: Nicholson Baker on John Updike, John McPhee on geology, Karl Ove Knausgaard on himself, or the French writer Camille Laurens on Edgar Degas, the (sort of) subject of her new book, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen....a strange hybrid of art history and art appreciation, a personal narrative that reads like a novel ...She has not solved a mystery (even if she turns up some interesting tidbits from various archives), but Laurens has done something more challenging: she's captured what it feels like to think. Her enthusiasm, the million little connections that she makes between the dancer, the artist, and her own life, subsume the reader. Laurens tells of reading an article on Degas by Martine Kahane, the head librarian of the Paris National Opera. Though the article is twenty years old, Laurens contacts her immediately, asking questions about Marie. A few weeks ago, I was seated at a dinner next to a woman, also a librarian; when the conversation turned to art, she mentioned that her great-aunt had been the first collector to bring a work by Claude Monet to the United States. That great aunt was Louisine Havemeyer, and, in 1903, she tried to buy Little Dancer from Degas. He rebuffed her. Reading this in Laurens's book, I was seized with a desire to contact her immediately, to share this clue ....Unanswered are the questions of what art is for, who Marie was, and even whether or not Laurens likes Degas. I take this as a measure of her success as a critic. Some questions can't be answered, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be asked.' - Rumaan Alam, The New Yorker 'Part exegesis, part history, largely speculation, the book insightfully examines themes of gender, class, power, and beauty, against the backdrop of Belle Epoque Paris. The third act examines the author's own project, with inconclusive but absorbing results.' - The New Yorker, Briefly Noted 'Little Dancer turns our modern gaze toward the intersections of the art world, the bourgeoisie, and those living in poverty in Paris two centuries ago, and challenges the reader to balance questions about the wealth divide, social justice, and what an artist's role is in articulating 'the weight of the real.' - World Literature Today, Editor's Pick 'A thought provoking, if sadly realistic, story....The surprise in the project is how well Laurens' intoxicating and contagious point of view comes across even through translation, for which Wood deserves a standing ovation.' - New York Journal of Book 'A fascinating look at the girl who inspired Degas's Little Dancer sculpture... part historical chronicle, part artfully discursive personal response and part imaginative close reading of the sculpture's past and present....the book is full of thought-provoking insights and revelations....Laurens herself arguably displays similar ambition in this book, which acknowledges cruel truths, displays critical virtuosity and stimulates thought with observations that can be both intriguing and unsettling.' - Cella Wren, The Washington Post "Familiar to millions but understood by few, Camille Laurens takes readers behind the curtain, sharing the story of the dancer who inspired Edgar Degas's famous sculpture.' -instyle.com, These Are the Books You Won't Be Able to Put Down in November 'Not many people today look at Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, Degas' iconic sculpture of a young girl in tutu and point shoes, and think "criminal." But in 1880s Paris, that is exactly what the critics saw. In this nonfiction work about the anonymous young woman who posed for the famous impressionist artist, French novelist Laurens  frankly explores "the louche world" of dance in nineteenth-century Paris, the exhausting and vulnerable job of the artist's model, and her own journey as an amateur researcher. In focusing on Degas' model, she spins a compelling and tragic tale of poverty, power, and the arts that raises questions about the artist's responsibility to his subject. Degas, Laurens argues, was fascinated not with the ravishing ballerina but with the laboring dancer, "the wearying work of rehearsals, the dancer's body bent and weighted down with effort." Degas' sculpture as well as his paintings of ballet dancers-or opera rats, as they were known-broke the rules of both polite society and academic art to powerful and lasting effect.' - Booklist, (starred review) 'Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is a particularly interesting kind of non-fiction. (...) the result is a piece that raises more questions than it answers, but in doing so shows how very contemporary the concerns of the work still are: the classism, prejudice, poverty and exploitation of women over a hundred years ago are uncannily close to our modern experience.' - Helen Vassalo 'The virtue of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is this accumulation of uncertainties as a moral prerequisite to looking. It is curious to me how we talk so much about 'engagement' in criticism when moralising tends so quickly to the opposite: to condemn the Little Dancer on feminist grounds, or to defend it with reference to the creation's autonomy vis-a-vis the creator are all ways, not of engaging, but of being done with the work of art itself. Laurens presents the evidence such judgments would rely on without confining herself to a definitive verdict, because her question is how we dwell with a work of art, how we must at once approach and step back from it to permit it to remain a permanent object of curiosity and wonder. In this way, she touches on one of the most significant problems for fiction: the imperative of understanding others while honouring that inner secrecy they always possess and we never will be able to grasp' - Adrian Nathan West, Review 31