Anka Muhlstein was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1996 for her biography of Astolphe de Custine and has twice received the History Prize of the French Academy. Her most recent book is The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels.
 (December 2018)


Time Regained

Józef Czapski: Self-Portrait with Lightbulb, 1958. An exhibition of his illustrated diaries is on view at the National Museum’s Józef Czapski Pavilion, Kraków, until December 9, 2018.

Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Józef Czapski

by Eric Karpeles

Inhuman Land: Searching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941–1942

by Józef Czapski, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and with an introduction by Timothy Snyder
Eric Karpeles, a painter and an impassioned reader of Proust—he is the author of Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time (2008)—had never even heard of Józef Czapski until a friend sent him a slim volume in French, Proust contre la déchéance, which he has …

Painters and Writers: When Something New Happens

Samuel F.B. Morse: Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–1833
I have often wondered why nineteenth-century French novelists were quite literally obsessed with painters and painting, while in the 1700s Diderot was the only writer of his generation to take an interest in art criticism. What a striking contrast: not one major novelist of the 1800s failed to include a …

A Marvelous Writer in a Hopeless Situation

Irène Némirovsky with her mother, Fanny, before they fled Russia, circa 1916

The Némirovsky Question: The Life, Death, and Legacy of a Jewish Writer in Twentieth-Century France

by Susan Rubin Suleiman
In 2004, the Prix Renaudot, a major French literary award, went for the first time to a posthumous work, Suite Française. The author, Irène Némirovsky, had died at Auschwitz. Not only was she dead, she was virtually forgotten, but as a result of the prize the book’s popularity, both in …

Degas Invents a New World

Edgar Degas: Frieze of Dancers, oil on canvas, circa 1895

Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty

an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, March 26–July 24, 2016
Degas was a loner. He had always felt alone. Alone because of his character, alone because of his unyielding principles, alone because of his severe judgments. He exhibited with the Impressionists but he didn’t consider himself a member of the group, if for no other reason than that he violently rejected the very idea of painting outdoors. “If I were the government I would have a special brigade of gendarmes to keep an eye on the people who paint landscapes from nature,” he told the art dealer Ambroise Vollard.

A Most Successful Woman

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun: Self-Portrait, 1790

Vigée Le Brun

an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, February 15–May 15, 2016; and at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, June 10–Sepember 11, 2016.

“Mundus Muliebris”: Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, peintre de l’Ancien régime féminin [“Mundus Muliebris”: Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Female Painter of the Ancien Regime]

by Marc Fumaroli
It comes as something of a surprise that we have had to wait until 2015 for a comprehensive exhibition in France of the work of Madame Vigée Le Brun—perhaps the most gifted French portraitist of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, an artist who gave posterity the most enduring …

The Victory of Queen Margot

Marguerite of Valois as a child; portrait by François Clouet, circa 1561

The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite of Valois, and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom

by Nancy Goldstone
There are figures in French history who tower like monuments. Saint Louis, the Capetian king, a symbol of justice, Joan of Arc, warrior and martyr, and Henry IV, the great peacemaker, are three unmistakable paragons who personified a certain idea of French greatness. Oddly enough, Henry IV’s first wife, Marguerite …

Did Patrick Modiano Deserve It?

Patrick Modiano, Paris, 2007
This fog that envelops people and places explains a lack of depth and individuality in Modiano’s characters. The author, and therefore the reader, are left on the outside, giving rise to the feeling that one is always rereading the same book. This is doubtless the reason why Modiano, in spite of his remarkable talent, and a success that has never flagged in the past forty years, has not acquired the indisputable stature of very great novelists.

The Genius in Exile

Joseph Roth; portrait by Mies Blomsma, November 1938. Roth wrote at the bottom, ‘That’s really me: nasty, soused, but clever.’

The Hundred Days

by Joseph Roth, translated from the German by Richard Panchyk
Hitler was named Reich chancellor on January 30, 1933. The very same day, Joseph Roth boarded a train from Berlin to Paris, never again to set foot in Germany. Thus began his life as an exile.