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The Velvet Hours    by Alyson Richman order for
Velvet Hours
by Alyson Richman
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2016 (2016)
Softcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Growing up in Paris in the late nineteenth century Matilde Beaugiron watched her mother laboring over a washtub trying to make ends meet and determined that she would make a better life for herself somehow. She became an accomplished seamstress, but when a friend told her about an upcoming audition for chorus girls at an upscale theater, she tried out and was amazed when she was hired. She had told her friend that she wasn't much of a dancer or singer, but she was beautiful, and she would be making much more money as a chorus girl than she could make as a seamstress.

When a handsome man sent her orchids after a performance, she began a liaison with him, and fell in love. Charles took her to Venice and renamed her Marthe de Florian. When they returned to Paris he bought her an apartment and began paying a monthly allowance which was generous enough for her to hire a maid. Charles bought many beautiful gifts for Marthe and furnished the apartment sumptuously. She no longer danced and was happy to devote her life to Charles.

While still working as a seamstress, Marthe had become pregnant. The man responsible would not marry her, and she lost her job after she started to show. She luckily had a good friend, Louise who was married, couldn't have children, and offered to adopt the baby. It was after she gave up the baby and regained her figure that Marthe found the job that led her to Charles. Louise wrote letters to Marthe about her son and promised to tell him about her when he turned eighteen.

When Henri Beaugiron came to meet Marthe, he was cold to her and never forgave her for giving him away. But he introduced his teenage daughter Solange to her after his wife died, and the two women became close. Later, when Henri was conscripted into the French army at the beginning of World War II, and was worried about the eighteen-year-old Solange living alone, Marthe welcomed her into her home.

Alyson Richman was inspired to write The Velvet Hours when she learned of a mysterious apartment that was discovered in Paris in 2010 that had been closed up for nearly seventy years. The maintenance for the apartment was paid for by the owner's granddaughter but apparently never visited by her. Upon her death, her heirs learned they had inherited an apartment in Paris that they had not known existed. It was full of opulent Belle Époque-era furniture, rare Chinese porcelains and a valuable portrait of the young Marthe which was painted by a nineteenth-century portraitist, Giovanni Baldini.

Richman expanded on what she was able to learn about the real Marthe and Solange, turning it into this novel. The story goes back and forth between Solange and Marthe, and is an interesting account of Marthe's life in the nineteenth century as well as Solange's different circumstances just prior to World War II.

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