Daily Diversion #259: Modigliani

My newest art treasure:

Second-hand Modigliani print

Second-hand Modigliani print

Writers in Art: Jean Cocteau by Amedeo Modigliani

Portrait of Jean Cocteau by Amedeo Modigliani, 1916

Portrait of Jean Cocteau by Amedeo Modigliani, 1916

“Mirrors should think longer before they reflect.”-Jean Cocteau

Happy 125th birthday!

A Year in Books/Days 228-229: Frontier Madam/Amedeo Modigliani

FRONTIER MADAM THE LIFE OF DELL BURKE, LADY OF LUSK

  • Title: Frontier Madam The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk
  • Author: June Willson Read
  • Year Published: 2008 (A Two Dot Book)
  • Year Purchased: 2012
  • Source: Half Price Books
  • About: I really wanted to like this book. It has elements that make it ideally suited to my weird tastes. The narrative focuses on an interesting period and place little discussed elsewhere, and the heroine is something else: strong, fearless, unconventional, and largely forgotten. All things that make my heart flutter with anticipation. If the whole was as good as any of the components were in life, it would be a great read. Instead, it is unsatisfactory. Not bad or shoddy, but oddly flat, simplistic and bloodless. Dell Burke was a girl from a solid working class background, with a loving family but few prospects. A tale as old as time, of course. She turned a pragmatic foray into prostitution into a decades-long career as a powerful, wealthy, fair, civic-minded madam in Wyoming. The contents of her life could probably fill several books. Unfortunately, the lady was something of an enigma. The material for an interesting, complex biography just isn’t there. What we are given is a civic history of Lusk, Wyoming filled with third and fourth hand anecdotes about its most notorious resident. Many of the brief stories are entertaining, but they add little to the flow and structure of the book. The passages of imagined dialogue, which are mercifully few, are stilted and unbelievable: a great idea poorly executed. The conjecture used to fill in the gaps between anecdotes and facts is boring and without colour. I wish I had bigger things, nicer things, to say about this book, but the story is paper-thin. The biographer tries hard. Hailing from the same part of Wyoming as her subject, she is genuinely connected to the legend of Dell Burke. It’s obvious that she is excited to share this remarkable woman with the rest of the world. Perhaps that is the problem: whilst the shell of the legend is intact, the substance of the real woman is long gone. There’s nothing left but a disjointed jumble of local in-jokes worn threadbare and a vague memory woven into the collective subconscious of the town’s residents. It’s no wonder that this book reads like a padded-out pamphlet for an annual town festival in Lusk. Continue reading