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Shields, Jody 1952–

Shields, Jody 1952–

PERSONAL:

Born 1952. Education: Graduated from University of Nebraska.

CAREER:

Journalist, artist, and author. Former design editor at New York Times Magazine; former editor at Vogue, House and Garden, and Details.

WRITINGS:

All That Glitters, photographs by Max Vadukul, Paul Lachenauer, and others, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1987.

Hats: A Stylish History and Collector's Guide, portraits by John Dugdale, photographs by Paul Lachenauer, Clarkson Potter (New York, NY), 1991.

The Fig Eater (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2000.

The Crimson Portrait (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2006.

Also author of two screenplays.

ADAPTATIONS:

Film rights to the The Fig Eater have been purchased by Miramax.

SIDELIGHTS:

Jody Shields's experience as a fashion editor is reflected in two of her histories, All That Glitters, about costume jewelry, and Hats: A Stylish History and Collector's Guide. She has also written The Fig Eater and The Crimson Portrait, novels set in earlier times and based on true stories.

In Hats, Shields notes the trends in women's hats that developed from the Roaring Twenties, through the Great Depression, during and after World War II, and into the 1950s. She concludes with the death of the hat by hair spray, which gave women the ability to shape and style their hair to make their fashion statements. Voice Literary Supplement reviewer Stacey D'Erasmo called Shields's history a "charming and erudite tour."

The Fig Eater, Shields's first novel, is based on the case of Dora, whose real name was Ida Bauer, a depressed girl of nearly eighteen when her father brought her to be treated by Sigmund Freud. Ida told Freud that her father was having an affair and that the woman's husband was making sexual advances toward Ida. Ida told her mother, but the man, when confronted, said Ida was lying. Ida's father sided with the man, and Ida perceived that he was offering her up in exchange for the wife. Freud suggested that Ida should have gone along with the arrangement and said that her problems stemmed from her repression of her love for her father and his lover, and the husband. Ida stopped treatment, and Freud wrote up the case history which has come under scrutiny ever since.

Booklist's Bill Ott described Shields as "an intelligent writer unafraid to take chances" and called her novel "a promising debut." A Kirkus Reviews writer called it a story "about murder, superstition, and bourgeois sexual intrigue." Set in 1910, The Fig Eater begins with the death of Dora, an affluent Viennese girl whose body is found in a park with human excrement nearby and fresh figs in her stomach. Erszebet, the wife of the unnamed inspector, is a Hungarian painter who, as a child, was exposed to gypsy superstitions, the occult, and tarot card reading. Parallel investigations are conducted—the traditional one by the inspector and the one undertaken by Erszebet and an English governess named Wally, who draw on gypsy traditions in seeking the truth. "A sprinkling of Hungarian legend and Gypsy lore adds another layer of color to Shields's evocation of the era," commented a writer for Publishers Weekly. Judith Shulevitz wrote in the New York Times Book Review that it is Erszebet "who realizes the significance—both real and metaphoric—of the figs found in Dora's stomach during the autopsy. They are symbols of her fatal brush with sexuality, as well as the best available physical link to her killer." Shulevitz noted that figures from the life of the real Dora are included in the story, including "her withdrawn and dirt-obsessed mother; her syphilitic father; his manipulative mistress, Frau Zellenka; the weaselly Herr Zellenka; her governess; her brother." Shulevitz pointed out that absent from this novel are psychoanalysts and Jews. "Shields's contribution," wrote Shulevitz, "is to transpose Dora's story into a pop genre, the thriller, and to give a cinematic immediacy to the sentiments that color the popular response to her today—anti-Freudianism, anti-Austrianism, and the desire to rehabilitate women's intuition."

Harper's Bazaar reviewer Melanie Rehak noted that Shields "paints a gorgeous portrait of turn-of-the-[twentieth]-century Vienna, complete with what were then cutting-edge technologies, such as flash photography, rudimentary fiber analyses, and a pneumatic mail system." Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times that "the novel is peppered with willfully perverse images: a thumb severed from Dora's corpse after she is buried, nude photos of a disfigured young woman (who may or may not be Dora) discovered in the files of a doctor who specializes in sexual dysfunction, the sinister movements of a servant whose nose has been eaten away by syphilis. Such developments are gratuitous as well, particularly because the details of the real Dora's life are so unsettling on their own." Kakutani concluded by saying that Shields "has managed to write a gripping psychological thriller while capturing the nervous mood of a city preoccupied, like one of its most famous residents, with sex and death." Library Journal contributor Margaret A. Smith called The Fig Eater "a masterpiece for all suspense collections."

Shield's second novel, The Crimson Portrait, is based on the true stories of Anna Coleman, an artist who created masks for disfigured soldiers, and Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian, a pioneering plastic surgeon. Set in 1915, the work concerns recently widowed Catherine Coleman, who allows her majestic English estate to be used as a military hospital for soldiers with severe facial wounds. The hospital is run by its gentle and thoughtful head surgeon, Dr. McCleary, who orders the removal of all mirrors and reflective surfaces before the patients arrive. McCleary takes a special interest in Julian, an irreparably damaged soldier with whom Catherine eventually falls in love, believing that the spirit of her late husband inhabits the young man. "Shields handles this with great delicacy, capturing the way Catherine hovers between admitting the truth and relishing her delusion," Ron Charles wrote in the Washington Post Book World. "It's a fascinating counterpoint to McCleary's faith in the recuperative power of the imagination." Alden Mudge in BookPage noted that Shields is "able to convey an astonishing amount of information about such things as the history of religious controversy surrounding plastic surgery, the mythological gardens of 18th-century English homes, the incredible properties of human skin, the moral and emotional impact of the human face, and, of course, the brutal horrors of war." Bette-Lee Fox, writing in the Library Journal, remarked that Shields "constructs a complex labyrinth of jealousy, addiction, passion, and regret." A critic for Publishers Weekly stated that the novel blends "dark mythical symbolism with matter-of-fact medical nitty-gritty to reveal what happens when class, ignorance, hopefulness and despair coalesce."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Americana, November, 1991, review of Hats: A Stylish History and Collector's Guide, p. 23.

Antiques & Collecting Hobbies, April, 1988, review of All That Glitters, p. 37.

Booklist, March 1, 2000, Bill Ott, review of The Fig Eater, p. 1199; November 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of The Crimson Portrait, p. 33.

Harper's Bazaar, May, 2000, Melanie Rehak, "Strange Fruit," p. 118.

Interview, March, 1997, Richard Pandiscio, "Ones to watch," p. 62.

Jewelers Circular Keystone, October, 1988, Samuel Beizer, review of All That Glitters, p. 150.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2000, review of The Fig Eater, p. 200; September 15, 2006, review of The Crimson Portrait, p. 927.

Library Journal, September 15, 1991, review of Hats, p. 54; March 1, 2000, Margaret A. Smith, review of The Fig Eater, p. 125; October 1, 2006, Bette-Lee Fox, review of The Crimson Portrait, p. 62.

New York Times, May 5, 2000, Michiko Kakutani, "Heart and Brain Clash in a Freudian Mystery Tale," p. B47.

New York Times Book Review, March 26, 2000, Judith Shulevitz, "Dora and Her Discontents," p. 11; January 7, 2007, Lauren Collins, "Faces of War," review of The Crimson Portrait.

Publishers Weekly, February 21, 2000, review of The Fig Eater, p. 66; September 18, 2006, review of The Crimson Portrait, p. 32.

Rapport, May, 1992, review of Hats, p. 65.

Spectator, October 14, 2000, Jessica Berry, review of The Fig Eater, p. 51.

Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1991, Stacey D'Erasmo, review of Hats, p. 7.

Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2000, Tom Nolan, "The Good Old Days … They Were Dangerous," p. A44.

Washington Post Book World, December 17, 2006, Ron Charles, "Saving Face," review of The Crimson Portrait, p. 6.

ONLINE

Blogcritics.org,http://blogcritics.org/ (February 15, 2007), Nancy Fontaine, review of The Crimson Portrait.

BookPage Online,http://www.bookpage.com/ (December, 2006), Alden Mudge, "Skin Deep: Jody Shields Peels Back the Layers of Identity."

In the News Online,http://www.inthenews.co.uk/ (January 16, 2007), Chine Mbubaegbu, review of The Crimson Portrait.

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