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Anne Rivers Siddons, Novelist Whose Muse Was the New South, Dies at 83

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Anne Rivers Siddons, whose popular novels, set largely in the South, took female characters on emotional journeys that touched on the region’s racial and social attitudes, died on Wednesday at her home in Charleston, S.C. She was 83.

Her stepson David Siddons said the cause was lung cancer.

Ms. Siddons had been an advertising copywriter and a magazine writer when she started writing novels in the 1970s. Her breakthrough, “Peachtree Road” (1988), was a generational saga about Atlanta’s evolution since World War II told through the stories of two cousins.

She was urged by her friend, the writer Pat Conroy, to write a major novel that would reflect her ambivalence about Atlanta, her adopted home. She had long admired its vigor but felt that its relentless growth had gone too far.

“As Ms. Siddons offered argument after argument about why she couldn’t do the book,” The Atlanta Journal and Constitution wrote in 1988, “she mentioned that a woman friend of hers had just died. ‘The South killed her the day she was born; it just took her that long to die.’”

Hearing that, Mr. Conroy told her, “That’s the opening of your great book about Atlanta.”

It was, indeed the first line of the prologue in “Peachtree Road,” in which she replaced “she” with the name of one of her lead characters, Lucy Bondurant Chastain Venable.

“Peachtree Road” invited comparisons to “Gone With the Wind,” an earlier sweeping novel with Atlanta as its backdrop. In his review in The Journal and Constitution, Bob Summer wrote that Ms. Siddons had evoked the city as well as Margaret Mitchell had.

He added, “Ms. Siddons skillfully weaves bright threads of humor, nuance and an exacting observation of the social mores of the times she is writing about; surely she is the Jane Austen of modern Atlanta.”

ImageCreditHarperCollins

Ms. Siddons defined herself as a storyteller, like Mr. Conroy, and resisted being categorized as a women’s writer. Still, her understanding of women’s struggles imbued all her novels, up through her final one, “The Girls of August” (2014), about a group of longtime friends whose annual ritual of oceanfront gatherings is interrupted when one of them dies.

“All my books are about women taking journeys they might not want to take,” she told an interviewer in 2008. “It’s about finding wholeness. I know so few families anymore, and how can we have whole families if we don’t have whole women?”

Sybil Anne Rivers was born on Jan 9, 1936, in Fairburn, Ga., a small town about 20 miles southwest of Atlanta. Her father, Marvin, was a patent lawyer, and her mother, Katherine (Kitchen) Rivers, was the secretary to a high school principal.

She was a young Southern belle: a cheerleader and homecoming queen in high school and a popular sorority sister at Auburn University in Alabama. But in 1957, early in the civil rights movement, she broke with custom by writing two columns for the school newspaper supporting integration.

“What we are advocating when we gather in howling mobs like animals and throw stones and wreck automobiles and beat helpless individuals is wrong, and I don’t care from which of the myriad angles you choose to look at it,” she wrote.

She was fired after the second column was published.

(In 2013, Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts named Ms. Siddons the first winner of its Women’s Leadership Institute Lifetime Achievement Award.)

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, she moved to Atlanta, where she worked in advertising and as a writer and editor at Atlanta magazine.

“I saw that my writing was a gift and not just a twitch,” she told People magazine in 1991.

Essays and humor pieces that she had written for Atlanta, House Beautiful and Georgia magazines were collected in her first book, “John Chancellor Makes Me Cry” (1975).

Her first novel, “Heartbreak Hotel,” followed a year later. Inspired by her experiences on the school paper at Auburn, it tells the story of a similar act of defiance by a popular sorority sister on the campus of fictional Randolph University in Alabama.

“That book spoke to me,” the novelist Cassandra King, Mr. Conroy’s wife, said by phone. “I thought this was a woman of my generation who had had the courage to do what she had done at Auburn. She really stuck her neck out and took risks.”

ImageCreditGallery Books

“Heartbreak Hotel” was made into a movie, “Heart of Dixie” (1989), starring Ally Sheedy, Virginia Madsen and Phoebe Cates and directed by Martin Davidson.

Ms. Siddons’s writing career was derailed in the early 1980s by severe depression. She didn’t write for three years, but after being prescribed medication and working with a therapist, she returned with “Homeplace” (1987).

“If I couldn’t write, it would have killed me,” she told BookPage, a book review publication, in 1998.

In all, she wrote 15 more novels, many of which made The New York Times’s best-seller list.

Jamie Raab, who as the president of Grand Central Publishing edited Ms. Siddons’s last three books, said that she created characters that resonated deeply with her readers.

“When we met, we started talking about her characters like they were personal friends of ours,” Ms. Raab, now the president of Celadon Books, said by phone. “That’s how we bonded.”

Ms. Siddons had thought of an idea for a new novel — about the friendship between a white girl and black girl at the time of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marches in 1965 — before she died, David Siddons said.

In addition to him, Ms. Siddons, who had homes in Charleston and in Brooklin, Me., is survived by three other stepsons, Kem, Rick and Lee Siddons, and three step-grandchildren. Her husband Heyward Siddons, died in 2014.

Ms. Siddons came to understand that her desire to write was a reaction to her traditional upbringing.

“The South is hard on women,” she told People, “partly because of the emphasis on looks and charm. No matter what I did, I always ended up with this hollow feeling. It finally hit me.

“That’s why I wrote: I am writing about the journey we take to find out what lives in that hole.”

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Editorial

Annette Kolodny, Feminist Critic and Scholar, Dies at 78

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“Her interest in Native Americans arose with her interest in ecofeminism, because they both dealt with issues of cultural and economic appropriation,” Adele Barker, a friend and former professor who worked with Dr. Kolodny in cultural studies at the University of Arizona, said in an interview.

She added, “The issues that lay at the heart of feminism, issues of power and oppression, lay at the heart of all her work.”

Annette Kolodny was born on Aug. 21, 1941, on Governors Island in New York Harbor, where her father, David Kolodny, a dentist, was stationed while in the Army. Her mother, Esther (Rifkin) Kolodny, was a public-school teacher.

Annette grew up in Brooklyn and attended Brooklyn College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1962. She went to work as a low-level employee for Newsweek magazine’s international editions, but, like many women there, she was frustrated.

“Women were not being promoted,” Mr. Peters said, “and she didn’t see a way to go higher.”

She left after a year and studied English and American literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her doctorate in 1969.

Her first job after that was teaching at Yale, where she met Mr. Peters, a senior in her class on the contemporary American novel; they were married in 1970. In addition to him, she is survived by her sisters, Nancy Weiner and Edie Kolodny-Nagy.

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Editorial

A Paris Theater Reopens, With Acrobats and Stunts

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PARIS — You might call it a French welcome. On the day the venerable Théâtre du Châtelet was scheduled to reopen after a two-and-a-half-year renovation, Paris’s public transportation system was paralyzed by a strike. The much-hyped street procession to celebrate the venue’s makeover attracted only a thin crowd; inside the auditorium for the first stage performance, there were even some empty seats.

The Châtelet’s new artistic director, Ruth Mackenzie, looked unfazed when she came onstage at the end of the evening. If her goal was to entertain the attendees, she had every reason to be satisfied: “Parade,” the opening show, which encompassed outdoor and indoor performances, was big, inclusive and crowd-pleasing. On the other hand, those looking for a more fully articulated statement of artistic intent for a great Paris theater were probably disappointed.

What the new team delivered was, well, mainly a cheerful parade.

Perhaps it was unfair to expect more. Who doesn’t like oversize marionettes? Who doesn’t feel a thrill at gravity-defying acrobatics? “Parade,” directed by Martin Duncan, kept the feel-good performances coming over the course of the evening, which was divided into three parts: The outdoor festivities, led by the Marionetas Gigantes puppet company from Mozambique, were followed by a series of free installations around the Châtelet’s public spaces. Then came the main-stage performance, open only to ticket holders.

The program was loosely inspired by a famous circus-themed ballet that had its premiere at the Châtelet in 1917: “Parade,” choreographed by Léonide Massine for the Ballets Russes. References to Massine’s legendary creative partners — Jean Cocteau, Eric Satie and Pablo Picasso — abounded in this reboot. The opening procession was led by an animated “Cocteau Machine,” designed by Francis O’Connor, which looked like a three-dimensional Cocteau drawing mounted on a bicycle. Picasso’s stage curtain for the ballet, which shows circus artists enjoying a meal, also appeared in a video projection onstage.

The composer got the finest tribute, however. “Satie’s World,” the series of installations peppered throughout the theater, gave Parisians a delightfully surreal reintroduction to a much-loved venue. In the Grand Foyer, a stack of piled pianos nearly reached the ceiling, and mermaids sang as a pianist played a selection of Satie pieces. In the Diaghilev Salon, a room off the foyer, an actor playing Sergei Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes impresario, popped up for a chat in bed with his musical collaborator. Up on the theater’s grand terrace, clowns peeled potatoes for an all-white dinner, since the eccentric Satie ate only white food.

In the 1917 “Parade,” the street entertainers end up giving away all their best tricks in a bid to attract paying customers. Similarly, this modern reimagining didn’t reward those who stayed for the stage performance, an uneven, trick-heavy collage featuring mostly circus acts. Marionetas Gigantes’ puppets briefly re-emerged, followed by a segment credited to the French circus artist Stéphane Ricordel and the production company Boîte Noire and then by Streb Extreme Action, an American ensemble known for its daring physical feats.

Of the two, Mr. Ricordel’s contribution proved to be the more theatrical performance, its aerial work vividly complemented by DakhaBrakha, a Ukrainian musical quartet weaving together folk and punk influences. Tatiana Mosio Bongonga, a tightrope walker, and Alexandra Royer, seen flipping on a narrow plank and spinning on an aerial hoop, both let the music color the mood and rhythm of their performances.

Streb Extreme Action never quite achieved the same artistic spell. Their stunts are undeniably jaw-dropping — or stomach-churning, in the case of the performers rotating around a high metal pipe like a propeller, somehow held only by the soles of their heavy boots.

Still, while the company is trained in modern dance, its daredevil appeal has little to do with the Châtelet’s musical and choreographic legacy. France already has a thriving circus scene elsewhere.

In Streb’s final scene, pairs of performers tied by ropes took turns climbing a wall and performing aerial figures, acting as counterweights for each other. As dance, the back-and-forth was often visually clumsy and lacking in coordination. A French choreographer, Mourad Merzouki, taught the exact same technique to hip-hop dancers last year for “Vertikal,” a work that was seen at the Lyon Dance Biennial. He spun much more poetry out of it.

Similarly, while Marionetas Gigantes’ puppets fulfilled their purpose, the level of sophistication achieved by the French company Royal de Luxe, with their supremely well-articulated giants, is the gold standard in the country.

Ms. Mackenzie’s outlook is a global one, however, and in many ways that’s a welcome change of pace for a French national institution. Her vision is also strong on community engagement, with local amateurs involved in “Parade.” France has long valued artistic goals over outreach, and it will be fascinating to see what role the Châtelet plays on the national arts scene under her leadership.

Another recently reopened theater, La Scala Paris, inaugurated its season with more conventional fare: a new production of Brecht’s “Life of Galileo” by Claudia Stavisky. It serves as a star vehicle for an exceptional stage actor, Philippe Torreton, but he isn’t the only Galileo in town. In June, Eric Ruf staged an ornate version of the same play at the Comédie-Française, which will return at the end of this month.

The duplication doesn’t feel merely like a coincidence. The central conflicts in “Life of Galileo” — between science and religion, moral responsibility and personal comfort — speak to our moment. In the 17th-century astronomer, Brecht created a hero and an antihero at once. The character’s willingness to compromise and lie, whether to further his work or for fear of torture when the Catholic Church deems his theories unacceptable, is a reminder that factual evidence doesn’t always win the day.

Not that it makes the play an easy sell: Many scenes are static and heavy on dry scientific debate. Mr. Ruf’s production struggled to inject life into the proceedings, despite strong performances. The sumptuous sets and costumes by Christian Lacroix often felt like the raison d’être of the evening rather than a bonus. The most arresting scene had the pope being robed ever so slowly by assistants, each element of his costume exquisite in its own right, in a visual demonstration of power dressing.

Ms. Stavisky’s “Life of Galileo” looks pared down by comparison. Its simpler costumes and high walls, with faint light streaming through narrow slits, clear the way for a serious, insightful production, with nothing extraneous in Mr. Torreton’s performance.

From the beginning, when he undresses wearily after a long night of work and dunks his face in water for an uncomfortably long time, to his final encounter with a disgruntled former assistant, Mr. Torreton inhabits the role with focused simplicity. His character can’t see past his excesses — until it’s too late.

“Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes,” the elderly astronomer says shortly before the curtain falls — words that linger in the mind far longer than any stunts.

Parade. Directed by Martin Duncan. Théâtre du Châtelet.
La Vie de Galilée. Directed by Claudia Stavisky. La Scala Paris, through Oct. 9.
La Vie de Galilée. Directed by Eric Ruf. Comédie-Française, from Sept. 30 to Jan. 19.

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Editorial

Has Banksy Monkeyed Around With His Parliament of Chimps?

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LONDON — When Banksy’s painting “Question Time,” a satirical scene of chimps earnestly debating in the oak-paneled gloom of the British Parliament, appeared in an exhibition of the street artist’s work at the Bristol Museum in 2009, it became an instant hit. More than 300,000 visitors attended the show, some of them lining up for seven hours to get in.

Just in time for Brexit, Sotheby’s has announced the painting will be auctioned in London on Oct. 3. Banksy experts regard the work, which is 14 feet wide, as the finest Banksy painting ever to appear at auction, and Sotheby’s estimates it will sell for 1.5 million to 2 million pounds, between $1.9 million and $2.5 million. That would be a salesroom high for the artist.

But keen-eyed Banksy aficionados have noticed unmistakable differences between the painting exhibited in 2009 and the one now for sale.

Once, the parliamentary chamber was brightly lit by two large hanging lamps. The lamps have now disappeared, giving a darker tonality to the painting.

There are other changes, too. In the left foreground of the work Sotheby’s is selling, for instance, a seated chimp on the front bench holds a banana curved downward; in the 2009 version the banana is turned up. Nearby, a piece of decorative carving is a significantly different shape and size in the two versions.

Sotheby’s online catalog description said that the painting was signed and dated 2009 and was the work that had appeared in the Bristol exhibition, and that the current owner had bought it from Banksy in 2011. The description did not make any mention of the differences, though it did say the work had a new title, “Devolved Parliament.”

The auction house acknowledged the differences on Wednesday after being asked about them by The New York Times. Sotheby’s said it was the same painting, but modified by Banksy since its original showing. The auction house added that it had been aware of the changes, but did not explain why they had not been mentioned in the catalog.

“This work was first created in 2009,” Sotheby’s said in a statement. “When, that same year, it was first exhibited at the Bristol Museum, it carried the title ‘Question Time.’ Since then, the painting has been reworked by the artist and more recently retitled,” the statement said.

Certification by Pest Control, the artist’s authentication bureau, assured Sotheby’s and its clients that the painting offered for auction was the same one exhibited at the Bristol Museum in 2009, and that there were no other versions of this work, according to the statement.

But will Sotheby’s statement reassure potential buyers and their advisers?

“My clients need to be satisfied that a work is unique and that there are no other versions. It needs to be clarified,” said Acoris Andipa, a London dealer who specializes in Banksy paintings and prints.

“Ultimately this is about due diligence. If a question arises about a painting, nine times out of 10, there’s a reasonable explanation, but it still always has to be explored,” he said. He added he would only be convinced the painting was unique if he could examine the canvas himself using an ultraviolet light that would show up any reworkings.

When “Devolved Parliament” was displayed on loan in Bristol earlier this year, the museum made no mention of it being different from the painting it showed in 2009.

“This is not something that we are responding to, as we have no involvement in the matter,” said David Paull, a senior public relations officer at Bristol City Council, which oversees the museum, in an email.

Also left unexplained is why Banksy would choose to alter the painting, and, if he did, when he did it. Huw Lougher, a dealer in contemporary prints, based in Bristol, who has been collecting Banksy works since 2006, said in an interview that the two-year gap between the 2009 exhibition and its acquisition by the present owner might explain the timing.

Did Banksy perhaps believe the original image had too bright an outlook on the state of British politics? Is that why the lights are now off and the telltale banana now curves down?

And was this all part of some stunt — much like the one last October at Sotheby’s, when one of his paintings sensationally shredded itself, after selling for $1.4 million?

“Banksy is a genius at playing the game, a genius at marketing,” Mr. Lougher said. “He’s built his career around publicity.”

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