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The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre

The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre

A Novel

  • reading group guide
When the vision came, he was in the bathtub. So begins the madness of Louis Daguerre. In 1847, after a decade of using poisonous mercury vapors to cure his daguerreotype images, his mind is plagued by delusions. Believing the world will end within one year, Daguerre creates his "Doomsday List" -- ten items he must photograph before the final day. The list includes a portrait of Isobel Le Fournier, a woman he has always loved but not spoken to in half a century.

In this luminous debut novel, Dominic Smith reinvents the life of one of photography's founding fathers. Louis Daguerre's story is set against the backdrop of a Paris prone to bohemian excess and social unrest. Poets and dandies debate art and style in the cafés while students and rebels fill the garrets with revolutionary talk and gun smoke. It is here, amid this strange and beguiling setting, that Louis Daguerre sets off to capture his doomsday subjects.

Louis enlists the help of the womanizing poet Charles Baudelaire, known to the salon set as the "Prince of Clouds," and a jaded but beautiful prostitute named Pigeon. Together they scour the Paris underworld for images worthy of Daguerre's list. But Louis is also confronted by a chance to reunite with the only woman he's ever loved. Half a lifetime ago, Isobel Le Fournier kissed Louis Daguerre in a wine cave outside of Orléans. The result was a proposal, a rejection, and a misunderstanding that outlasted three kings and an emperor. Now, in the countdown to his apocalypse, Louis wants to understand why he has carried the memory of that kiss for so long.
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  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416551904 | 
  • February 2006
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre by Dominic Smith

INTRODUCTION
Paris, 1847. Louis Daguerre has achieved the height of fame for his invention of the daguerreotype, but his legacy has come at a great cost. He is falling deeper and deeper into delusions caused by repeated exposure to mercury, the key ingredient in capturing photographic images. Daguerre believes the world will end within a year and creates a "Doomsday List," ten things he must photograph before the final day -- including a portrait of Isobel Le Fournier, the woman he loved and lost nearly a half century ago. With the aid of colorful poet Charles Baudelaire and a beautiful prostitute named Pigeon, Daguerre sets out to locate his subjects and fulfill his quest.
The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre weaves together the strands of Daguerre's life: his youth in rural France, the ruined love that gave rise to artistic achievement, and the eventual unraveling of a prodigious mind. As Daguerre counts down the days to his apocalypse, he is caught between memory and reality. Ultimately, he must confront his haunting past if he is to finally win the heart of the only woman he has ever loved.

QUESTIONS & TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Item number 10 on Louis Daguerre's "Doomsday List" of images to photograph is Isobel Le Fournier. Why is it so important to Louis that he find Isobel before (as h see more

More Books from this Author

About the Author

Dominic Smith
Photo Credit: Stacy Sodolak Photography

Dominic Smith

Dominic Smith grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Austin, Texas. He holds an MFA in writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly.

His awards include the Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize, and the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize. In 2006, his debut novel The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre received the Steven Turner Prize for First Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Dominic serves on the fiction faculty in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and has taught recently at the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University. Find out more at www.dominicsmith.net.

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