Davida by Karen Ingalls is a beautifully written love story based on the real-life model and mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a 19th century sculptor. As a young girl, Albertina Hultgren immigrates to the United States after the tragic death of her father, a woodsman. She misses her father’s fanciful stories about visiting the forests to gain insight from mystical creatures.
After adjusting to her new life in Hoboken, New Jersey, Albertina makes life-long friends and learns to speak English. At a Christmas party, where her mother and aunt have prepared the meal, she captures the attention of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He impetuously lifts her chin and exclaims she has exquisite beauty and would like to do a sketch of her someday. Her mother reluctantly allows Albertina to pose in his studio after he convinces her that his intentions are honorable. As he creates his art, using Albertina as a model who is publicly known as Davida, they fall deeply in love and she becomes his mistress. She accepts the terms of their relationship, knowing the liaison could create a scandal that could jeopardize his career in a Victorian society. This is ultimately a love story about a woman who gives her unconditional devotion to an acclaimed sculptor and shares his passion for his artwork, regardless of her hardships and the stigma of giving birth to their son out of wedlock.
Author Ingalls’ prose is as eloquent as the artistry she projects in the story. Davida is depicted as the epitome of the Greek goddess, Diana, who finds solace and strength from nature to reach into her inner soul and to find her true self. The love story comes across as almost mythical because Davida sacrifices almost everything to make sure Augustus achieves the pinnacle of his true passion to create masterpieces. Davida is a heartfelt story that fills you with both joy and tears. The paperback is beautifully formatted and reflects the artistry in the story.
For those who believe in true love, Davida is a must read by Karen Ingalls, the only surviving great-grandchild from the union of Davida and Augustus. She fills in the minimal facts about their union with her own imagination of how a Swedish immigrant becomes the true love and mistress of an acclaimed artist.