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by Heather Webb
Release date: January 27, 2015
historical fiction/ women’s fiction
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Life has never been easy for an artist. All the more so if the artist lived in the 19th century and the artist was a woman. Rodin’s Lover captures the journey of the remarkable French scupltor Camille Claudel, both Rodin’s student and lover. I devoured this book in no time, actually just like Heather ‘s Webb first novel, Becoming Josephine.
I really liked how the author divided the book: in three periods, each presented with the name and picture of one of Camille’s famous sculptures that fit perfectly.
A poet with stone. p.156
Let’s not beat around the bush: Camille basically lived almost a century too early: she can’t fit in the society of her time with its thoughts and rules about women, and especially about women artists. Even if her talents are originally supported by her father and her young brother Paul, she has to bear an extra burden with the lack of tenderness and even the dislike of her mother, angry that she lost a baby boy and not that girl.
And of course, her mother is a proper lady of her time, so all she wants for Camille is a good husband, hence the parade of suitors inflicted on our young rebellious woman who is not afraid to speak her thoughts aloud, creating “scandals”. And we have to admit, already as a teen, she has quite a temper, which will evolve along the years into full-blown anger.
To help her develop her art, her father decides to move the family to Paris. That’s where Camille will daringly share a studio with two other female artists, and eventually have her own and share one with her tutor, master sculptor Rodin.
Rodin is twenty four years older than her and he still lives with the mother of his teenage boy, but they will share more than the love of art together.
It is fascinating how Webb describes their relationship, with co-influence in art and a vast mix of feelings going on between them. Early on, something is nagging at Camille about Rodin and she thinks hearing an inner “voice” warning her about him, ” a lady’s man”.
This voice is one element making their relationship quite complex. Indeed, even though we don’t have explicit testimonies about this, Heather decided to use this voice and other similar symptoms to illustrate deftly Camille’s slow demise into mental illness. It is so well evoked in this novel, slow but relentless. And alcohol for sure does not help…
They had both striven to capture love’s essence in marble and clay, to shape it and perfect it. To leave a mark of beauty on the soul of humanity. p.302
There are fascinating details on art, on how they chose models (not much different from choosing slaves on the market place actually) and on sculpture of course, for instance on bronze casting, on how you work with clay, marble or alabaster for instance.
I really enjoyed seeing Camille’s works and also many Rodin’s works come to life, from commission to awards. If you are not familiar with them, I highly suggest you take time to look at them on the internet as you run into them in the book.
And there are lots of other things to love in this book:
- I mentioned earlier on Camille’s young brother Paul. Paul Claudel became a very famous poet and dramatist. It was neat seeing here the beginning of his career and his first awards, as well as his discovery of the Christian faith that so inspired his work.
- We meet of course lots of other artists of the time: Jessie Lipcomb, another woman sculptor very close to Camille, Claude Monet, Victor Hugo (and his own temper!), Emile Zola, Claude Debussy, among others.
- And in the background, you have the beginning of the work on the Eiffel Tower, the Exposition Universelle, and the Affaire Dreyfus.
- And oh, the title may be more complex than you think…
Incidentally, for thirteenth years I lived just fifteenth miles away from Camille’s birthplace.
VERDICT: Rodin’s Lover is simply a masterful page-turner on French sculptor Camille Claudel, her time, her work, and her complex relationship with Rodin. Art, love, and madness beautifully cast together in Paris Belle Époque.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France
As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.
Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.
“Dazzling!….. In Rodin’s Lover, author Heather Webb brings to life, with vivid detail, the story of brilliant and tormented sculptress Camille Claudel and the epic love affair with the legendary sculptor who worshiped her. Deeply moving and meticulously researched, this book will capture your heart, then hold it tightly long after the final page.” –Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso
“A rich, sensuous novel…[was] written with great empathy for the very human Rodin and his lover, this novel of the visceral world of the 19th century Paris ateliers, of clay-stained dresses and fingernails, lithe models who vow to remain and then go, family love which stays through all difficulties and talent which endures, comes vividly to life.” –-Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE
and RODIN’S LOVER published by Plume/Penguin,
a freelance editor, and blogger.
You may also find her contributing to award-winning writing sites
including WriterUnboxed and RomanceUniversity.org.
When not writing,
Heather flexes her foodie skills
and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.
Subscribe to her newsletter.
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