Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rodin's Lover

Title:  Rodin's Lover
Author:  Heather Webb
Publication Information:  Plume. 2015. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0142181757 / 978-0142181751

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Camille dropped to her knees in the mud."

Favorite Quote:  "The truth always pushed its way from her gut and up her throat to spill out in the open. To her chagrin, few appreciated it."

In a letter to a fellow artist, Camille Claudel once wrote, “The events of my life would fill more than a novel. It would take an epic, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and a Homer to tell my story. I won't recount it today, I don't want to sadden you. I have fallen into an abyss. I live in a world so curious, so strange. Of the dream that was my life, this is the nightmare.” (quote found on the Musée Rodin website)

Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb is a well researched but fictionalized account of the life of Camille Claudel - her life, her attempt to be a sculptor in an art world dominated exclusively by men, and her relationship with sculptor Auguste Rodin. 

Several books I have read over the past couple of years present a fictionalized account of an actual relationship - Vanessa and Her Sister, Madame Picasso, Mrs. Hemingway, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, I Always Loved You, Mrs. Poe, and The Paris Wife. Each book shares the idea of depicting both a relationship and a time in history. They all do so with a varying degree of success and a shifting balance between the history and the individual story. Rodin's Lover is very much focused on Camille Claudel and her relationship with Auguste Rodin. The biggest aspect of the world to enter into this story is the fact that Camille was a sculptor at a time when it was considered an improper activity for a young woman. Most of her family did not approve, and most people she met did not recognize her to be a talented artist. Much of her acclaim unfortunately came much too late for her.

Camille met Rodin when he became her art tutor upon the request of one of his friends. He recognized her talent; she appreciated his. Despite the almost 25 year differences in their ages, they fell in love. Unfortunately, Rodin was involved in a long term relationship with Rose, who was also the mother of his son. For many, many reasons, Rodin would not leave Rose. The tumultuous relationship between Camille and Rodin lasted for many years.

Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin were also significant influences on each other works. The work of each includes studies of the other. Camille also worked as Rodin's student and assistant for a while, with pieces that reflect work by both. Certain works of each also depict their complicated relationship. In fact, one interpretation of Camille's sculpture The Age of Maturity is that it is autobiographical depicting Camille's anguish and the fact that Rodin would never leave Rose.

It is difficult to discuss this book without revealing what eventually happened to Camille. I was familiar with her history prior to reading this book. So, the experience of the book is a different one that if I had no knowledge. Throughout the book, many events and signs indicate Camille's troubles. Knowing what was coming accentuates the buildup. However, what happens is no less shocking and no less tragic for having that knowledge. The author does a beautiful job of injecting the emotions into a set of facts.

Upon finishing the book, I did some research of my own. This book is not the first one to depict Camille Claudel's life. Her life and work have been celebrated before in a play, a movie, an operatic piece, and books. Unfortunately, she and her life had the dramatic elements that lend themselves to description - the true story is so striking that little embellishment is necessary. This book tells the story beautifully.

Perhaps, the greatest testament to Camille and Rodin's love is the fact that the Musée Rodin in Paris holds the largest collection in the world of Camille Claudel's works. Their works lives side by side and they never could in life.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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