A few weeks ago I saw a link on Twitter to a new book entitled Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb. I immediately downloaded this book to my Kindle app and began reading, even though I was supposed to be reading a book to review. Of course this book was about Camille Claudel. Since my first trip to Paris, I have enjoyed viewing works by Ms. Claudel, chiefly at Musée Rodin. Rodin and Claudel’s story has always fascinated me. Not too long after that first visit to 79, rue de Varenne, I watched Camille Claudel starring Isabel Adjani and was even more intrigued. I now don’t remember too much about the film since I viewed it so long ago (1997), but was so happy an author of historical fiction decided to write about the artist forever in the shadow of Auguste Rodin.
My love of Musée Rodin is great. I have only missed stopping by on one of six trips to the City of Light. This small but most awesome museum was just around the block from the hotel I stayed on my first four trips to Paris. Arriving at Orly Sud airport and taking an Air France bus to a local terminal near the hotel, my teacher, friend, and tour guide pointed out The Thinker from the bus that you could just see over the wall of the grounds of the museum. I was already overwhelmed by seeing the Eiffel Tower from the plane and observing the city from the bus. So different. This first trip to Europe is one of my fondest memories. I knew little about sculpture and art at the time, but I did know The Thinker. I even knew about The Kiss (from watching All in the Family, if you remember that episode). I do think the highlight of the trip was visiting Musée Rodin after most of the other tour-goers had left, but one other student and I stayed on a day or two and we hung out with the professor. We spent hours at Musée Rodin and I became familiar with many of the great works of Rodin, as well as being introduced to Claudel’s work.
Rodin’s Lover was a book I devoured in a couple of days. I learned more about Claudel and her relationship with Rodin that I either forgot or never knew. I enjoyed how the author conveyed Claudel’s love of art and sculpture as a child and teenager. I did know that her brother was writer Paul Claudel, but nothing more about her family. I knew Claudel had serious mental health issues, but I certainly did not know she lived a long life, sadly nearly half of it in a mental institution. So unnecessary and really a travesty for such a creative person. Poor Camille was just born about 50 or 60 years too early.
This novel held my interest from beginning to end. I am sure Claudel’s mental illness was genetic, but can’t help but realize it was most probably exacerbated by her cold, cruel, emotionally devastating mother. Thank goodness her father was a decent person. She and Paul Claudel had a good relationship until he became a militant Catholic, overnight it seemed. Camille was not particularly religious and channeled most of her passion into her art. She definitely was a woman before her time, a free spirit, full of zeal and zest for her work and for those she loved. She became friends with Jessie Lipscomb, the English sculptor, who despite Claudel’s own cruelty to Jessie at times due to her illness, worked with Claudel and Rodin until she married and returned to England.
The saddest part of the story was learning that the doctors recommended that Claudel should leave the mental hospital, as she was capable of a life outside of the institution, but her mother and brother conspired to keep her there. In the 30-plus years that she was at Asile de Montdevergues near Avignon in the south, her mother never visited her and her brother did 7 times. Her sister Louise only visited her once.
Since I did not know too much about Rodin’s life before and after Camille, I discovered much about him by reading Rodin’s Lover. He seemed to be under tremendous pressure the more recognized he became. I need to do some research and read some biographies of Rodin, but I believe this author was very sympathetic to Rodin and his role in his relationship with Claudel. I doubt I would have entitled the book with Rodin’s name, as it subjugates Claudel once again and as many did, in my opinion. I did know he never left the woman with which he had a child, Rose Beuret, but engaged in many affairs during their relationship. Anyway, I so appreciate Rodin’s works and believe he is one of the finest sculptors to have ever lived.
If you enjoy historical fiction, I believe that you will enjoy Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb. The first book of historical fiction by Ms. Webb is Becoming Josephine.