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Claude and Camille: A Novel of Claude Monet

Claude and Camille: A Novel of Claude Monet

4.1 13
by Stephanie Cowell
Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would


Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. . . .”
In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father’s nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father’s will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris.
But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet – a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time.
His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet—and believed in his work—even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside.
But Camille had her own demons – secrets that  Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner.
A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement, Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Once again the acclaimed novelist Stephanie Cowell deftly takes us into the world of the classical arts with her well researched and beautifully written novel of historical fiction, Claude & Camille.”--LA Times Book Examiner 5 Stars (Examiner.com)

“Cowell is nothing short of masterful in writing about Claude Monet’s life and love….An enthralling story, beautifully told.”--The Boston Globe

"What a man! I am in awe before him. To be swept up by this novel which reveals the man and woman behind--no, in, the waterlily paintings, the seascapes and landscapes, is, and must be, a heartbreak. For me, reading Claude and Camille is like seeing old friends, learning them anew, from the inside, their passionate lives pulsing again by virtue of Stephanie Cowell's sure pen. The story is lovely, touching, delicately written, extraordinarily compelling, and nearly all true. Read it with a book of Monet's paintings by your side, and be prepared to marvel, and to weep."--Susan Vreeland, author Luncheon of the Boating Party and Girl in Hyacinth Blue

"You’ll never look at Monet’s water lilies the same way after reading Cowell’s luminous biography of the artist and his muse" – Romantic Times (4 Stars)

Rich and satisfying…Cowell seems poised on the cusp of very great things.” –January Magazine

"There's more than one love triangle involved in this highly recommended tale. Don't miss Claude & Camille."--BookLoons

"Fleshing out the artist’s biographical outline with fresh imagery, well-paced dramatic scenes and carefully calculated dialogue, Cowell presents a vivid portrait of Monet’s remarkable career. She writes with intelligence and reverence for her subject matter, providing a rich exploration of the points at which life and art converged for one of history’s greatest painters."--Booklist

"With elegant prose that blends color, light, and shadow to perfection, much as Monet did in his canvasses, Stephanie Cowell offers us a gorgeously rendered tale of love, genius, and haunting loss set against the dramatic backdrop of a world on the verge of inescapable change."—C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen
“Stephanie Cowell ‘s Monet and his Camille are achingly real, and the miserable garrets of Paris where they struggle to survive are so sensitively portrayed you can almost smell the paint.  Cowell sweeps the reader up into a story as dazzling and turbulent as the art whose creation she depicts.”—Laurel Corona, author of Four Seasons
“Claude & Camille is a wonderfully absorbing and romantic novel, the story of Claude Monet's passion for his painting and his equally passionate love for a woman who is as elusive as the water lilies that he strove to capture on canvas. This elegant novel was hard to put down, and once I did, I rushed to view Monet's paintings with a deeper understanding. Stephanie Cowell is a wonderful writer.”—Sandra Gulland, author of the Josephine B. trilogy and Mistress of the Sun
“An engaging, lyrical, and spirited work of fiction about the great love of Monet's life. Cowell creates a vivid world here, of art, friendship, and ardent love within the Impressionist circle.”—Harriet Scott Chessman, author of Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper
“Stephanie Cowell’s new novel of art and love is focused on Claude Monet’s great passions: painting, friendship, and Camille Doncieux. With her uncanny ability to inhabit the hearts of historical characters, Cowell creates a wholly fascinating milieu as vividly as a film-maker. She has a special gift for rendering the scene--knowing which moments excite the reader, illuminate the characters, and create memorability. I was touched by the novel’s tenderness and compassion, and moved to immerse myself in my books of Impressionist paintings.”—Sandra Scofield, author of Opal on Dry Ground and Occasions of Sin
Claude & Camille offers a fascinating look at nineteenth-century Paris, the bohemian lives of the Impressionists, and their struggle to create a new way of seeing the world. From Parisian ateliers to Giverny’s lush gardens, Stephanie Cowell paints an unforgettable portrait of Claude Monet and the two passions that framed his life: his beautiful, tragic wife, Camille, and his pursuit of art.”—Christi Phillips, author of The Devlin Diary

Jan Stuart
Historic verisimilitude cuddles with bodice-ripping fancy in this diverting fictional representation of the Impressionist maverick Claude Monet and his first wife…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Behind every great artist stands a woman driving him to inspiration, aspiration, and desperation, according to Cowell (Marrying Mozart), who bases her latest novel about an artist and his muse on the life of Claude Monet. Beautiful bourgeoise Camille Doncieux leaves her family and fiancé for Monet, whom Cowell depicts early on as a rebellious young man trying to capture in his paintings fleeting moments of color and light before he matures into the troubled genius whose talent exceeds his income. In an art world resistant to change, Camille remains Monet's great love as he and fellow unknowns Renoir, Pissarro, and Bazille struggle to make ends meet, but, eventually, parenthood, financial pressure, long separations, career frustrations, and romantic distractions take their toll, and even after Monet finally achieves commercial success, the couple still faces considerable difficulty. While glimpses of great men at work make absorbing reading, it's Camille who gives this story its heart. A convincing narrative about how masterpieces are created and a detailed portrait of a complex couple, Cowell's novel suggests that a fabulous, if flawed, love is the source of both the beauty and sadness of Monet's art. (Apr.)
Library Journal
One winter's day, a young, frustrated Claude Monet waits for a train on his way to boot camp; through the crowd, he spies a lovely young woman in tears. Captivated, he sketches her face before she disappears with her mother and sister into the bustle of the station. A few years later, he has not forgotten the girl's beauty and is stunned to meet her again in a Paris bookshop. Her name is Camille Doniceaux, and she is destined to become Monet's first wife and greatest muse. Moving through war, illness, prosperity, and poverty, Cowell (Marrying Mozart) writes the couple's love story with an eye for perspective as skilled as any painter's. By novel's end, readers are left with not only the satisfying drama of life among the Impressionists but also a greater appreciation for Monet's art and the driving forces behind it. VERDICT Though the plot occasionally cries out for greater detail, the story of Claude and Camille's complex and engrossing relationship compensates. Fans of Tracy Chevalier, Susan Vreeland, and Sarah Dunant will want to check out this rich, artsy read. [Ebook edition available: ISBN 978-0-307-46323-4; highlighted in AAP's Librarians' Spring 2010 Sneak Preview.]—Leigh Wright, Bridgewater, NJ

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Claude & Camille

A Novel of Monet
By Stephanie Cowell


Copyright © 2010 Stephanie Cowell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307463210


July 1908

Dull late-afternoon light glittered on the hanging copper pots in the kitchen where the old painter sat with his wine, smoking a cigarette, a letter angrily crumpled on the table in front of him. Through the open window he could hear the sound of a few flies buzzing near one of the flower beds, and the voices of the gardener and his son, who were talking softly as they pushed their wheelbarrow over the paths of the vast garden.

He had meant to paint his water lily pond again, but after the letter had come he could do nothing. Even now, he felt the bitter words rising from the ink. “Why do you write me after all these years, Monet? I still hold you responsible for the death of my sister, Camille. There can be no communication between us.”

Outside, the day was ending, smelling of sweet grass and roses. He swallowed the last of his wine and stood suddenly, smoothing the letter and thrusting it in his pocket. “You foolish woman,” he said under his breath. “You never understood.”

Head lowered, he made his way up the stairs to the top floor, under the sloping attic roof, and down the hall to the locked door. He had worked in this small studio briefly when he first moved here years before and could not remember the last time he had gone inside.

Dust lay on the half-used tubes of paint on the table; palette knives and brushes of every size rested in jars. Rolled canvas and wood for stretchers leaned against a wall. Past the table stood a second door, which opened to a smaller room with another easel and an old blue-velvet-upholstered armchair. He lowered himself onto the chair, hands on his knees, and looked about him.

The room was filled with pictures of Camille.

There was one of her embroidering in the garden with a child at her feet, and another of her reading on the grass with her back against a tree, the sun coming through the leaves onto her pale dress. She was as elusive as light. You tried to grasp it and it moved; you tried to wrap your arms around it and found it gone.

It had been many years since he had found her in the bookshop. He saw himself then, handsome enough, with a dark beard, dark eyes flickering, swaggering a bit—a young man who did not doubt himself for long and yet who under it all was a little shy. The exact words they spoke to each other that day were lost to him; when he tried to remember, they faded. He recalled clearly, though, the breathless tone of her voice, the bones of her lovely neck, and her long fingers, and that she stammered slightly.

There she stood in his first portrait of her, when she was just nineteen, wearing the green promenade dress with the long train behind her, looking over her shoulder, beautiful, disdainful, as she had appeared nearly half a century before. He rose and lightly touched the canvas. Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone, and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .”

Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began; you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you, but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. I’ll write your sister again at her shop in Paris. She must understand; she must know how it was.”

Outside, twilight was falling on the gardens, and the water lilies would be closing for the night. He wiped his eyes and sat for a time to calm himself. Looking around once more, he left the studio and slowly descended the stairs.


Excerpted from Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell Copyright © 2010 by Stephanie Cowell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

STEPHANIE COWELL is the author of Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest; The Physician of London (American Book Award 1996) and The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare. She is the also the author of Marrying Mozart, which was translated into seven languages and has been optioned for a movie. Visit her at www.stephaniecowell.com and http://everydaylivesfrenchimpressionists.blogspot.com.

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Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
SDEisenberg More than 1 year ago
Forget dry biographies of Claude Monet and his lover-muse, Camille Doncieux. If you want to climb inside Monet's mind and heart, look no further than Stephanie Cowell's luminous novel, CLAUDE & CAMILLE, a brilliant follow-up to her last lovely novel, MARRYING MOZART. If God is in the details, Ms. Cowell creates a divinely nuanced portrait of the great Monet, first introducing the artist as an old man, then flashing back to the signal events and people who nourished his greatness. Monet's love for the young, enigmatic Camille becomes the touchstone of his life and work as he and his Impressionist colleagues--notably Renoir, Bazille, Degas, and Manet--struggle to impress the Parisian art establishment in the mid-1800s. Ms. Cowell's book reads like a lush literary LA BOHEME as Claude, Camille, and their cohorts battle poverty, parental opposition, professional rejection, and political turmoil. The author paints her book's canvas with passion, making the novel impossible to put down. I will never view any painting by Monet the same way, now that I understand the emotional cost of his art. And perhaps more importantly I will never cease to admire Camille's patience and persistence. She was "the woman behind the man" who encouraged Monet to shine for the ages. I recommend CLAUDE & CAMILLE to anyone who loves a fast-paced, beautifully crafted historical novel with tragic love at the core.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Claude & Camille" is a historical novel about the painter Claude Monet and his love Camille. Claude joins his painter friends in Paris trying to get their work recognized. They have a difficult time finding buyers and so live a life of poverty. Claude and Camille fall madly in love, although their life of poverty and bitter opposition from their families tests their love. There is great success and great tragedy, camaraderie, and wonderful art. You will want to go online to see the art. I enjoyed the book very much and learned so much about the struggles of the Impressionists. LiteraryLinda - ReadItForward
LK_Hunsaker More than 1 year ago
Claude & Camille is a beautiful read. Any fan of impressionism or art in general will enjoy the details of what life was like for this group of painters unknowingly forming a new school of art in the days of pre-WW2 Paris as well as throughout and after the war. It's a true book of art and about art and its story extends to all artists. Monet had his share of critics. In fact, he had so many nasty comments from critics, he destroyed some of his work in belief that he was wasting his time and would never get anywhere. I literally cringed when he cut through so many of his canvases, and again when many were destroyed during the war. Cowell allows us to closely connect with Monet as a real live person instead of only as the artist of such magnificent water lily and other landscape paintings. We get to learn his family history, his rocky relationship with his father, his path of learning and help he received along the way, and mostly, his relationship with his true love, Camille. At times I hurt badly for him and for how he struggled, and especially for how Camille struggled to love him through the broken promises and years of debt collectors following them. It's not easy to love and support an artist obsessed with his or her art! Nothing shows this better than Camille's story. At other times I wanted to yell at him to support his family better while he painted! There is such a thing as being too one-tracked and Monet was definitely that. I had to ask myself, though, if he would have ended up with such a huge body of art to his name if he had worked it around a job that actually paid. It's the crossroads all artists face: give up all comfort and security in the name of art or work your art around comfort and security. There's the big question that maybe has no good answer. It's hard for one-tracked artists to live in the real world. Even when taking jobs that pay, their heads are in their art, much of the time to the extent that any other job makes them miserable. They are as hard on themselves as they are on their loved ones, maybe harder, since they are never convinced they are quite good enough. And yet, these are the artists who generally make the biggest impression. Most of them would never in the world suggest anyone else take on the life they've chosen, or been handed. Claude & Camille is a must read for art lovers, especially art lovers who enjoy watching relationships build and struggle. At times, the dialogue was a bit stilted and there were a few sentences I had to reread due to awkward phrasing, but in general, it was a page turner and echoed Monet's 'patchy' impressionist art itself.
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
From La Bohème to Rent, we love melodramatic stories about starving artists, poets, and composers. We never get enough of soulful young men and the girls who adore them struggling to live la vie Bohème. They grab our hearts. The clichés all arise from the second half of the 19th century, of course, and a century and a half later, the paintings they sold for a pittance (or failed to sell at all) now sell for millions of dollars. Where's the justice in that? Artists will tell you there is no proper reward for what they do, especially while they're alive. It seems that you have to be dead for at least a century to be famous. Stephanie Cowell's new novel, Claude & Camille, is based on the life of Claude Monet, whose 1872 painting Impression: soleil levant (Impression: Sunrise) gave a name (at first critical, only later laudatory) to the school of art he and his buddies-Bazille, Renoir, Pissarro, Manet, Cézanne, et al.-created in the 1860s and '70s. Monet (1840-1926) came from a proper bourgeois family that expected him to take over his father's shop. Instead, he started drawing caricatures in chalk, then was invited by an older artist, Eugène Boudin, to meet him at dawn to paint outdoors. It's the outdoors part that is revolutionary; until that time, nearly all painting was done in a studio or the patron's residence. Plein-air landscape painting was nearly unknown, and because the young men broke the rules of academic painting, their works were almost never accepted by the Salon in Paris. But the soon-to-be impressionists soldiered on, devoting their lives to their art and going into debt to buy paint and canvas. Cowell opens each chapter with an epigraph taken from the actual words of the artists. "We were all one group when we started out," said Renoir. "We stood shoulder to shoulder and we encouraged each other" (p. 60). Impressionist art, of course, soon inspired impressionist music (Debussy, Ravel, Vaughan Williams, et al.) and impressionist literature (Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Woolf, et al.). In the novel, as in his life, Monet moves to Paris, where he meets a girl named Camille Doncieux. Their story is easy to summarize: they fall in love, she gets pregnant, they live together in one shabby house after another, Claude keeps painting, they get married, and Camille dies too young, either (as the novel tells us) of cancer or (as the Wikipedia article says) of tuberculosis. It's la vie Bohème, and in a novel the life is grand and romantic. In real life, it's poor and dreadful. Cowell does not, of course, downplay the stresses, jealousies, and miseries of their lives. That's what makes for good drama. But as we see Camille wanting to be an actress but not actually trying out, wanting to write a novel but burning it, and inventing her history, we begin to wonder about her mental health. Although almost nothing is known about her biography, in the novel she seems almost schizophrenic. She and Claude love each other, yes, but it's a stormy relationship filled with deceit on her part and jealousy on his. It's a good story, but it's not a happy story. Quill says: La vie Bohème makes for a terrific story. Cowell brings these artists to life in the days before they were established and famous. Be sure to look at their paintings, too.
ismene7 More than 1 year ago
Claude Monet is an artist we know whether we know it or not. His water lilies and stunning landscapes have been part of our conciousness of Impressionism since the first art class. Like many artists we have stereotypes we apply. He seems to fit in - starving in Paris, in love with his model Camille, living la boheme in an uptight French society. Stephanie Cowell forces us to look deeper than the stereotypes. Yes, Claude was these many impressions, but he is also flesh and blood and driven to paint when society did not even desire his efforts. She spreads her canvas thick with the men he shared his vision with, the other "starving" artists. Some of them not so hungry and others starving for the kind of genius Monet possessed. It is a book that is given not to show Monet as a hero or villain, but as a man who loved, hated, fought, enjoyed a world that has often been trivialized in movies and opera. Camille shared his journey and was often Muse, often housewife, often the woman who wore him down. Their story, Cowell seems to say, is one of the ebbs and flows of a great tide that was taking over the social milieu of the time. Like a good glass of wine this novel should be savored.
pamelade More than 1 year ago
Loved this story!  Such insight into the art world during the late 1800s.
KLS500 More than 1 year ago
It's been a very long time since I've enjoyed a book more than this one! I had the pleasure of visiting the house, gardens and stunning lily pond of Monet at Giverny, and to think of him as an old man remembering his one true love here really touched my soul. This book is beautifully written and for anyone who enjoys Impressionism art mixed with a rich tapestry of word pictures, this is a never to be forgotten story and a jewel of a book.
SallyPinkReviews More than 1 year ago
Cowell pens a poignant tale full of spirit and the drive to succeed with "Claude and Camille," the story of Monet and the muse that was his wife, Camille Doncieux. The novel opens with a young Monet living on the French coast in a town called Le Havre. His father owns a nautical store and makes a modest living. Monet is known for his caricatures, but his older friend, Boudin, soon interests him in landscapes. Monet goes to study in Paris against his father's wishes. Monet's artistic talent grows and he soon makes friends: Manet, Bazille, Renoir, and Pissarro. While talented, the struggling artist and his friends live in abject poverty. Camille Doncieux soon captures young Monet's attention. Camille is from a well-to-do family and is engaged. Monet hungers to paint her and convinces her to accompany him and his friend, Bazille, to the countryside. They stay there for a week and then Camille is gone. Monet can't forget her. When he sees her months later, he convinces her to pose for him again, this time in a green dress. Shortly after that, Camille becomes his lover and forsakes her well-do-do life. Monet loves Camille deeply, but he's so poor, he can't give her the life that she's left behind. As Monet struggles to find success as an artist, will Camille stay with him or go back to the secure, yet dull life she led before? Cowell has captured the life and times of Monet with an uncompromising pen - embodying Monet's own uncompromising artistic nature. The story flows in a liner fashion for the most part with brief interludes to the end of Monet's life as he paints water lilies. Cowell makes the reader feel as if they are there, in the moment, painting alongside Monet, the writing is a bit weighty, which slows the story down in some places and makes for a slow, careful read so the reader doesn't miss something. Cowell does a riveting job showing the reader the many facets of Claude and Camille. Both are determined and driven, yet both are haunted - Monet by the fear of failure, Camille, by a lack of security. Cowell paints the setting, Paris/France in the mid 1800's, as vividly as a Monet landscape. Both Monet and Camille come across as real, with Cowell depicting them in their finest and weakest moments. Both love passionately, yet their insecurities are ones that many can sympathize with. "Claude and Camille" is a fascinating read, taking a look at the roots of impressionism and the love that inspired a true artist.
txwildflower More than 1 year ago
A wonderful story about the great painter Claude Monet and his love Camille. Told when the painter was in his seventies and looking back on his life, the hardships and the poverty that they endured and his love for his painting. A great selection for book clubs. txwildflower-ReadItForward
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TheIntrovertedReader More than 1 year ago
I started reading this not knowing anything about Monet except that I used to have a print of one of his works hanging in my bedroom. I also don't know much about art except that I know what I like. I have enjoyed reading fiction about art and artists in the past, so I thought I'd give this a try. It was okay. It is always amazing to me that artists who are generally accepted to be--I don't know, geniuses?--had to struggle so hard to be recognized back when they first started out, and sometimes even throughout their entire lives. I guess that just goes to show that people are slow to accept change. The main reason that this got three stars is that it's written in a style that's not really for me. It felt like the author tried to stick very closely to the facts, which I do respect, but that made it feel more like I was reading a biography rather than fiction. I read very, very little non-fiction, so that wasn't a style that worked for me. I did enjoy reading about Monet's relationships with the other early Impressionists. I had no idea that all these guys hung out together. Reading a list of Monet's friends is like reading a "Who's Who" of the art world. Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Manet, Cézanne--I know there are more that I'm forgetting. I found myself wishing that I could read more about those relationships. What was included was good and taught me a lot, I just wanted more. I was really curious about Frédéric Bazille. I've never heard of him, but he was a fascinating character. There was always a lot going on behind the scenes with him, and I really wanted to know more. I do always find myself wishing that publishers would just go ahead and print reproductions of the works in books about art. I knew a few of the paintings that were mentioned, and I would probably recognize more if I saw them, but it would be nice to be able to see Monet's Water Lilies series as I read about it. This was a good book, there were just a few things that could have made it better for me. I know that not everyone's taste is the same as mine, so there are readers who will enjoy this a lot. Die-hard fans of Monet and readers who regularly read biographies will be among them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago