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Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

4.3 27
by Stephanie Cowell

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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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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

From the Hardcover edition.

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

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Read an Excerpt


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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Claude Monet, an early 19th Century artist, refuses to take over his father's business and suffers from his passionate compulsion to become a renowned artist. Initially a mentor indicates to him that he lacks discipline, a fact to which he responds with openness. Forced to earn money because his family will not support him and lacking a patron, Monet moves to Paris where he forms a strong bond with other emerging artists such as Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, and Manet. Each artist's work is characterized by unique qualities such as Renoir's portrauts, but Monet is riveted by a desire to accurately depict the different variations of light and shadow he observes in city and suburban landscapes. He and his friends live, dine, and work together, inspiring and arguing with each other about the new forms of art they are trying to create and which they hope the public will acclaim. It is only when Claude meets Camille that his painting begins to manifest the passion, mystery, and beauty she represents to him. Yet he is slow to realize that Camille has dreams and secrets of her own, although little by little she claims that he is all she desires. As they begin to live together and have children, Camille sacrifices her dreams of becoming a famous author, singer, and actress so that Claude will be free to immerse himself deeper in his art. Living in destitute conditions, they struggle to maintain that dignity and hope that for too long seems elusive. Misunderstandings with colleagues and secrets about clandestine relationships threaten to destroy what they have, beginning with the Great War which drives their colleagues to different parts of Europe for different reasons. Finally, the public begins to accept the "Impressionists," as these artists label their group. It's a bittersweet victory as the years of loneliness and struggle take their toll on all, yet the deep love between Claude and Camille survives the vicissitudes of their own weakness and world affairs, revealing a momentous love story that remains for sure the greatest force behind Claude's creations. If you're looking for a story that goes beyond the proverbial "struggling artist" stereotype, this is a superb novel. Claude and Camille evokes the powers of observation and emotional sensitivity vital to the creation of magnificent art. Stephanie Cowell is a master at slowly revealing the essence of central characters, depicting artistic pieces in a way that mekes one want to run to see the actual works and presenting the day-to-day ups and downs of endearing yet stormy relationships that totally engage readers. This novel is one more example of this author's immersion in great art and music that so easily emerges as a literate love story of a renowned artist and his muse. Wonderful!!!
ruthhill74 More than 1 year ago
When I began reading this book, I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy it. I know someone recommended it--I can't even remember who--but I was expecting a mainly fictitious book. I was so excited when I discovered that this historical novel was well-researched and almost completely true! Not only that, the characters in the book seemed to have personality and authenticity. The author's writing style was superb in this book. She seemed to truly capture the characters of Claude and Camille. I actually found myself caring about these individuals. It was heartbreaking to read at times, but I sometimes had to force myself to put it down so I could go on and do things that needed to be done. Although I have given other books high rating recently and raved about them, the level of writing in this book far supersedes the other books. I think what made this book so good was its historical accuracy. I appreciated the fact that the sex scenes were downplayed and the issue of profanity was almost nonexistent. If you enjoy historical novels, I highly recommend this book. I truly gained an appreciation for Monet in a way I never dreamed I would.
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
Claude Monet knew he didn’t want to walk in his father’s footsteps, he knew there was more to life than being a merchant, he knew in his heart that he wanted to paint. He didn’t know that he would become one of the founding fathers in a school of painting known as Impressionism, didn’t know how steep a hill he would have to climb to reach the summit of his success, that he would be friends with other painters some that would go on to greatness and some that would be lost in obscurity, didn’t know waiting in a train station on his way to the army in Algiers that he would sketch a young distressed girl and that girl would become the most important part of his life and his life’s work. Camille Doncieux knew she didn’t fit into the compartmentalized life her parents wanted for her, she knew she wanted more, she knew she wanted passion. What she didn’t know was what that passion might cost her, she didn’t know how much true love could hurt you as well as heal you, she didn’t know that a chance meeting with a young painter would be a prelude to the love of a man who’s passion would not only equal hers but exceed it. Stephanie Cowell brought to life for me the historically accurate fictionalized story of one of the greatest painters who ever lived and brought it to me with all the pain, the joy and the turbulence in not only his life but the lives of the people around him, the people who meant the most to him and the times in history they went through as well as the history they themselves created. She gave me the inside scoop on the muse behind the man his first wife Camille, what she meant to him, what their love endured and what heartache that love caused both of them. She brought it to me in a narrative that takes me back to the time she’s covering and while the words may never have come out of any of the great master’s mouths, they could have. She showed me a true bohemian lifestyle that these artists lived and breathed and how it cost more than some of them could afford to give. And last but never least she told me one of the greatest love stories of all time in vivid detail so in my mind’s eye I watched as Monet sat in front of his easel and painted Camille. This novel would appeal to any lover of fictionalized history, fans of literary fiction, historical fiction and those of us who love not only a great story but a terrific love story as well.
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