Camille Claudel, an old lady confined to the Asylum for the Insane in Montdevergues, France, reviews her life. She says, "I hope my memoir will illustrate the heights of passion Rodin and I reached, and unravel the mystery of why they were transformed into vinegar and ashes." The tragedy is not only hers, she adds, but that of many female artists who found it impossible to achieve the success of men artists of lesser ability. The book illuminates her childhood and the rise of her career in the setting of her ecstatic life with Rodin. Their ten years of bliss are followed by the disintegration of her love for him, and its evolution into hatred and psychosis. The last third of the book describes the horrors of Claudel's life in the asylum, ending with the highly original manner in which she comes to terms psychologically with Rodin and the other important figures in her life.
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Camille Claudela Novel
By Alma H. Bond
PublishAmericaCopyright © 2006 Alma H. Bond, Ph.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePart I
The Early Years
When I was little, I loved playing in the mud and shaping tiny people out of it. I made a mama, a papa, a little girl, and a little boy that looked just like Paul, curly hair and all. One day it suddenly began to pour torrents, the way it always rains in Villeneuve, and all my little people began to melt. I stood there watching as they grew smaller and smaller and finally flowed away in the flood. It made me cry so hard I couldn't stop, and I was glad when Maman pulled me away from the mud, even if she did send me to bed without any supper. As I lay in bed and seethed, I determined to make new little people the first thing in the morning. It had felt so good I wanted to do it always.
Before anyone one else was up I crept into the back yard. It was spring. The rain had stopped, and the smell of the sweet green grass of Villeneuve lingered in the air. I discovered that the thick red dirt was harder than it had been yesterday and had changed color. Now some whitish streaks showed through it. I knelt by the mud hole I'd made the day before and grasped fistfuls ofdirt in both hands. It felt chalky and stuck together. I rolled it between my hands until it became a solid ball, and joyfully clutched it against my woolen jumper, forgetting what Maman would say about dirtying my clothes. I held the ball up to my nose and sniffed its fragrance all the way down to my tummy, and held my breath as long as I could. The rich red earth smelled so flesh I wanted to lick it, but I didn't because I was afraid of what Maman would do if she found out.
Then I dug into my mud ball with a frenzy and began to mold the little figures again, I pressed here and there, now indenting it to form the eyes and mouth, now building it up to make the nose and forehead, smoothing it with my fingernails or a flat stick I'd saved from the fireplace. Suddenly I saw that the figure I called Maman had large, sad eyes. It amazed me that she looked stern and duty-bound, just like she really does.
I, Camille Rosalie Claudel, had made a real little person, all by myself! I couldn't get over how true to life she looked. First there was nothing but mud, and then there was a real little person. If there is a God, I'11 bet he felt like that when he made Adam.
But I wasn't as satisfied with the Papa character. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep him from looking angry. Maybe that's because he always is. I liked my figure of the little boy better; he was handsome and serious, like the thinker Paul always was. While even to my biased eyes, the image of my little vacant-eyed sister was beautiful.
The sun was now overhead and drying up the mud until it turned the color of chalk. I spit on my people so I could keep on working. I was so absorbed with making the little figures come alive that I didn't hear Papa come up behind me until he shouted, "Camille!" I started shaking because I was scared he'd lecture me like he always does. But he didn't. Instead he stopped short with the strangest expression on his face, kind of screwed-up as if he'd tasted a lemon, like the time when I drew a picture of the ocean and he said I was a little Rembrandt. Then he knelt by the mud hole and reached out with both hands for the Maman. Lifting it up as carefully as if it were one of her precious champagne glasses, he turned it from front to back and side to side over and over again. His eyes filled with tears.
"Camille," he said, swallowing hard, "these are very good. I'm going to try to find you some real clay to work with. I want you to do the best you can with it."
"Oh Papa, I will! I will!"
"Good. If you do as well with the clay as you have with this mud, I'm going to show your statues to Alfred Boucher, the famous sculptor in Nogent-sur-Seine. Would you like that?"
"Oh Papa, yes! Thank you! I'm so happy!" I threw myself into his arms. He hugged me back, slimy hands, muddy boots, dripping dress, and all.
I ran into the house singing a strange chaotic melody I'd made up, a kind of prayer of thanks to the universe that came into my head when life pleased me, only to find Maman sitting by the window with her head in her hands. She was crying. She's always crying. I knew it was no time to tell her about my little people and Papa's plans for me. She never had any feeling for what I thought was important; she just didn't want me to mess up her kitchen.
"Maman, what's the matter?" I asked dutifully, even though I already knew.
She sat rocking back and forth in her tapestried chair and moaning. "My baby, my baby."
"Maman." I said impatiently. "Henri died a long time ago, before I was in your tummy."
"It doesn't matter!" she shouted. "I will never get over him! He was the love of my life, my first child. He was only fifteen days old when he died."
"I know, Maman," I said grumpily, "when I was born the next year you were so disappointed I wasn't a boy that you called me Camille, a name that can be given to either a boy or a girl."
But she continued as if she hadn't heard me. "And then Louise arrived fourteen months later, before I had a chance to ..."
"... be a mother to me. I know all that," I sighed. "She was the daughter you always wanted. Your beautiful, obedient Louise!"
"What are you saying, Camille? You speak this way to your mother? How dare you talk to me like that! You don't deserve to be in this distinguished family. Henri would never have behaved like you. I had hoped you would be like him, but you turned out to be a violent, vicious child! It is your fault this family is always fighting. You know just how to set everyone against each other. Hold your tongue, or you will go to bed without your supper again!"
She was being unfair, as usual. What I said about my little sister Louise was one hundred percent correct, as any sensitive child would have picked up. She was born when I was only a year and two months old. I don't remember it, of course, but I've been told and told and told the story. Maman loved her right away. If she could have picked a personality for her daughter, I'm sure she would have chosen Louise, who was named after Maman, and seemed to know from the start she was destined to be her carbon copy. She was completely dependent on our mother and had no mind of her own. I loved to taunt her with it, and said to her once, "What will happen to the copy when the original is gone?" Louise was what Maman valued above all else, a good baby. On the other hand, I'm told that I cried every time she came near me, as if I knew in the womb that Maman didn't want me. I didn't take to her the way babies usually attach to their mothers, or let her comfort me. To make matters worse, when la bonne Hélène or Papa came into the room, I was all smiles, I think Maman has never forgiven me for that. In retaliation, she made it quite clear from her nasty comments that she couldn't stand me. She got a sullen, pinched expression on her face whenever I came near her, as if she suddenly smelled a skunk.
I used to watch Maman and Louise with their heads together talking like girlfriends. Why didn't she ever talk with me like that? Whenever I came near her she'd move away. She never had two words to say to me that weren't a criticism. She ached for Henri, adored Louise and Paul, and skipped me altogether. Sometimes I wonder how much she would have loved Henri had he lived.
Another reason she never loved me, although she'd deny it from now to Kingdom Come, is that I was born with one leg a bit shorter than the other and I walk with a slight limp. Even though people say they don't notice it, I don't believe them. My rhythm is a bit off, so that my gait goes ump-up-ump-up, instead of ump-ump-ump-ump, like that of normal people.
I've always been self-conscious about my walk. When I pass people on the street, I check to see if they notice my limping. If a cart stops to let me cross the road, I think they're being nice because I'm lame. I wonder if anyone ever can really love a cripple. I used to believe that if only I walked like everybody else, my mother would be me. That must be why I'm so fascinated by balance in my work. My figures, like those in La Valse, manage extraordinary feats of equilibrium, even if I myself stumble all over the place. I believe one reason I was a perfectionist in my work is that if I didn't have a completely intact body, I could always try for perfection in the bodies I sculpted.
I guess that's why I really never liked my perfect sister. My feelings are obvious in the statue I did of her when she was twenty. I call it Jeune fille aux yeux clos (Young girl with closed eyes). She looks beautiful, but her eyes are closed, because she really sees nothing. Her expression is benign on the surface, but if you study it closely, you'll see stubborn hostility underneath her faint smile. That's not so strange, for she was jealous of me from the moment she was born. Unlike my other work, looking at this piece gives me nothing, just like Louise.
The story in the family is that soon after she arrived, Papa said, "Camille, shall we keep her or send her back?" I said, "Send her back." He thought that was very funny, but of course Maman didn't, and has never let me forget it.
The birth of Paul, which is my first real memory, was quite different. Papa put this sweet-smelling little bundle on my lap and said, "You have a little brother, ton petit Paul." I put my finger in his hand and he closed his tiny fist around it. My heart pounded and my eyes teared up. I fell in love with him right then, and have loved him ever since.
Another thing about Maman. She hasn't had an original thought in her whole life, and can't stand anybody who does. She's just like all the other women she knows. Paul and I got the giggles when our tutor told us that her maiden name was Louise-Athanaise Cerveaux. As everyone knows, "cervean" in French means brain, mind, or mastermind, which Maman certainly is not. If I believed in God, I would think he had a great sense of humor and selected her name as a celestial joke. Being so conventional, she objects whenever I show any imagination or think anything that has never occurred to her. Maman is a perfect example of someone who values good form above all else and has no use for my way of thinking or my art. And of course Louise has never had an unconventional idea in her life.
It's a good thing for me that we had Hélène, or I would really belong in this den of iniquity I've lived in for thirty years. I learned a lot about maids when I eavesdropped on the weekly chatting circle of my mother and her neighbors. When they weren't disapproving of me or their husbands spending all their free time with buddies at the cafes, they mostly complained about the impossibility of getting good work out of their servants. I learned as the women sat at their embroidery and chitchatted away that they thought the bonnes were good-tempered and well-mannered, but insensitive to the subtleties of French cooking and the fine care of a household. Because the bonnes came from peasant stock (Hélène is Alsatian) they understood nothing about the art of maintaining a lovely home. They could not be taught to cook, except when constantly watched, nor could they be trusted to handle china or glass such as Maman's fragile crystal ware without breaking it. They burned the food Maman nursed along for hours to reach the required state of perfection. Even if a maid had done something well a hundred times, let the mistress turn her back once, and the bonne was sure to do it wrong the hundred-and-first time. Most important of all, the housekeepers whispered over their stitching, when there was any refinement in the house, it was certainly due to the intelligence and knowledge of the lady of the house, namely the woman doing the complaining, (usually Maman). It's true that these women were scientific house administrators and able to run their households with far more skill than their servants. But the bonnes were very clean and excellent at hard work like digging in the garden, cleaning the outhouse, fetching water, fattening up poultry, washing down the buggy, harnessing the horses, making butter, and carrying heavy logs. They were a delight to have around because the harder they worked the louder they laughed and sang. What a contrast to Maman's grouchy griping! Hélène had gentle, far-reaching eyes that took in everything and a quiet, amused smile. Whatever the season, she tied a kerchief around her shoulders and wore a grey bonnet, a petticoat she had spun herself from the wool of sheep and dyed red, and an apron over her long woolen skirt. She was naturally polite and kind, and did things like saving me the heel of the bread and bringing me nice soap and Calisson when she went to visit her family.
I only saw her upset once. When I was about seven years old, I heard a sobbing in the back of the kitchen. I ran in and it was Hélène crying bitterly. I knelt at her feet, saying, "What is it, Hélène? What's wrong? Did Maman scold you again?"
Papa must have heard me and came in and put his arm around me. He said, "Let her alone, Camille. Something terrible has happened."
"What is it Papa? What's the matter with Hélène?"
"You know we've been at war with the Prussians. France has lost," he said sadly. "Hélène's home in Alsace isn't part of France anymore. The government says she's now a German. Her nieces and nephews won't even be allowed to talk French in their school after today."
I didn't understand how Hélène could be French like us one day and German the next, and began to cry too. But in a few days she was back to her pleasant self and nobody ever talked to me about it again. Except sometimes at night I heard her crying in her bed.
I really liked my bust of Hélène. Every time I looked at it, my first impulse was to laugh, but when I looked again it made me sad. It's as if she were smiling her warm crooked smile to keep away the tears. It said she knew what life was really about, and had no need to blab about it all the time like Maman and her accomplices. Although Hélène understood that life can be awful and lonely and sad, she loved it anyway. Strong and wise like the giant stones on the moor, she never fooled herself. I learned from her how to be direct and honest, and I would not trade those lessons for all the degrees of the Sorbonne. Hélène was a wonderful woman. How I wish she were with me now.
It was a good thing for all of us, not just me, that we had Hélène. Everyone in our family was always fighting: Maman with Papa, Maman with the children, Papa with the children, Louise with Paul, Paul with me, and worst of all, Louise and me. We fought over everything, which one got a larger slice of pie, who sat next to Papa at the dinner table, whose dress was prettier.
I remember once my godfather brought me and my sister some candy. The two pieces were wrapped festively in colored paper and were identical, except that the paper around one was pink and the other blue. Would you believe we both wanted the pink one? Or maybe it was the blue, I don't remember. I only know we wanted the same piece. We fought for an hour over which one would get the coveted candy, slapping and kicking each other until Maman took both pieces away. We never saw them again. (Did you eat them, Maman?) When we kept on fighting anyway and knocked a dish to the floor, she said, "If you're going to kill each other, do it outside. I've just finished cleaning."
Hélène was the only one who could get us to stop quarreling. She had only to look at us firmly and crinkle her forehead to make us stop. With her tranquil personality, she was our shelter in a stormy household.
As usual when Maman hurt my feelings, I rushed outside to my favorite spot in the whole world, Le Geyn, a stunning moor filled with huge weird rocks that had been left on the outskirts of Villeneuve by glaciers eons ago. It was known as la Hottée du Diable, The Devil's Basket. According to local myths, the hill of rocks had been formed by the devil who agreed to build a convent overnight in return for the soul of the contractor. The devil crammed a huge basket with gigantic stones and proceeded to build Le Geyn. We never heard what happened to the contractor, but the rocks remain like frozen giants throughout eternity. They formed fantastic animals for us to climb upon, marvelous caves to curl up in, and mythological beings like in legends and fairy tales. Paul and I had a fairyland for a playground, and I had the finest sculpture maîtres in existence to teach me the basics of my art.
Excerpted from Camille Claudel by Alma H. Bond Copyright © 2006 by Alma H. Bond, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A psychoanalytic decent into madness has never been so much fun Locked up in Montdevergues Asylum in 1943, Camille Claudel recalls her life as a combination of both happy memories and horrific nightmares. From the injustice of her lover, Auguste Rodin to the betrayal of her brother Paul of who lived a rich and varied life of fame and fortune that should have belonged to Camille herself. Translated by fictional William Barrett, Professor Emeritus of Classic French Literature, he attempts to transcribe Camile's memoir after viewing one of her exhibits, and remembering a forgotten case of manuscripts and soap carvings that had come his way during World War II, and has been up in his attic ever since. As Rodin's student, and then his mistress, Camille soon learns some harsh lessons of life as their romance slowly changes, and deteriorates with adverse affects. Her needy brother doesn't help either, turning treacherous by taking what is rightfully hers and calling it his own. The author, Alma H. Bond, puts in novel form her own words about Camille's life using her own psychoanalysis and writing skills to reveal what could have gone on in the fragile mind of talented sculptor Camille. A young and impressionable girl thrown into a man's world where the creativity of a woman would be expected to be dropped at the very mention of marriage, children and homemaking. But not her, not without a fight! Camille: A Novel, is broken into foreword, prologue and three parts - Part one - The Early Years (1864 - 1881), part two - The Rodin Years (1881 - 1912) and part three The Asylum Years (1913-1943) At the back of the book can be found a bibliography,addendum and a glossary of French words that is very useful. We see Camille's search for religion and family history through the author's delightful prose with this fictional account of Camille's life that was an engrossing, and pleasurable read. With an incestuous relationship with her brother and a spiteful jealous sister, it's no wonder Camille struggled with her increasing paranoia. Not to mention the degenerate mental health system back in the Victorian era, very few visits from her family, sedation and an inevitable loss of reality. My heart went out to her. Camille was clearly way ahead of her time and not only grossly mistreated, but misunderstood in many ways. It's an inspiring (albeit it quite sad) biography with a fictional twist, recreated with a mixture of faction and pure indulging fiction.
Camille Claudel was a 19th Century Parisian sculptress best known for her love affair with Auguste Rodin. This book purports to be Camille's memoirs written during her confinement in a mental institution, that were lost and then discovered hidden in an attic after many years.Camille's family was bi-polar; her mother and younger sister were cold and unloving, while her father and brother were warm and encouraging. This dichotomy didn't stop her from pursuing her art, first by sculpting figures out of mud, and later from clay. As she matures into a young woman, she obtains a place as a student with Alfred Boucher, who later passes her apprenticeship to Rodin. Camille held within her an artistic fire, which burned brightly and expressed itself in her refusal to be dominated by male society. She was born to sculpt and ferociously attacked anyone who attempted to say otherwise, even when in later life it meant nearly starving for lack of a commission.Throughout her life, Camille dreamed of "her artist," the one who will sweep her off her feet and teach her everything; Rodin becomes this artist for her. She falls deeply in love with him, as he protects and encourages her both as a sculptor and as a lover. Unfortunately, despite ten years with Rodin, he refuses to marry her instead maintaining his common law relationship with another woman. This drives Camille deeper and deeper into despair; she starts suffering from paranoid delusions about Rodin. In her madness, she destroyed many of her own pieces believing them to be in jeopardy of being stolen by "Rodin and his gang." Ultimately she is committed to a mental institution by her mother, where she remains until her death, thirty years later. Her descent into madness, as rendered by Bond, a psychoanalyst, is fascinating, gripping and provides a special insight into the human brain.
When pen meets paper our minds can take over, and lead us into unknown places. The same is said of Camille Claudel, only with her it is a piece of clay or marble. This book is a work of art itself. When the author describes the feelings that Camille felt as she worked the clay, I wanted to buy some clay and squeeze it through my fingers. I wanted to kneed it and roll it around in the palms of my hands. This is how powerful I have found this book to be. It is passionate, sad, and tragic. I know that I will never look at a piece of art again and not think of Camille Claudel. She was a woman born before her time. Thank you Dr. Bond ---you have opend my eyes to a whole new world.
The story of Camille Claudel is the story of a woman born ahead of her time, a female genius for whom the world was not ready, a woman who attained heights of artistic ecstasy and endured acute personal and mental agony. Alma H. Bond has written a compelling account of Camille Claudel¿s tragic life. She presents the story as a memoir written by Claudel in the final days of her life. Although the broad outlines of the story are true, Bond has taken liberties in setting scenes, providing dialog, and revealing Claudel¿s purported thought processes and interpretations. Bond states clearly that hers is a fictional account, simply one plausible view of Claudel¿s life it should not be read as a definitive biographical or historical work. Nevertheless, Bond reveals the heartbreak of a gifted woman working in a society that rejects her personally and pays scant attention to her artwork. Bond lifts the veil on the heartbreak of an impressionable, sensitive young woman betrayed by an older lover. Bond discloses the family dysfunctions that remained hidden from view, or ignored, even when they resulted in gross injustices. Clearly, even though the work is fictional, it offers a compelling, accurate glimpse at the life of an extraordinary artist and the era in which she lived. Bond¿s most extraordinary feat is the way she portrays Claudel¿s subtly deteriorating mental state. Early signs of paranoia are evident from the outset in Claudel¿s descriptions of her childhood home. During Claudel¿s happiest period, the height of her romance with Rodin, the paranoid tendencies are more subtle, but not entirely absent. After her breakup with Rodin, the paranoid tendencies resurface slowly and build gradually until Claudel¿s institutionalization in 1913. In an accurate depiction of mental illness, Bond balances Claudel¿s periods of lunacy and lucidity. Sometimes the reader is uncertain whether Claudel¿s viewpoint is delusional or uncannily insightful. Bond understands mental illness and she presents it masterfully. Camille Claudel: A Novel is a beautifully written book that seizes the reader¿s mind and heart. Readers who have never heard of Camille Claudel will, upon finishing this book, seek to learn more about this wonderfully gifted artist and her work. This book, notwithstanding the fact that it is fiction, should be required reading for all students of women¿s studies and art history.
Camille Claudel A Novel is the kind of book that beckons you to read it on a rainy afternoon. But beware its call: once you start, you won¿t want to put it down except to sleep. Here is the hopeful and tragic story of a brave and sensuous female sculptor in a not so distant era of male dominance in the arts, combined with the overbearing influence of Victorian morality on society, during the second half of the 19th Century in France. Camille Claudel may have been the greatest sculptor, male or female, since Michelangelo, but she was largely ignored by the art world because of her relationship of Auguste Rodin, who selected her to work for him after witnessing her independent and innate brilliance first hand. It seems that although Rodin goes down in the history books as the greatest sculptor of his generation, it was in fact from Camille, his equally if not more talented muse, whom he stole his greatest ideas for his sculptures. Despite the evidence of her anthology of works, she has been relegated to the status of a side note in the story of Rodin instead of the genius status she deserves. By the end of this work, told from the point of view of Ms. Claudel, you will be both amazed at the injustice, and yet awed at the passionate soul of the artist who could not stop working until she was driven mad by the raping of her talent. How she managed to outlive most everyone she knew, even though she suffered the deepest anguish of never being accepted by the critics or her male peers, starved when their meager works garnered commissions, and was locked up in an insane asylum for the last 30 years of her life, is a psychological profile not soon forgotten. This is perhaps the first total portrait of a female artist I have ever read. We are invited to look through her eyes, to feel the clay with her hands, to taste her mother¿s treats, to kiss the lips of her lover, to crash in exhaustion after a day of sculpting without food, to fear the theft of her latest creation, to long for the comfort of her brother¿s company, to feel the warmth of a stray cat in her arms, and to consider all the people she ever knew with love, hate, or indifference. A must read for any artist, male or female, established or aspiring¿you are likely to understand your motivations and needs more thoroughly through exploring this novel than from a lifetime of therapy. I certainly gained a wealth of insight about myself as a writer, performing artist, amateur sculptor, and nonconformist from only one week with this book. May you all find appreciation as you are driven to create!
Camille Claudel - A Novel - is written in the first person, from Camille's perspective - and what a journey that is! From the first page, the writing draws you in and holds you close. I found this to be a fascinating story, and although the memoirs have been fictionalized, the events from real history shine through. A fantastic story by Dr Bond!
'Couple of day ago I finished reading a wonderful book called¿ Camille Claudel¿s, A Novel¿ By Dr. Alma H. Bond It¿s a fictional work. But based on lots of historical facts and events about the life and art of one of the greatest Sculptors I have ever read or known about, male or female. Dr, Bond, ¿the Author, did an increasable job by diving so deep into Camille¿ inner heart and mind, and she took us with her in this incredible journey, beautiful and painful at the same time. She was so successful in portraying Camille not just as a female artist who was treated so unjustly by the art world at the time and still,to this day. But also portraying the art process that Camille went thru in creating her master pieces. I Thought that Dr. Bond got to be a sculptor herself. I mean the ability to go to that depth into the processes of creating sculpture was so real, and I feel it most of the time, when I create my work. Although, I know that the creative process it mostly the same, in Art, Literature, Music, and any other creativity. But still I was an awe of her ability to write about it in so much depth. I know about Camille¿s live and her work which I always admired and inspired by, but Dr Bond¿s book showed me the many other aspect and depth of her as a female and human being. Her brilliance as a psychologist showed so greatly in this book And the journey in to Camille¿s mind and heart was absolutely, fascinating. It is a book that I¿ll most defiantly reread again, and again and recommend to fellow artists and creative people, especially the female ones, since I¿m quite sure that they would find it to be as true and authentic as I found it, even though I¿m a male. Bravo Dr Bond'