Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

by Stephanie Cowell


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Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell

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.

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. 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 and often suffered the indignities of destitution. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307463227
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 04/05/2011
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 173,300
Product dimensions: 5.02(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.68(d)

About 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 and

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.

Reading Group Guide

Claude & Camille Reading Group Guide
1. Do you think Claude should have found some sort of work to support his family? Was he right in his insistence on following art only? Was he not capable of compromise? Do geniuses live by special rules? Would you have seen the situation differently from his father’s point of view, not knowing the end?
2. Camille was a very complex girl: loyal, secretive, and duplicitous. What do you think drove her secrets and lies? Could she help herself? Back in 1865 people did not know much about the workings of the mind. Discuss the complex reasons for her behavior.
3. Do you think Camille would have been happier if she had left Claude for Frédéric?
4. Do you think Claude compromised his career and artistic focus by breaking away from his friends to pursue his relationship with Camille?
5. Do you think Claude’s artistic achievement would have turned out differently had he not suffered so much hardship and loss? Would he have been able to create such complex masterpieces as the Water Lily series? Why or why not?
6. Annette holds Claude responsible for the death of her sister. Is there any justification for that? Do you feel perhaps in any way that she was envious of her sister’s ability to live a free life?
7. Could Claude have prevented Frédéric from going to war? How could he have behaved to prevent his friend’s tragedy?
8. There are may different turning points in the novel—Claude leaving for Paris, the first time he meets Camille, Bazille enlisting in the army.
Which do you think had the most profound effect on his life and career? Which do you think resulted in the most growth?
9. Monet’s paintings of his water lily pond and gardens are arguably the most beloved paintings in the world. How and where did you first find them? Everyone sees them in his or her own way. What do they mean to you?
10. Have you visited Monet’s house at Giverny or would you like to? Now that you know some of the hardships Monet endured before he was able to make his garden and paint it, will you see it in a different way?

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Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 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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