A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France
As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.
Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Heather Webb is a former French teacher, a blogger, and a member of the Historical Novel Society. She lives with her family in Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2015 Heather Webb
Camille dropped to her knees in the mud. Her skirts absorbed last night’s rain and the scent of sodden earth. She plunged a trowel, stolen from her neighbor’s garden, into the red clay and dug furiously, stopping only to slop hunks of earth into a wooden trough. She needed one more load to mold the portrait of Eugénie. The maid would sit for her again, regardless of her protestations.
The sun climbed the sky, though it did little to warm the damp chill. Thankfully, the heat of summer had not unleashed its force to scorch the grass and dry the earth. It made for easier digging.
Camille breathed in a lungful of air laced with the mineral scent of clay. Perfection.
“Read to me, little brother,” she said. “If you’re not going to help, that is.”
Paul dangled his legs over the edge of the boulder on which he sat. “I’ll help you lug it home, but I’m not listening to Mother’s howling over my soiled trousers again.”
Paul cared for appearances, with his proud chin and shining blond hair, his perfectly polished boots, even at the young age of thirteen. Camille grinned. It was a fatal mistake in a household with a sister obsessed with clay.
Her brother ignored her and flipped to a page in Verlaine’s Poèmes Saturniens. He read aloud.
How far away now is all that lightness
And all that innocence! Ah, backwards yet,
From black winter fled, to the Springtime of regret,
From my disgust, my boredom, my distress.
“Can’t you read anything more lively?” Camille stood and stretched her aching back. It would not do to feel so fatigued already. She had too much to accomplish today. “You’re always so melancholy.”
“As you’re always spiteful.”
She gouged her fingers into the slick clay and lobbed a fistful at Paul. It splattered his vest and the cuff of his once-pristine shirt. She laughed and gathered another handful.
“Cretin!” He jumped down from his perch and chased her through the wood toward the edge of the riverbank.
She squealed as she fled. “You’ll never catch me in your fine shoes.” Her dark hair came loose from its haphazard knot and streamed down her back. She laughed as she laced through maple and chestnut trees and leapt over underbrush. How easy her brother was to goad.
Paul threw himself forward and caught her arm, spun her around, and smashed a wet mound of earth on her cheek. Camille shrieked, then grasped his free hand and tugged him toward the water’s edge.
“Oh no you don’t. Let go!” He leaned away from her with all his weight.
“You’re covered in mud,” she said. “You need to bathe.”
With a final yank, they tumbled together into the river, a heap of flailing limbs and fabric. Paul sputtered in the cold russet water before he gained his footing on the silt bottom. “You’ll pay for this. While you sleep.”
“Try it. I dare you.” Camille splashed him before she waded to shore, flopping onto the embankment in her soaked gray gown, a fish out of water. Paul trudged over soft riverbank and plopped onto the carpet of grass beside her, tucking his hands beneath his head. He stared up at the clouded sky.
“Rats!” In a sudden movement he scrambled to his feet. “Our lessons! Monsieur Colin will be angry if we’re late.” He offered his sister his hand. When she reached for it, he yanked it away, and she tumbled back to the ground. He laughed at her startled expression. “You deserved that.”
Camille giggled. “So I did.” She stood and pulled at the wet fabric sticking to her skin. “I’m sure he started with Louise. You know how long she takes at the pianoforte. We needn’t hurry.”
Monsieur Colin had traveled to Villeneuve-sur-Fère to tutor the children during the summer months. Gracious of him, considering he had many commitments. Papa paid him well for his services.
They returned to the rocky hillside and hefted the heavy trough back through the windswept fields to their house in the center of Villeneuve. As they passed the town’s église, the sonorous clamor of church bells tolled the hour from their Gothic tower.
“It’s later than I thought,” Camille said, lowering the clay to the ground. A sinking dread settled in the pit of her stomach. Mother would be angry.
“Hurry!” Paul urged her.
They dragged their load through a rusted iron gate and around to the barn behind the house. Camille covered the clay with a moistened cloth and left it beside Grand-père’s old kiln before following Paul to the house.
Monsieur Colin bounded down the front walk. “There you are.” He studied their ruined clothing with shrewd eyes. “It seems you have gone for a swim instead of tending to your studies. I prefer not to waste my time.”
“I beg your pardon, monsieur.” Camille cast her gaze to the ground. “We didn’t realize the hour. I was looking forward to another drawing lesson.”
“Moi, aussi,” Paul said.
Monsieur Colin gave them a stern look. “I left a list of assignments for next Thursday. I will be in Paris the remainder of this week. And Camille”—his stern tone softened—“your mother isn’t happy with you.”
The dread reemerged and slithered in her stomach. What sort of punishment would she receive today? She met her tutor’s eyes. “She never is.”
“Try not to take it to heart. Your studies are progressing well, when you attend to them.” Monsieur Colin winked and a smile lifted the corners of his bushy mustache. He continued down the walk and raised his cane in the air. “Paul, keep your sister out of trouble.”
“Oui, monsieur,” he said. “I will do my best.”
Camille pinched his arm. He shoved her in response. “Now we must face Mother, thanks to you.”
“What’s another admonishing? We’re always at war.” Camille’s words were braver than she felt. The last time she had broken a rule, she had been restricted from the barn for a week. She had been reduced to making shapes with her pureed potatoes.
When monsieur’s coach disappeared down the street, they entered the familiar stucco house. Mother swept into the hall in her usual gray day dress unadorned by lace, corsage, or frills, embellished only by a modest bustle and a cameo. She wore her hair slicked and shiny, parted down the middle, and rolled into a tight chignon at the nape of her neck. Her sharp expression and rigid shoulders—held stout like a soldier’s—did little to soften her austere appearance.
Camille braced herself.
“Where in the devil—” Mother’s hand flew to her mouth. “Camille, look at you! You’re a disgrace.” She stared at the red clay caked on her daughter’s gown and boots, the naked forearms and elbows covered in grime. “Those filthy sculptures. I have told you not to wear your good dresses outdoors, yet you insist on keeping up with this nonsense. If you continue to run amok like a heathen, you will ruin the family’s reputation.”
Camille flinched. She didn’t wish to destroy the family’s reputation, but she did not see how sculpting could be shameful. It filled her with purpose and joy. Sculpting was all beauty and inspiration—and passion, something Mother had not experienced a single day in her life.
“I’m an artist, Mother,” Camille said drily. “Not a whore or a gambler.”
Mother’s nostrils flared. “Yet you appear as one, just now.”
Camille’s mouth fell open.
“Don’t talk to her that way.” Paul jumped to her aid.
“Know your place, young man,” Mother snapped. “You aren’t the head of this household.”
“Why do you dislike me so much?” Camille asked. “Because I am not him? Your infant who died?”
Mother’s eyes bulged in their sockets—the desired effect. Camille had struck a nerve.
“I had not yet been born, and you deride me as if I made him die,” Camille continued. Sorrow and anger clawed at her throat.
“Do not speak of him!” Mother said, her voice strangled. Tears shone in her eyes.
Camille had gone too far, and yet, she knew her words rang true. She had always paid for Mother’s pain, for her loss. “I am sorry.” She reached out a trembling hand to comfort her mother, despite her instinct to recoil.
Mother pulled away and crossed her arms. “You’ll spend the rest of the day in your bedroom. And Paul, you will work off the cost of your ruined shoes.”
His face fell.
“I will work for his shoes.” Camille tucked her hand through his arm in solidarity. “It’s my fault.” She bumped him softly with her shoulder. Grateful, her brother squeezed her hand.
“Fine.” The rigid lines on Mother’s forehead deepened. “And no more talk of being an artist. It’s absurd. You will finish your studies and find a husband, Camille, as it is supposed to be.”
Camille’s insides turned to stone. A husband? She could think of nothing worse. She turned on her heel and stormed up the creaky oak stairs. Mother couldn’t force her.
“Wait.” Paul raced after his sister, reaching her bedroom just as she closed the door.
“Not now, Paul.” Camille paced in the tiny space, littering clumps of mud behind her on the wooden floor. Mother wanted her to behave like every other lady, or better yet, to behave like Mother herself—a submissive, miserable woman. A victim of her own life.
“I can’t believe you said that to her,” Louise said. Her sister braided her hair before the mirror for the second time that day. She admired her new set of ribbons entirely too much—and her own reflection.
Camille stopped. “Of course you wouldn’t understand, because she never reprimands you.”
“It’s not difficult to follow the rules.”
Camille struggled with the laces of her damp gown, freed herself, and tossed the offending garment into the corner with a savage thrust. She could not be a demure, overly sweet creature who shrank beneath the weight of duty. Marriage—even the word—turned her stomach. She would not spend her days pleasing everyone but herself.
Paul knocked at the door. “Camille, let me in.”
She pulled on a dry chemise and opened the door.
“Don’t listen to her.” Her brother embraced her. “You’ll be a famous sculptor one day. You’ll be one of the first women to do it. I know you will.”
Thank God for Paul. He would always be there, defending her to the last.
Camille lit another candle. Evening descended, and soon she would need to sneak the lantern from her bedroom into the barn. She scooped a mass of clay onto an old farm table to roll and knead it, to wick away unnecessary moisture. With forceful thrusts, she pushed against the clay again and again. The sticky lump formed beneath her hands, bent to her will. She could control clay and depend on its soothing smell. She marveled at the way it held a secret identity until she coaxed it to life.
The barn door screeched on its hinge. Camille looked up to meet the intruder. “Papa!”
Louis-Prosper Claudel had returned home after a week’s stay in Paris. Camille kissed his cheeks. The familiar scent of his mustache wax hovered about him.
“Bonsoir, mon amour.” He removed his morning coat and loosened his cravat. “It’s good to be home. Paris is abysmal in the summer.”
Camille wondered what abysmal looked like—she had never seen the capital city. Mother deemed it unsafe since the fall of the Paris Commune and the Prussian invasion a decade ago. Still, Camille had pleaded for a visit more times than she could count. She longed to tour the Louvre and see the works of the greats.
“Mother said you haven’t eaten since this morning.” He rubbed her back. “Come and have tea with your papa.”
But she had so much to do—the bust of Poseidon needed some attention and she had to prepare more clay. Perhaps she would work more after a visit with Papa.
“Very well. I’ll join you.” She dunked her hands in a bucket of water and scrubbed.
They strolled to the house and into the salon, where the rest of the family lounged. Paul snapped his book closed, and Louise ceased her piano practice to greet their father.
“I asked Eugénie to save you a plate from this afternoon.” Mother tilted her cheek so Papa could kiss her, but did not look up from her sewing.
Camille noted Mother did not do the same for her.
As Papa turned the cylinder on the gas lamp, a flame blazed to life. Satisfied, he settled on the settee. “And how are your studies, children?”
“Bien,” Paul said. “I am ahead again.”
Camille sat beside her father. “I spent the entire day in the barn. Paul’s bust is finished.”
“If you continue with such intensity,” Mother said in a curt tone, “your art will consume you.”
Camille shrugged. Was that a bad thing? To be consumed by what you most adored?
“I look forward to seeing it,” Papa cut in. He removed his spectacles and polished them with a handkerchief.
Mother dropped her sewing in her lap. “She missed another session with Monsieur Colin yesterday afternoon. Your daughter traipses through the woods, destroying clothing, ignoring her duties. And of course she has to get her brother into trouble as well.” She threw Paul a pointed look.
A rush of blood crept up Camille’s neck to her hairline. Mother could never resist the chance to chastise her in front of everyone. She bit her tongue to keep from saying something she would regret.
“Camille.” Papa trained his kind blue eyes on her face. “You mustn’t miss your lessons or I won’t pay for them any longer.”
“I’m sorry, Papa.” She covered his hand with hers. “I lost track of the time. I had to gather more clay—”
“See to it you don’t miss another.” He nodded as if to close the discussion.
“Oui, Papa.” Camille shifted her gaze to the floor.
Mother recommenced her sewing, her lips twitching into a satisfied smile.
“Monsieur Colin wrote to me of your progress.” Papa withdrew a letter from his pocket. “He is impressed, Camille, and with you as well, Paul. I fear you both may soon outgrow him.”
Louise noted his lack of compliment toward her and crossed her arms.
“Would you send me to school, then?” Paul leaned forward in his chair.
“Perhaps, one day.”
“And me? Would you send me away?” Louise asked with a nervous tug on a stray curl. She twined it around her forefinger.
“Don’t worry,” Camille said. “You’ll not be sent away, Louise. You’ll fall madly in love with a prince who will whisk you away to a castle that would make even Cendrillon jealous.”
Louise gave her sister a saccharine smile.
“Don’t mock your sister,” Mother said. “At least Louise has a real goal. You should set one of your own. One that is actually achievable. In fact, I think it’s time to find yourself some suitors.”
“I have a goal, though you refuse to accept it!” Camille stood and glared down at Mother. “Tell her, Papa.”
He tugged on her hand. “For now, you must finish your studies. Then we will discuss other options.”
“Other options?” Mother’s voice switched from condescending to shrill. “We spend entirely too much money on her as it is. And for what? So she can pretend she is a man?” She picked up her sewing and jabbed her needle through the cloth.
“I don’t pretend anything.” Camille stalked to the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Je sors! ”
“You are not going out,” Mother declared. “Come back here this instant!”
She ripped open the door and flew into the yard in a fury.
“Let her go.” Papa’s firm voice drifted through the open window.
Camille raced down the gravel lane and across the square. She ducked under a row of lime trees, passed the silent boucherie and the darkened windows of the handful of boutiques that sold figurines, pottery, and other goods made from the red Villeneuve earth, the town’s one and only treasure. Her only treasure.
Suitors! The thought of it made her ill. She cared nothing for men and their lustful eyes and pawing hands. To be married would suffocate her. No man would ever understand her need to create with her hands day after day.
A mother pulled her children closer to her side and hurried toward home, something Camille’s own mother would never do. Mother would never embrace her, or take her by the hand. She had never kissed her or stroked her hair, not even as a child. Camille swallowed hard against the unfathomable sorrow that rushed up her throat each time she allowed Mother to make her long for the love that would never come.
She dashed into a wheat field, blond stalks swishing around her legs. As the rows thickened, she pushed ahead, tendrils brushing against her face. She ran her fingertips over the stalks, grasping at heads and plucking off the individual kernels. To touch, to feel anything comforted her. At the edge of the field, she plucked a final stalk and twirled it between her thumb and forefinger.
She must devise a plan. She could not be married off—that was out of the question.
The crickets’ night song grew louder as she neared the forest, and the scent of pine needles filled her nose. She followed the sandy path through the trees that led to her favorite hiding place, now swallowed in shadows. In her secret garden, worn boulders jutted from the earth, their grotesque shapes carved by weathering wind and rain. The Devil’s minions, they were called. As a child, Camille had created stories for each of the distorted shapes. When she reached La Hottée du Diable, the dull gleam of limestone shone in the moonlight. She climbed into the rock’s hollow and ran her hands over its rough surface, feeling every weathered bump.
Night enfolded her in its balmy air, and with darkness came a decision. She would persuade Papa to hire an art tutor, someone more knowledgeable than Monsieur Colin. Then, she would bargain with him. If she did not progress in a year’s time, she would not waste Papa’s money any longer and she would . . . confront those repercussions when the time came.
Camille leaned into the cradle of stone and peered up at the silver moon. She would become a sculptor; someday she would even show her portraits. The thought warmed her blood and filled her heart until she felt as if it would burst.
A fat raven alighted on the edge of the rock nearest her. The bird preened its midnight feathers and then watched her with an inquisitive eye.
“Yes, Mr. Raven, it will be,” she said. “You may carry my words to the Devil himself.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Rodin's Lover:
"Camille Claudel is an audacious and authentic character who deserves to be remembered. Rodin’s Lover is epic and unflinching--a book you won't soon forget." --Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author of City of Jasmine
“Written with great empathy, this novel of the visceral world of Paris ateliers, of clay-stained dresses and fingernails, and talent which endures, comes vividly to life." -Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet
Praise for Becoming Josephine:
“Webb holds up a light into the inner recesses of a fascinating and contradictory woman . . . Becoming Josephine is an accomplished debut.” –New York Journal of Books
“Webb’s portrayal of the range of Josephine’s experience—narrow escapes from bloodshed and disease, dinner-table diplomacy, and her helpless love for Napoleon, her children and a small dog—is exceptionally concise and colorful. A worthy fictional primer on Empress Josephine.” –Kirkus
“A debut as bewitching as its protagonist.” –Erika Robuck, author of Call Me Zelda
Reading Group Guide
1. How does the epigraph set the tone for the novel? What do you think is meant by the line “everything belongs to the future?”
2. What is your initial impression of Camille’s mother? Does she only want Camille to be satisfied with “achievable” things, or is there something more behind her dislike of Camille’s sculpting? How did your perception of her evolve throughout the course of the novel?
3. Describe Auguste’s marriage. How do Auguste and Rose differ in their definitions of love?
4. Camille regularly refuses to conform to her society’s notion of how a woman should behave. Does her stubbornness work against her goals? Does she realize it?
5. When Camille and Paul run from Alphonse Bertillon into a cathedral, Camille says to Paul that “they built those ceilings . . . to make us feel insignificant and small. To steal our sense of self. If God is all loving, why would he wish for such a thing?” What do you make of her assessment? What does it tell you about her?
6. What is Camille’s relationship with Amy and Emily like? Camille claims to be a student of emotion in her art, but seems to have difficulty translating these studies to her interactions with others. Why do you think that is? Is she aware of it?
7. Why does Jules Dalou believe it necessary to spurn the Artistes Franç aises and reestablish the Société des Beaux-Arts? What does Rodin’s reaction say about his character?
8. Auguste’s first gift to Camille is her own piece of stone. What can you infer from this gift about the relationship that is to follow? Do Auguste and Camille understand each other in ways that others do not?
9. What is the significance of the fact that the beginning of Auguste and Camille’s romance is also marked by the onset of the voices in her head? The voices tell her to run from Rodin. Is there any reason to what they say?
10. Auguste tells Camille that “we must play the system any way we can.” Does she feel the same way? How does her inflexibility in this affect her relationship with Auguste?
11. Towards the end of the novel, Camille’s jealousy and paranoia escalate rapidly. Is her madness apparent to those around her initially? How does the author delineate Camille’s passionate personality from her descent into mental illness? Is the line between them always clear?
12. Camille tells Paul that “to pour your soul into something you love, to make it beautiful, is the highest form of spirituality there is.” Do you agree?
13. Why does Rodin toss his final letter to Camille into the fire?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I couldn't put this book down. The story of Camille Claudel and her fight for position in the male dominated world of sculpture, not to mention her constant battle against the demons in her head, kept me thoroughly enthralled, and much to my surprise, in tears near the end. Well written and researched, I look forward to more from this author.
Get ready to be transported into Parisian culture every time you open this book. I instantly feel like I'm there with the food, dresses, buildings, and light. Lovers of sculpture would relish every description of struggle to create. I come away with a new appreciation for sculpture and artists in general, especially those up against all odds like Camille Claudel. As a writer, I understood her need to express her passion, and I admired her determination. I'm not sure I could have persisted in the late 1800s with as many obstacles as she faced. I love how the author weaves in authentic French words into the novel. They add to the flavor of French life. The alternating point of view between Camille and Rodin bring a whole other fascinating perspective to this love affair. Historical fiction educates and entertains, and this novel is a prime example.
If Camille Claudel had been born a century later she would have been much more accepted and that is very tragic. She was talented, but she lived in a man's world and she just couldn't play by their rules. I mean women apparently had to send in a request to wear trousers! All she wanted in her life was to sculpt, but she had to fight for that, her mother was against it, thanks to her father she could do it. Her relationship with Auguste Rodin was passionate, but her jealousy, her fierce nature, and in the end her illness just couldn't make the relationship work. I liked the book, but I found it was hard to read also, partly because I know how it would end, but also because I felt that I really never got into the story. I felt sorry for Camille Claudel, but I never really liked her in the book, I liked that she struggled to do something that before just men had done. But often I felt that she lacked the will to compromise, do keep her mouth shut sometimes. But this could easily be a part of her illness, but that didn't make her more sympathetic. She drove her friends away with her sharp tongue and I can understand why they find it was hard to be friend with her. I don't know if she was this way in real life or if Heather Webb has just portrayed her this way. But it really made it hard to read the book. Also the relationship between Rodin and Claudel, I just didn't feel any passion I was never engrossed by their tragic love story. I didn't feel that moved by their relationship. It was interesting to read do get to know more about them, but I could just as well have read a biographical book about them. Still it was a good book, it was never boring, and I liked the small part with Victor Hugo, made me want to know more about him.
Perhaps if it had been categorized as Young Adult, YA, Rodin's Lover may have been considered an interesting novella. The novel may not have been such a disappointment. Knowing how difficult it is to be a writer and a published one, at that, I hate giving any author a poor review. In addition to being juvenile, the author's voice seemed like it was a fake French accent. I do not doubt the accuracy of the author's research. Perhaps the novel could have been shortened to give more impact.
Rodin's Lover is a biographical novel about the life of French scuptor and artist, Camille Claudel. Despite her mother's interference, Camille's father arranged for her to study art in a time when women were banned from doing so. She came under the guidance of Auguste Rodin, and they soon fell in love and began an affair. After an unwanted abortion, Camille became paranoid and possibly schizophrenic, prone to outbursts. She voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric hospital, but when doctors tried to release her, her mother intervened and insisted she be kept there. Set in France during the 1900's, Rodin's Lover is a comprehensive telling of a young woman who defied social norms and became a beloved sculptor. Like many biographical novels, the pace slows sometimes, but the story was compelling enough to keep me reading. The author portrayed Camille in a most sympathetic way, and I found her fascinating for her courage, dedication to her work, and willingness to learn. The author also did a thorough job of describing art techniques and the various historical characters in a very real, believable way. A lovely, but sad story.
She was a fireball and a prodigy. He was a genius. Their art was revolutionary. Sparks flew between and around them...She burnt out much too soon. At the turn of the nineteenth century, seventeen year-old Camille Claudel dreams of becoming a famous sculptor, but becoming a female artist means pushing the boundaries of convention a little too far. In Paris Camille will be able to attend art school and possibly have an atelier of her own. Thus, the Claudel family relocates in search of better opportunities for their two most talented offsprings. Camille soon overshadows her classmates in art school, and her private tutor, a renowned sculptor, sees greatness in her. When he wins a prestigious prize and must leave Paris for Rome, he convinces his friend Auguste Rodin to nurture Camille's talent. But what's with this fiery young beauty who manages to make Rodin feel so uncertain yet capable of tackling anything?! Rodin's Lover reverberates with intensity. I could picture the unfolding story in my mind as if I were watching a movie. I have read passages of a book on Mendeleev's quest to organize the chemical elements into a reasonable system. The book is after my own heart, but I have never been able to finish it because I become overwhelmed by emotion to the point that I feel I am on fire, blood pumping in my ears, and bells tolling in my chest. That was the effect Rodin's Lover had on me. I felt uncomfortably aglow, feeling intensely the chemistry between Rodin and Camille--not only the measure of their desire for each other but their intellectual compatibility as well. Heather Webb has managed quite a feat: to penetrate the mind of a genius, shed light on the chaos that sometimes reigns inside, and expose his creative process. Rodin has come alive in all his glory and complexity: his desires, his dreams, his energy and all-consuming passion...And so has Camille. Webb has zeroed in on how it must have felt as a talented woman to work in a field dominated by men and be overshadowed by them. It is an issue as timely in this day and age as it was at the end of the nineteenth century. It is said that the line that divides genius and madness is a fine one; Webb has masterfully made it blurry. In Camille there is virtually no difference between a driven individual and an obsessed one.
Fast becoming one of my favorite writers that combines historical figures, fiction and impeccable researching, Heather Webb has crafted another gripping and emotional love story, brought to life from the past. Auguste Rodin is a name familiar to everyone, one doesn’t need to be familiar with art or art history to be familiar with his name. And, typical of much of history, it is the men who have been documented and fêted, while in many cases, women are simple footnotes. Considered to be the ‘father’ of modern sculpture, his use of realism and highly emotive imagery, departed from themes focusing on myth and allegory that were prevalent during his creative years. Camille Claudel is less familiar to many, although her younger brother Paul is a noted poet. Denied entry into the premiere art school of the day because of her sex, Claudel studied with Colarossi and then opened her own workshop that was populated by women. Introduced to Rodin by her mentor, Alfred Boucher, she went to work in Rodin’s studio: and our story of love, obsession, art and the particular genius of the truly talented that so often runs to madness begins. Do you really need to know any of that information? No: Webb so completely immerses readers into the life of Claudel, presenting background and details that bring the story to life. Claudel is a complex woman (aren’t we all though really) living and struggling with her two great passions: her art and her love. While never completely reconciling herself to her position as the lover, but not wife, live-in or even exclusive recipient of his affections, much of Claudel’s ardor is palpable, but somehow ephemeral and elusive: her position isn’t secure and the ramifications to her reputation even in the progressive Parisian arts society I feel is an important contributor to her relative unknown status in modern day. What Webb has done is present a story rich in the time, laden with facts and beautifully enriched with Paris and the people who were integral in the era: artists, models, patrons and the salons all served to enrich the sense of era and place with strong imagery and description. Using Camille’s point of view to tell her story, with the third person insets of Rodin’s voice also served to present that remove to which he was willing to, and perhaps in his own selfish way, returned her affections but on his terms. While these changes did interrupt Camille’s flow, it also served to act as a ‘reality check’ to the difficulties she was facing: emotionally and artistically, in this relationship with a man consumed by his own passions and art. It is perhaps fitting that her mental health and stability are fluid and ever changing throughout the story, to her tragic end. Fans of historic fiction, art or even Paris will enjoy this story: the mix of history and fiction with characters that will entice you to look further are all solid elements in this book. Webb’s presentation of Claudel, with her ultimately tragic end has voice and life here: although a complex and often convoluted one. I received an eArc copy from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Rodin’s Lover is the moving, passionately rendered story of Camille Claude, a brilliant but deeply troubled French sculptor. It explores her struggles as an artist and her tempestuous relationship with Auguste Rodin—her mentor, lover, and would-be savior. The novel immerses us in the turbulent world of late nineteenth century France, with the action moving to the salons and studios of Paris after the first few chapters. Webb’s combination of artfully crafted descriptions and painstakingly researched period detail draws us into the setting with marvelous efficacy. Parisian scents—from a street vendor’s succulent garbure to a ragged prostitute’s perfumed stench—almost seem to rise from the page. The story unfolds both through Camille’s eyes and those of Rodin himself, and their voices are equally authentic. The potent mix of tenderness and fervor connecting Rodin and Claudel might tempt a lesser author to engage in potboiler sentimentalism or hyperbole, but Webb’s touch remains deft, even when the romantic intensity reaches its peak. Anyone who has ever experienced love tinged by regret, self-approbation, or angst will see themselves reflected in the beautiful torments that wrack Webb’s lovers. While Claudel’s story is extraordinary, it is not a happy one. Living, as she does, at time when it is possible for a female artist to pursue commercial success, but almost impossible to achieve it, she is faced with nigh-insurmountable odds. The tale of a life spent surmounting those odds is one that most readers will find compelling—for in addition to facing the barriers erected by society, Camille must face the demons lurking in her own troubled soul. Rodin’s Lover succeeds on many levels: as a romance, a tragedy, social commentary, and psychological thriller. Ultimately, it is Camille’s struggle to create lasting meaning that seizes our attention. At this point, the novel becomes—first and foremost—a paean to the untamed ferocity of the human heart.
Webb's second novel focuses on a less well known figure, French Belle Époque sculptor Camille Claudel, and this novel surpasses her first (which was pretty fabulous!). Camille is a bit of a savant, a self-taught sculptor with immense talent and a matching ego. Driven to pursue her art, she receives tutoring in Paris from one of France's preeminent sculptors, but her family is split in their support of her passion. Camille's father supports her while her mother rages against the unorthodox behavior of her daughter. While her mother tries to arrange a marriage, Camille is instead drawn to her newest tutor, the much lauded Auguste Rodin. Lest you fear this is just another hist fic focusing on a lady with a famous lover, let me reassure you this is a far more complicated, rich, and eventful story. Camille is a hard heroine to love: prickly, confident to the point of obnoxious, and single-minded. In Webb's hands, she isn't softened nor does she turn flat the moment she falls into her lover's arms. In fact, Webb's emotional sensitivity is something I've come to admire in her books as the dramatic events unfold without veering into melodrama. Webb doesn't shy from the hard, heartbreaking parts of Camille's life (I'm being vague about these parts for those unfamiliar with Camille's story, but there's nothing fluffy here!) and intense moments are touched with humor, bittersweet sadness, or irony, making it impossible for this reader to shake Camille's story. I sometimes find books about artists tricky; it can be hard to render into compelling narrative endeavors that depend on other senses. But Webb managed to evoke the tactile experience of sculpting as well as describing the various sculptures and pieces of art without sounding like a text book. I "saw" the works even without having to google them (although google I did!). I have to give a particular shout out to Joshua DeLillo, who sketched three of Camille's works for use in this novel. They look like photographs, they're so finely rendered, and were a welcome addition to the story. This is the second novel I read since having my baby (and the second for 2015), and it was a knockout -- well worth stealing time to read. It's a fabulous read for those who enjoy biographical novels; I'm particularly reminded of Melanie Benjamin, who I also think takes shocking, notorious lives and renders them realistically, tenderly, and with empathy. Enjoy this one with espresso or cocoa over a snowy weekend.
In Heather Webb's second novel, RODIN'S LOVER, we explore the tumultuous and troubled life of the talented and haunted Camille Claudel, brilliant sculptor and long time mistress of artist Auguste Rodin. Webb deftly portrays Belle Epoque Paris, and the challenges that Camille faced as a woman in the art world. Camille faces derision from her critics, hostility from her overbearing mother, and her struggle to stand on her own without the interference from her well-connected and generally well respected lover. To compound matters, Camille battled tragic demons of her own (she suffered from schizophrenia) and ends up spending the last years of her life in an asylum. Despite the tragic end of Camille's life, this portrait of a resplendently talented artist is vivid and captivating. I absolutely loved Webb's debut, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, and worried that I might not find this tragic tale as enthralling. After devouring this book, it's clear the author has added a layer of complexity and sophistication to her writing with this new work. Expect many good things from this author--she's becoming a force in historical women's fiction. *Disclaimer: I received a free advance copy of this book in exchange for a free review.
VERDICT: Rodin’s Lover is simply a masterful page-turner on French sculptor Camille Claudel, her time, her work, and her complex relationship with Rodin. Art, love, and madness beautifully cast together in Paris Belle Époque. Life has never been easy for an artist. All the more so if the artist lived in the 19th century and the artist was a woman. Rodin’s Lover captures the journey of the remarkable French scupltor Camille Claudel, both Rodin’s student and lover. I devoured this book in no time, actually just like Heather ‘s Webb first novel, Becoming Josephine. I really liked how the author divided the book: in three periods, each presented with the name and picture of one of Camille’s famous sculptures that fit perfectly. Let’s not beat around the bush: Camille basically lived almost a century too early: she can’t fit in the society of her time with its thoughts and rules about women, and especially about women artists. Even if her talents are originally supported by her father and her young brother Paul, she has to bear an extra burden with the lack of tenderness and even the dislike of her mother, angry that she lost a baby boy and not that girl. And of course, her mother is a proper lady of her time, so all she wants for Camille is a good husband, hence the parade of suitors inflicted on our young rebellious woman who is not afraid to speak her thoughts aloud, creating “scandals”. And we have to admit, already as a teen, she has quite a temper, which will evolve along the years into full-blown anger. To help her develop her art, her father decides to move the family to Paris. That’s where Camille will daringly share a studio with two other female artists, and eventually have her own and share one with her tutor, master sculptor Rodin. Rodin is twenty four years older than her and he still lives with the mother of his teenage boy, but they will share more than the love of art together. It is fascinating how Webb describes their relationship, with co-influence in art and a vast mix of feelings going on between them. Early on, something is nagging at Camille about Rodin and she thinks hearing an inner “voice” warning her about him, ” a lady’s man”. This voice is one element making their relationship quite complex. Indeed, even though we don’t have explicit testimonies about this, Heather decided to use this voice and other similar symptoms to illustrate deftly Camille’s slow demise into mental illness. It is so well evoked in this novel, slow but relentless. And alcohol for sure does not help… There are fascinating details on art, on how they chose models (not much different from choosing slaves on the market place actually) and on sculpture of course, for instance on bronze casting, on how you work with clay, marble or alabaster for instance. I really enjoyed seeing Camille’s works and also many Rodin’s works come to life, from commission to awards. If you are not familiar with them, I highly suggest you take time to look at them on the internet as you run into them in the book. And there are lots of other things to love in this book: see on my blog
"Rodin's Lover" by Heather Webb does not disappoint! This was my first time reading about Camille Claudel. Even though I've never read about her before I have read and heard and seen Auguste Rodin's work and his legacy. It was refreshing to learn about Camille and I thought that this was beautifully written for many different reasons. First, Camille. She was such a complex and muli-layered person. It was difficult to love her a first because she seemed so difficult and so fixated on her art and her passion but at the same time it was easy to admire her tenacity and determination. In many ways she had the odds stalked against her. She was trying to break into a field that did not welcome or have many previous woman artists. In many ways Camille's experience with Rodin were both a blessing and a curse. As their relationship evolved it became more complicated and more more intense. It was a passionate relationship destined to be doomed. One of the many reasons that Webb is so enjoyable to read is that she obviously does her research. I learned so much about Josephine in "Becoming Josephine" and now in "Rodin's Lover." Also, she seems to really love and understand her heroines, their drive, their circumstances and their humanity. This was such a rich combination of work, love, passion, art, mental illness and determination. Needless to say I loved and enjoyed this story and Camille. She is truly worth reading about!
Camille Claudel does not conform to convention. Her mother wants her to accept her place first as a girl and do things good girls do and then as a young woman, marry and have a family. Instead, as a girl, Camille digs for clay to sculpt with and comes home dirty. Her father is more supportive and moves the family to France where Camille can go to an art school that recently opened it’s doors to female students. Her mother agrees but only if Camille will at least agree to meet potential suitors. Of course, a suitor is arranged for right away and Camille is not impressed. The second time he comes around, Camille finds out before she walks into the family door and leaves rather that having to see him again. Camille and two other female students share a small art studio and have a private tutor, none other than Auguste Rodin. When he sees Camille’s talent, he makes her his apprentice. Soon after they start having an affair. I enjoyed this book, for the most part. I especially liked it all the way through until soon after the affair started. After that, there were some good parts but also a lot of repetition, to the point that I just wanted the book to end! Yes, I got the point, Camille had an illness. I didn’t need to be reminded, the way I was reminded page after page. Every time she had an attack with the illness coming on the author found it necessary to insert the words “drip,drip, drip”. I found them to have no effect on her point except to be annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I read ‘Rodin’s Lover’, it had enough good things to make it worthwhile. I just think it could have been so much better. I loved Heather Webb’s ‘Becoming Josephine’ so I know ‘Rodin’s Lover’ could have been so much more.
Webb’s illustration of the complicated and abundantly talented artist Camille Claudel focuses on her tumultuous and licentious affair with Auguste Rodin, a man penetrating her heart yet elusive for her to possess. Exceptionally researched, Webb highlights the art world in all its glory and harshness. The politics, power and societal propriety seizing artists and their creativity creating a fissure of misunderstanding. A world full of sexism and misogyny as female artists struggle to penetrate a male dominated world, an improper vocation fitting a woman. Webb provides snippets of Claudel, more could have been offered besides her love of Rodin and their forbidden dalliance. Rodin comes across as weak, a man hopelessly in love with his artistic equal but bound by obligation and duty preventing a full fledged commitment with Claudel. Despite their runaway attraction, the narrative fails to convey their deep rooted connection, it feels flat, lack of spark. Their mutual appetite for sculpting is also tempered. Two obsessive creatures in both art and love are not expressed as they could be in the narrative, rather a quiet storm leaving the reader anticipating and wanting more declared. I was hoping Claudel’s slow descent into ‘madness’ was examined more. What drove her to ‘madness’ or was she a victim shut away for convenience sake of her ‘family’ as a maverick, an intelligent independent woman craving more or was art the culprit – much delving left wide open in this area. An entertaining read, it’s a romance narrative rather than an in depth probe into the woman Camille Claudel. A woman worthy of notice and artistic praise as her life is often questioned in its shroud of mystery and unanswered questions. I was expecting Webb to take a different avenue with Claudel, despite my frustration this is a worthwhile read, if anything the reader will want to discover more of Camille Claudel on their own of her life, art, and tragic circumstances.