Monday, March 15, 2010

Camille Claudel Book Review

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

A little while ago, I finished a book about a passionate sculptor. The book “Camille Claudel: A Novel” was published in 2006 and written by Alma H. Bond, Ph.D. The young French sculptor was an apprentice and for a while, a lover, of the great master sculptor August Rodin. Many people I have spoken with think that she was at least his equal, if not better than her male contemporary. Some even speculate as to how much of her hand is in Rodin’s work – a logical assumption given the typical apprentice system of professional artists throughout history.

Since I really did not know much about Camille’s life and path, I enjoyed reading about her days as a child. I could relate to them quite well because I remember playing in the muddy creek beds with my own brothers in Germany and in the States, relishing the feel of the wet clay and often fashioning it into bowls and other forms.

Anyone who has felt a heady love can certainly enjoy the very girlishly romantic descriptions of Camille’s growing attraction and later full-blown love affair with the much older Monsieur Rodin. I still do not really understand why Rodin ultimately left Camille, unless it was simply that he refused her insistence upon a relationship on her terms (marriage). However, some hearts are more fickle than others are and as real life and much literature can attest, sometimes circumstances, ambitions, and other people’s decisions create variables that become insurmountable obstacles to one’s potential.

This novel is written in first person and I often felt that I was inside of Camille’s mind, feeling her thoughts as my own. Perhaps this was part of the reason I felt so uncomfortable, sometimes annoyed, and often depressed as I read the latter parts of the book. After the cooling of the relationship of these two passionate artists, Rodin continued his adventurous amours and career.

But Camille began to withdraw from the world and wavered between periods of grief, insecurity, pride, anger, isolation, and paranoia, and yes, even some happy moments. All of these emotions seemed quite reasonable to me, given the frustrations and losses she endured both professionally and personally. But knowing that she spent the last 30 years or so of her life in an asylum and worse, NOT creating (in fact, she even destroyed some of her works) made me feel alternately angry and sad. Too many times I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her out of her self-pity and despair and get to work.

Ultimately this novel left me with more questions than answers, but that is by no means a bad thing. And I felt that the writing was consistent with the thought patterns of a sensitive soul trying to find some understanding for why people behaved as they did. Without explanation or resolution, it is difficult to move on, as so many others expect one to do. I indulge my own pain for longer than most others can appreciate, but I like to think that another part of me takes over and pushes me to keep working towards my dreams despite grieving or the insensitivity of others.

But my main question remains: What quality is it that allows one person to function and even excel despite bad relationships with parents, lovers, employers, or others while others collapse into themselves? What personality trait enables one person to turn her grief and rage into a motivation to succeed beyond all expectations, while another has only the energy for self-sabotage? How selfish must the soul of another be to turn love into hatred? Is it inevitable that super-sensitive people will suffer from this trait?

Would the world have enjoyed more of Camille Claudel’s incredible sculptures if events and personalities in her life had been a little different? If yes, how different would those relationships in her life have had to be? Her intense and unresolved emotions kept her from creating. If she had been able to keep sculpting, could she have healed from her personal sorrows?

Can we ever know? Read the book to see if you can determine possible pivotal points in this dramatically sad, yet influential life.
Buy the book via this link and help support this blog: Camille Claudel: A Novel
Thank you!

Happy Birthday, Jake

(may you never feel the pain or injustices endured by Camille Claudel)

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