on March 11, 2010
Stephanie Cowell's `Claude & Camille' is primarily about Monet's life with his muse, his lover, and ultimately his wife, the enigmatic Camille Doncieux. `Claude & Camille' is presented in flashbacks starting in Giverny, 1908. While I am, somewhat, familiar with Monet's life, I knew little about Camille's life.
The parts of this novel, which most impressed me, were those that were not only evocative of Monet's life with Camille. I love reading about Monet's interactions with his contemporaries, and I was immediately caught up, once more, in the Café where Renoir, Bazille, Pissarro, and other great artists met to discuss their plight, possible strategies for recognition, exchange of ideas, concepts, etc. [I would like to add that I was pleasantly surprised to see Courbet make an appearance.]
I am quite interested in the alliance between Bazille and Monet. I am most grateful that Stephanie Cowell expanded on this friendship. Bazille is depicted as emotionally, as well as financially supportive of Monet's work. Monet appeared to be rather dependent upon his kindness and generosity. Additionally, I enjoyed reading about Renoir's pragmatic attempts to engage Monet. It almost seemed as if Renoir wanted to protect Monet. I so love the work of all of these artists, as well as other great masters.
As mentioned above, the most engaging and authentic parts of this novel [for me] involve Monet's friendships, his need - dedication at all costs - to be the groundbreaking artist that he was. I simply joined them and reading parts of this novel were effortless. I derived much pleasure from accompanying these artists at the Café, standing on line with them, and hoping that their work would be accepted at the prestigious Salon. I especially liked reading Renoir and Bazille's letters to Monet.
Monet has painted many different portraits of Camille. He came upon her by chance and was immediately fascinated by her. Monet's paintings of Camille are famous and deservedly so. Camille is, somewhat, elusive and one senses that she was quite the bohemian. She defies her family, her era and openly lives with Monet prior to their marriage.
Camille is often portrayed as moody, often depressed, and then a little manic [I am referring to her shopping sprees.] Camille chose her life and I do wonder, at times, if she knew exactly how difficult it would be living with Monet.
Monet, the man, is depicted as someone who is obsessed by his need to create. He often seemed to be a self-centered, egomaniacal individual whose priorities were his work and then his personal life. This, even when they could not pay for necessities.
The least engaging part of this novel, in my humble opinion, is the dialogue. Monet was a genius at creating how nature changes when the light changes. His paintings are nuanced, and I just was not convinced that his dialogue would be so basic, almost without nuance.
Those who enjoy historical fiction will most likely enjoy this novel. While I am not among this audience, I remain interested in Monet's work, his alliances with his contemporaries and, of course, his life with Camille.
Monet's Water Lilies, as well as his many other breathtaking works give him immortality. His life with Camille, as well as Alice bestows immortality to these women and his progeny.
Thank you to Stephanie Cowell. The information contained in `Claude & Camille' prompted many discussions in this reader's home.
This book grabbed me with the first sentence and didn't let go through the entire book. The author has a wonderful engaging style of writing and I found myself absolutely engrossed with the story. Her ability to "paint" the images of the characters in the readers mind through words really brought them to life for me. Even if you're not a fan of Monet's work you'll find this a intriguing read that's difficult to put down once you start.
Hard as it is to fathom today, Claude Monet spent the first twenty years of his career as the proverbial starving artist. (It's also hard to believe that his name was Oscar!) Stephanie Cowell tells the story of his relationship with the love of his life, Camille Doncieux, who gave up a life of privilege to be with her Claude. The novel is a series of interconnected vignettes depicting Monet as an elderly man recalling his life with Camille. His passion for painting in the new style called Impressionism, and the role Camille played not only as his wife and model, but also his muse, form the core of the book. The Monets lived the expected Bohemian lifestyle, and there are plenty of scenes in which they interact with the other artists in the movement and their friends and relations.
Unfortunately, there are some novelists who are adept at showing rather than telling, but Cowell, alas, does not seem to be one of them. Perhaps her style might best be described as prosaic, lending a sort of flatness to a narrative that might have been alive with fervor and excitement (see Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party, on Renoir, for comparison.) This weakness does not prevent Claude and Camille from being and interesting story, just a great one. Worth reading, however, for anyone who loves the art of Claude Monet.
Why are good things wasted on the young? When I was in elementary school we took a Greyhound bus trip to the Art Institute of Chicago to study the paintings. I saw one of Monet's water lily series. I don't recall being much impressed. Now, when this book has given the man and his work new value to me, I neither live near Chicago nor have a school to pay my way. C'est la vie!
There's a great deal more to Claude Monet than can be known from a casual glance at one painting. He was a young man once, in love with a girl even younger. Stephanie Cowell imagines them as a pair of dreamers: the man dreams of fame and wealth and the girl dreams that a poor artist in debt will give her a life of plenty someday. Their love is rocked again and again with each loss of faith. _Claude and Camille_ is the story of how it endures, until death takes the muse away from the man.
As fictional biographies go this one puts more stress on 'fiction' than 'biography,' with only the barest bones of Camille's life and character known fact. The rest is speculation, or pure imagination, as it would have to be with so little known about Camille today. I respect that Cowell told me this in the book's acknowledgements. I'm still a little uneasy with some of the liberties taken: certain plot points or scenes are good for drama, but whether they do a disservice to Camille's memory... well... it's something I could argue. I wish there were a way to know what Camille was really like. I think I probably would have liked her better in life.
_Claude and Camille_ is much more about Claude than Camille, though, and Monet is painted as a vigorous, passionate figure fighting with everything that would keep him from his art; sometimes that includes Camille herself, but never the dear friends who would become his fellow Impressionists. This is also the story of the movement seen through Monet's eyes. The artists Bazille, Renoir, and Pissaro are wonderful, and it's so easy to get lost in Cowell's detailed visions of the studios they shared. It's an absorbing and beautiful book. The rough trials of Monet and Camille make their love so passionate. Their friendships lend them support. And behind them, before them, there is always art.
I can't recommend this to someone only interested in historical facts since there's so much made up, and I would definitely keep in mind when reading it that not all is accurate, but it's still a fascinating story. In its way it's inspiring, with Monet's dedication to his art through what seems like endless misfortune a reminder that losing a personal battle doesn't mean losing the war. Ms. Cowell's prose made the Paris of the Impressionists come alive for me. Pick up this book if you want a rich what-might-have-been. It's no sweet, delicate romance, but the people in it, however embroidered by necessity, seem real.
on March 17, 2010
This novel is like part fun history lesson and part engrossing love story.
Stephanie Cowell begins and ends her story with passages set in the early 1900's, but the bulk of
the book is a sort of a rich flashback to the tumultuous relationship between Claude and Camille.
While I was reading I felt like I was peeking into a fully realized world.
This is one of my favorite passages in the book.
"Only with my brush when i can paint again will I express it. Whenever I do in the rest of my life, my
love for you is part of it, and in everything I paint I will remember you and say with my work what you
were to me".
"Claude & Camille" doesn't read like just a flimsy romance story, there's more substance to it. I'd
recommend it to historical fiction fans, and also to those interested in the lives of the impressionist painters.
I absolutely adored this book. Partly it's because of my fascination with and love of Monet's work. It's also due to the beautiful writing of Stephanie Cowell. She writes with an ethereal quality that is reminiscent of Monet's own lovely paintings. The book opens with a quote by Monet which provides great insight into his mind:
I had so much fire in me and so many plans.
I always want the impossible.
Take clear water with grass waving at the bottom.
It's wonderful to look at, but to try and paint it is
enough to make one insane.
The story is very deep and layered. It is about love, passion, talent, ambition, struggle, desperate poverty, despair, hope, and friendship. It's also about expectations of parents, differences in class, and the devastating effects of war on societies and personal lives.
Claude Monet's deep friendships with other artists such as Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissaro, Frederic Bazille, Paul Cezanne, Manet, Degas, and others are what help sustain him through unimaginable heartaches, disappointments, and challenges.
When young Monet meets and falls madly in love with Camille Doncieux, his life is forever changed. Camille, a beautiful young woman from the upper-class, agrees to model for Monet. His first great success is with a portrait of her in an exquisite green opera dress.
The two enter into an affair, which her parents vehemently oppose. In spite of them, and their feelings that Monet is beneath her, Camille follows her heart, and becomes his true love, greatest muse, and mother of his children. Yet their relationship comes close to destroying both of them. This is a story of the power a great love holds over us, through a lifetime, and often beyond.
Appreciation for Monet's real genius only came late in life. He gave his first exhibition of his water lily paintings at age sixty-nine. In his eighties, prior to his death, he completed his great paintings of his gardens at Giverny.
This novel is based on history, and is positively captivating. Reading it gives new meaning and admiration for the beauty inherent in his work, as well as a new understanding of the man who created such breathtaking art. This book has made me a fan of Stephanie Cowell. Very enthusiastically recommended!
on August 14, 2012
Claude and Camille is a novel about Claude Monet and his first wife, Camille. I've always loved Monet's paintings and I knew quite a bit about his later life but not so much about his early life and I was very excited to find this book.
Unfortunately, I ended up very disappointed. I felt the book was a little disjointed. It jumps from important event to important event but it doesn't feel very connected until closer towards the end. Mostly I didn't like Camille very much. I didn't think she was very well developed. Especially when I learned that an affair she confesses about to Monet, which really affects your opinion of her, is completely fictional. I realize (and love) that historical fiction is not straight history, that the author sees the pieces and then fills in the blanks. But I've always seen this as more of a filling in of character's motivations, showing alternative historical possibilities, giving a historical personage feelings and character not found in a dry textbook. I don't see historical fiction as a place to make something up about a character that has absolutely no basis in research. Could an affair have happened, it is possible of course, but the author divulges that there is no basis for that assumption in her author's note. I found that part of the book...frustrating.
I did enjoy all the parts of the book where Claude is an old man who is painting the water lilies. I also liked Alice Hoschede who later becomes Monet's second wife. The part where Camille and Claude share their house with Alice and her children is true and I thought that whole section was very well written.
Mostly, I ended up very disappointed in this book and recommend reading something else.
on August 15, 2014
Loved it. This book was certainly a good read; it was a complicated love story that doesn't oblige the reader to spin any wheels wondering about the happy ending. We know from the beginning that there isn't one, because the elder Monet is still trying to make sense of what happened. What it does do is prepare us for questions that need to be answered, and encourages us to appreciate any fleeting moments of happiness that we suspect won't last.
Most of the book takes place in Monet's younger years, when he is still experimenting with his art and creating a fellowship with other like-minded artists that haven't yet become impressionists. We suffer with them through years of poverty and frustration; it seems that our perception of their solidarity 100+ years later is more wishful thinking than actuality. Their struggle just to survive was fraught with disappointment; they can barely scrape together enough money to host their own art shows that mostly garner public indifference. In their early hopeful years they support each other and share the occasional bounty, but as they get older their fractured lives seem to intersect less and less frequently. The Franco-Prussian war shatters their lives as it shatters Paris.
It is in this environment that Monet falls in love with Camille, who abandons her upscale lifestyle and family for the impoverished but hopeful artist. It struck me that they might have been better off had they gone their separate ways, but love doesn't always follow common sense. It seems that they are rarely quite comfortable with their choices and indeed, both try to flee in their own way. But they keep coming back together and I found myself grieving for them as things went from bad to worse.
I kept waiting for Monet to reach a level of comfortable respectability, but alas, the more lucrative years are outside the scope of this story. Or did it ever happen for him? Even in his later years, as he prepares his water lilies for a successful exhibition, we capture a hint that he was never really happy, and perhaps that's the saddest part of all.
One of the most prolific of the French Impressionists comes to life through the prose of a writer who literally inhabits the desperate, painful years of the birth of Impressionism, Claude Monet. Focusing on the early years- before the magnificent water lilies of his later period- Monet is unable to resist the siren call of his art, disappointing family to travel to Paris, where he meets the other struggling artists of the visionary movement and his muse, Camille Doncieux. This band of brothers, Cezanne, Renoir, Pisarro, Degas, Edouard Manet and Frederick Bazille share a common passion and rejection by the esteemed Palais de l'Institute Paris Salon, which consistently views their work as "unfinished". Yet these tortured, driven artists realize that success lies in relentless dedication and fraternity, gathering in cafes and lofts, encouraging one another through brutal winters and sparkling Parisian springs when the light dances on their canvasses.
Monet, like other such artistic geniuses, is underappreciated, riddled with self-doubt, yet unable to turn away from his calling. When he meets Camille Doncieux, she becomes his touchstone and the subject of many of his most famous paintings, although theirs is a relationship bedeviled by emotional extremes. Camille rejects a wealthy family for the itinerant life of an artist with few prospects and only the occasional patron. The relationship between Claude and Camille, the crux of Cowell's novel, is painful and passionate, each with their personal flaws and mistakes. Regardless of missteps and misunderstandings, Claude and Camille are unable to break the bond that ties them together, even when Claude is brought to his knees in despair. The lovers are buffeted by doubts, but Camille is indisputably Monet's muse.
Cowell captures the unrelenting turbulence of such an existence, the desperate poverty, passionate friendships, war with Prussia and the siren call of artist and canvas. It is hard to imagine such hardship, or the pure joy of creativity, but the author perfectly captures the essence of the artistic life, and the sacrifices entailed. The Paris of the Impressionists is not glamorous. It is wretched, freezing cold in winter, yet these artists are buoyed by the camaraderie of deep and loyal friendships and a shared cause. Monet moves from Paris to the country to the coast of Normandy to England and back to Paris, the ranks of the painters decimated by war, but still united in spirit. The result is a moving portrait of a man who embodies the Impressionist movement and the woman who is his beloved muse. Luan Gaines/2010.
on November 16, 2015
Interesting and well written. Shows what a woman is willing to do for a man. What the man is willing to do for the woman he loves…not that much, really. His work is the thing. She just sits, cold, hungry, sometimes sick, in heatless shacks or rooms, waiting for him to get famous or return. Things were different then. They love each other but I couldn't help but be amazed at the terrible differences between their lives. She stood by him and believed in him. He left her and painted…came home when he felt like it and while he worried about her, once in a while, he didn't do anything to make sure she was okay. He did ask others to look after her, once. I hope this wasn't the kind of life actually had together. I hope he was kind and nice to her…thoughtful and considerate, instead of driven and self-centered. There's nothing wrong with an artist being that way but the things he expected from her were sad. Women of that era had few choices. The men just thought about themselves…all the time. Kind of like they do today.