Rodin's Lover is about two kinds of passion. In another new novel,
Stella Rose, author Tammy Flanders Hatrick describes the second sort of passion--for causes, ideas, creativity--well: “Not the hot, sweaty kind, the subtle, deep kind--like the growl of a lioness protecting her cubs.” Historically, women have been warned to shield against or distrust passion.
The first passion of Camille Claudel (“Rodin’s Lover”) began in early childhood--working with clay, producing fine art sculpture--the second for her mentor and later lover, Auguste Rodin, after her family’s move to Paris. She became his muse. At the time she lived, women were expected to marry and raise children, certainly not to demonstrate any signs of outward passion. Although her brother and father helped Camille realize her dream, her mother was never enamored with her daughter’s unconventional life decisions.
The story takes place from her childhood until the days after she and Rodin split finally, when she succumbs to mental illness and is finally institutionalized, committed by her brother and her mother. The woman is amazingly talented and modern--she overcomes many hurdles that other female artists less talented and driven were not able to tackle.
Camille Claudel was born December 8, 1864, in Villeneuve-sur-Fère, France and died October 19, 1943, in the Montdevergues asylum near Avignon. As a young woman, she and her family moved to Paris so she could study art and her brother could
follow his literary pursuits.
When Alfred Boucher, also a well-known sculptor, introduces Claudel to Rodin, he explains her thusly: “ She needs direction and practice, but her will is fierce, her devotion unquestionable. I daresay she is a woman possessed. And yes, she’s the most talented student I have ever worked with to date.” Claudel is reticent to meet the older, intimidating sculptor but takes the plunge.
Yet, after the young artist begins her apprenticeship with Rodin, her feelings of being misunderstood remain: “Was she so abnormal that no one understood the depth of her passion, of what she would sacrifice for her vision? One day there would be someone who grasped her driving need to create.”
However, not too long after beginning her demanding work with Rodin, she feels less alone:
He bent over a bust of what appeared to be a young woman, and he was so absorbed, he did not see her… At last she had met someone as consumed with sculpture as she was. She smiled in the dark.
Not only does Rodin teach and woo Claudel, he provides supplies, he rents her an atelier, he spreads her name, he makes it possible for her to show where women have never before, and he stays with her, in spirit, until she is taken away from her last studio to the institution. He helps her friends and family both with money and with his name, despite not liking or respecting some of them.
Rodin was a monumental artistic name in the late l9th century, but Claudel’s work was sometimes considered equal in quality. Although not all her work remains, two retrospectives have been held:
Camille Claudel: 1864-1943 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C., and
Camille Claudel at the Musée Rodin, in Paris. A film starring Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu was made of her life.
Rodin's Lover is a great story. The reader learns a lot about the struggle to be an artist, about
the Belle Époque in Paris, and about sculptors Claudel and Rodin.
Admittedly, novelizing a dead artist’s life is no simple matter; some events and thoughts must be merely surmised after doing extensive research. However, this novel is somewhat disappointing. Overall, it reads somewhat like a young adult novel or chick lit--the artists’ internal thoughts and ideas are not enough explored. The lingering sense of the novel is of a passionate love affair between two gifted, fiery people.
And a more appropriate title might have been Claudel, Camille Claudel, or
Claudel’s Passion. She was not who she was solely because of an older, famous man. Camille lived mostly for producing lasting, significant sculpture. However, the novel is enjoyable for its historical insights into both sculptors, their working conditions and, despite many economical and political odds of the time, the body of their work that remains.
Rodin's Lover is recommended primarily for those who love narratives of women overcoming adversity and those interested in sculpture or the late 19th-century Paris art scene.