I married a visual artist, so I know a bit of their quirky character, their brilliant view on the world, and the nature of their creative spirit. It likely helps that I am also a lover of art and that visiting a museum is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. Yet, when I think of the famous artists that my husband and I have talked about during our years together, and of those who have inspired me, there aren’t as many women as men on the list—and those who are worked primarily in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I imagine that this is because art just wasn’t something women were encouraged or often allowed to do.
That’s why I latched on to the main character in Heather Webb’s historical novel RODIN’S LOVER, Camille Claudel, who was not just Rodin’s muse but also a talented sculptor herself.
Webb’s masterful novel plunged me right into the center of late-nineteenth-century Paris and into the heart and mind of the sculptress. It begins when young Camille defiantly resists marriage and instead convinces her family to allow her to attend art classes in Paris. Not long after, when her mentor wins a prestigious prize, he arranges for Rodin to continue her instruction, setting their stormy love affair into motion.
Rodin and Claudel’s relationship lasted a decade and was riddled with countless disagreements, heartbreaks, and misunderstandings. This is also a story about deep creative passion, about mental illness, and, above all, about the constraints that were so often placed upon a woman who felt that her place was not secured by the strings of a kitchen apron or motherhood. Camille Claudel was a woman with a fiery spirit and undisputable talent, and I ached for her with every word I read.
To be fair, I have never been a fan of Rodin, and until I read this book, knew nothing of Camille Claudel. But thanks to Webb’s story of their turbulent love affair and the troubled life that Claudel lived, I am eager to open fresh eyes to Rodin’s sculptures and especially those of his lover.
Vivid and engaging, with characters beautifully rendered, RODIN’S LOVER kept me transfixed and left me satisfied.