Madness seen from within

Bond, Alma H. Camille Claudel: A Novel. Baltimore: PublishAmerica, 2006.

"In my humble opinion, a woman who hasn't been made love to by a sculptor hasn't been made love to at all." (p. 119)

Camille Claudel (1864-1943) is remembered for her exquisite and emotionally disturbing sculptures, for her passionate 10-year love affair and complex professional relationship with Auguste Rodin, and the utter insanity of her last three decades, when she was persuaded that Rodin was out to destroy her and steal her work and ideas. This treatment of her intense, tortured life is very effectively written from her own, increasingly paranoid point of view. She is supposedly writing this account herself, in the last months of her life, on scraps of paper supplied her by a sympathetic nurse in the Montdevergues Asylum for the insane. The reader must accept the impossible premise that someone who has been so mad for so long could write so coherently, but will probably do so willingly; this is a literary device for understanding a brilliant, paranoid woman's world as she herself sees it. She is a classically unreliable narrator, but her paranoia did have some basis in fact. She clearly was a victim of stultifying anti-erotic and antifeminist attitudes, including those of her provincial mother and her super-Catholic reactionary brother, the writer Paul Claudel. And Rodin no doubt did steal some of her ideas, though on the whole he seems to have treated her better than most of the men she dealt with. Alma Bond's experience as a psychoanalyst and her deep familiarity with the Parisian artistic milieu of the period make the fantastic premise a tool for uncovering what feels like psychological truth. And it's very sexy, as was la petite Claudel.

For examples of her work, see Some Beautiful (If Tortured) Works
of Camille Claudel
and these shots of L'age mûr (The Age of Maturity)

For more biographical details and chronology (with photos) in French, see Biographie de Camille Claudel. There you will find images of Oeuvres graphiques (sketches), Sculptures, Liens (links) and much else. There is also a musical about her.

Readers may also enjoy my story about another artist in Paris, exactly 10 years before the 17-year old Camille got there: Courbet and the Red Virgin.

At top: Photo of Camille as a young woman; her bust of Rodin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...