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Claude & Camille

Cover of Claude & Camille

Claude & Camille

A Novel of Monet
Borrow Borrow

Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. "Ma très chère . . ." Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. "I loved you so," he said. "I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I'm old and you're forever young and will never see them. . . ."

In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father's nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father's will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris.

But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet -- a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time.

His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet--and believed in his work--even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside.

But Camille had her own demons -- secrets that Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner.

A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement, Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order.


From the Hardcover edition.

Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. "Ma très chère . . ." Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. "I loved you so," he said. "I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I'm old and you're forever young and will never see them. . . ."

In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father's nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father's will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris.

But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet -- a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time.

His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet--and believed in his work--even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside.

But Camille had her own demons -- secrets that Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner.

A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement, Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order.


From the Hardcover edition.

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  • From the book

    PRELUDE

    Giverny
    July 1908

    Dull late-afternoon light glittered on the hanging copper pots in the kitchen where the old painter sat with his wine, smoking a cigarette, a letter angrily crumpled on the table in front of him. Through the open window he could hear the sound of a few flies buzzing near one of the flower beds, and the voices of the gardener and his son, who were talking softly as they pushed their wheelbarrow over the paths of the vast garden.

    He had meant to paint his water lily pond again, but after the letter had come he could do nothing. Even now, he felt the bitter words rising from the ink. "Why do you write me after all these years, Monet? I still hold you responsible for the death of my sister, Camille. There can be no communication between us."

    Outside, the day was ending, smelling of sweet grass and roses. He swallowed the last of his wine and stood suddenly, smoothing the letter and thrusting it in his pocket. "You foolish woman," he said under his breath. "You never understood."

    Head lowered, he made his way up the stairs to the top floor, under the sloping attic roof, and down the hall to the locked door. He had worked in this small studio briefly when he first moved here years before and could not remember the last time he had gone inside.

    Dust lay on the half-used tubes of paint on the table; palette knives and brushes of every size rested in jars. Rolled canvas and wood for stretchers leaned against a wall. Past the table stood a second door, which opened to a smaller room with another easel and an old blue-velvet-upholstered armchair. He lowered himself onto the chair, hands on his knees, and looked about him.

    The room was filled with pictures of Camille.

    There was one of her embroidering in the garden with a child at her feet, and another of her reading on the grass with her back against a tree, the sun coming through the leaves onto her pale dress. She was as elusive as light. You tried to grasp it and it moved; you tried to wrap your arms around it and found it gone.

    It had been many years since he had found her in the bookshop. He saw himself then, handsome enough, with a dark beard, dark eyes flickering, swaggering a bit--a young man who did not doubt himself for long and yet who under it all was a little shy. The exact words they spoke to each other that day were lost to him; when he tried to remember, they faded. He recalled clearly, though, the breathless tone of her voice, the bones of her lovely neck, and her long fingers, and that she stammered slightly.

    There she stood in his first portrait of her, when she was just nineteen, wearing the green promenade dress with the long train behind her, looking over her shoulder, beautiful, disdainful, as she had appeared nearly half a century before. He rose and lightly touched the canvas. Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone, and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. "Ma très chère . . ."

    Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the letter in his pocket. "I loved you so," he said. "I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began; you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you, but I'm old and you're forever young and will never see them. I'll write your sister again at her shop in Paris. She must understand; she must know how it was."

    Outside, twilight was falling on the gardens, and the water lilies would be closing for the night. He wiped his eyes and sat for a time to calm himself. Looking around once more, he left the studio and slowly...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Cowell's novel is a beautiful tribute to the famed Impressionist painter and his muse and lover, Camille. The account describes the many obstacles encountered by the painter--the refusal of the period's art critics to recognize his style and genius, devastating poverty, and the strife of military service. Monet's friendships with other famed artists--Renoir, Cezanne, Pissaro, Manet--influence his art and his world, while the lovely Camille inspires his dream. Narrator Christopher Cazenove ideally conveys Monet's personal torment and tempestuous relationships. Listening to his mature narration, one is transported to the late 1800s. Subtle dialects--although British, not French--denote class. When appropriate, Cazenove's voice descends into the hoarse registers of age and gently rises to the urgency of Monet's artistic quest. Realistic dialogue enables the listener to hear the characters' quickening passion for their art and each other. A.W. (c) AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine
  • LA Times Book Examiner 5 Stars (Examiner.com)

    "Once again the acclaimed novelist Stephanie Cowell deftly takes us into the world of the classical arts with her well researched and beautifully written novel of historical fiction, Claude & Camille."

  • The Boston Globe "Cowell is nothing short of masterful in writing about Claude Monet's life and love....An enthralling story, beautifully told."
  • Susan Vreeland, author Luncheon of the Boating Party and Girl in Hyacinth Blue "What a man! I am in awe before him. To be swept up by this novel which reveals the man and woman behind--no, in, the waterlily paintings, the seascapes and landscapes, is, and must be, a heartbreak. For me, reading Claude and Camille is like seeing old friends, learning them anew, from the inside, their passionate lives pulsing again by virtue of Stephanie Cowell's sure pen. The story is lovely, touching, delicately written, extraordinarily compelling, and nearly all true. Read it with a book of Monet's paintings by your side, and be prepared to marvel, and to weep."
  • January Magazine "You'll never look at Monet's water lilies the same way after reading Cowell's luminous biography of the artist and his muse" -- Romantic Times (4 Stars)

    "
    Rich and satisfying...Cowell seems poised on the cusp of very great things."
  • BookLoons "There's more than one love triangle involved in this highly recommended tale. Don't miss Claude & Camille."
  • Booklist "Fleshing out the artist's biographical outline with fresh imagery, well-paced dramatic scenes and carefully calculated dialogue, Cowell presents a vivid portrait of Monet's remarkable career. She writes with intelligence and reverence for her subject matter, providing a rich exploration of the points at which life and art converged for one of history's greatest painters."
  • C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen "With elegant prose that blends color, light, and shadow to perfection, much as Monet did in his canvasses, Stephanie Cowell offers us a gorgeously rendered tale of love, genius, and haunting loss set against the dramatic backdrop of a world on the verge of inescapable change."
  • Laurel Corona, author of Four Seasons "Stephanie Cowell 's Monet and his Camille are achingly real, and the miserable garrets of Paris where they struggle to survive are so sensitively portrayed you can almost smell the paint. Cowell sweeps the reader up into a story as dazzling and turbulent as the art whose creation she depicts."
  • Sandra Gulland, author of the Josephine B. trilogy and Mistress of the Sun "Claude & Camille is a wonderfully absorbing and romantic novel, the story of Claude Monet's passion for his painting and his equally passionate love for a woman who is as elusive as the water lilies that he strove to capture on canvas. This elegant novel was hard to put down, and once I did, I rushed to view Monet's paintings with a deeper understanding. Stephanie Cowell is a wonderful writer."
  • Harriet Scott Chessman, author of Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper "An engaging, lyrical, and spirited work of fiction about the great love of Monet's life. Cowell creates a vivid world here, of art, friendship, and ardent love within the Impressionist circle."
  • Sandra Scofield, author of Opal on Dry Ground and Occasions of Sin "Stephanie Cowell's new novel of art and love is focused on Claude Monet's great passions: painting, friendship, and Camille Doncieux. With her uncanny ability to inhabit the hearts of historical characters, Cowell creates a wholly fascinating milieu as vividly as a film-maker. She has a special gift for rendering the scene--knowing which moments excite the reader, illuminate the characters, and create memorability. I was touched by the novel's tenderness and compassion, and moved to immerse myself in my books of Impressionist paintings."
  • Christi Phillips, author of The Devlin Diary "Claude & Camille offers a fascinating look at nineteenth-century Paris, the bohemian lives of the Impressionists, and their struggle to create a new way of seeing the world. From Parisian ateliers to Giverny's lush gardens, Stephanie Cowell paints an unforgettable portrait of Claude Monet and the two passions that framed his life: his beautiful, tragic wife, Camille, and his pursuit of art."
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