Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell, is just as the title states, a book depicting the life of Claude Monet, with a secondary tone regarding Camille Doncieux, his lover, and the woman who eventually would become his wife.
Monet was extremely passionate regarding his painting, verging on the obsessive, in my opinion. He seemed to me to be extremely confident in his artistic abilities (which is a positive aspect), yet his confidence overrode life’s daily struggles for survival (which is a negative aspect). He was basically penniless, and his father did not advocate Monet’s choice of career, therefore, he did not contribute to his living expenses.
Monet had several alliances, deep friendships, including Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Frederic Bazille. They were part and parcel of Monet’s basic survival, helping him through the toughest of times. Bazille contributed greatly, as far as monetary means and even housing is concerned.
Monet’s steadfastness in his belief in himself as an artist almost outweighed everything else. It seemed to me that he was often in denial regarding his responsibilities to his family, and he would take off to the sea or the countryside in order to paint. His absorption in his craft took him away from his family, away from Camille and away from his children, often for months at a time, or close to a year at a time.
He was a starving artist, literally, and therefore his family starved along with him. His ideals and almost narcissistic attitude was a controlling factor in his life, his painting and his need for acceptance and power. It took him years to become established and recognized, and he lived a life of poverty, inflicting it upon his family members.
The book details all of this, and Cowell writes brilliantly regarding his journey to fame, by bringing the reader snippets of Doncieux, intermingled with overtones of Monet.
She was a young teenager when they met, and when he first noticed her, he knew that he had to find her. Find her, he eventually did, and from there a relationship was eventually established. That they lived together for quite some time is indicative of the bohemian, artistic culture. That she was from a wealthy family did not help her through the toughest of situations and survival. Her family did not support her lifestyle with Monet, even once they were married.
And, tough life it was, which caused Doncieux to become severely ill at several points in time. During these times, Monet would seemingly disappear in order to paint. He could not be confined for long, and had to fulfill his dream. Cowell does not go in-depth regarding those instances, but for me, it seems as if he was in deep denial of the facts regarding Doncieux. His self-absorption and determination to become a great living artist overpowered the fact that Doncieux was ill. It didn’t seem as if he had strong coping skills for the every day responsibilities.
Doncieux, often added to this by always permitting him to go off. She seemed to understand his need for his passion, even at her own expense. Yet, there were times he left her in order to paint, without saying a word, eventually to return. He turned out to be a “legend in his own time” so to speak, and one of the greatest impressionistic artists of all times, despite the poverty and demeaning lifestyle he chose in order to become a recognized artist.
I enjoyed reading Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell. It gave me insight into his life and into his powerful desire to become a great artist, an artist in his own time. And, although much of the interplay between Doncieux, and between his friends is fictionalized, there is still a lot to learn between the pages.