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Combining an astonishing depth of historical research with a fertile imagination and great psychological insight, Dr. Alma Bond's novel Camille Claudel tells the story of a forgotten romance between two of the greatest artists of the early 20th century. Dr. Bond makes it clear at the outset that although Camille Claudel is based on historical fact, it has been created and embellished by her imagination and is therefore, first and foremost, a novel.


In the foreword, an old former professor of classic French literature tells us why he decides to bring to light the forgotten memoirs of Camille Claudel, who loved and then lost the sculptor Auguste Rodin. We already know, thanks to a prologue, that Claudel is confined to the Montdevergues Asylum, France, in her old age. She has already been there for 30 years as she writes this memoir.  My life has been a romance, she writes, a mystery, a poem, an epic, a novel, an elegy, a historical treatise which would take a Shakespeare to describe.  Claudel has tales to tell - not only that of her own life, but also  the reasons why Auguste Rodin is known and adored worldwide for work done largely by my hands, while I fester away in this dungeon of despair. Even during her childhood, Claudel had dreams of a great artist falling in love with her and transporting her to a magical life. Sculpting was a passion; she would attack the clay in a frenzy, so when Rodin took her on as his first female student, it was a momentous, happy occasion. She studied at Rodin's studio 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and soon a romance began to blossom.

But it was a romance fraught with difficulties, and Claudel had to deal with Rodin's already married status, his seniority in years, as well as her brother Paul's selfish motives. Then her career began to run into trouble, largely engineered by Rodin himself, and Claudel was forced into penury and near-starvation. It did not help that women artists, in her era, were often discriminated against and almost never seen as creative individuals in their own right. In the horrific coda to her life, Claudel was then taken to the Montdevergues Asylum, where she was destined to live out the remainder of her days.
Dr. Bond has successfully used a similar novelistic autobiography technique for her book on famed opera singer Maria Callas. She is also the author of several other titles, including Who Killed Virginia Woolf?  and Tales of Psychology.  Here she writes with an elegant fluidity, and her extensive research, as well as her knowledge of art and art history, makes Camille Claudel  a fascinatingly real novel. A glossary of French words at the end helps guide the reader through the book.            
                      

 

 

Cassandra Langer, Reviewer
Midwest Book reviews

Most of my readers have probably never heard of the French nineteenth century artist, Camille Claudel and if they have it would only have been in a passing reference to the great French masterAuguste Rodin. As an art history student way back in the early 1970s I had never seen any thing by her and there were no serious articles written on her until the advent of the women's liberation movment in the mid-70s. I remember one fine article on her in the Woman's Art Journal that peaked my curiosity.

This is why I was immediately interested in reading psychoanalyst Dr. Alma Bond's new book. What Bond has done is create an imaginative context to present the life and art of this fascinating and tragic figure. She has breathed fresh life into this neglected woman sculptor who many historians of art now believe helped to create some of Rodin's works. In fact, several have suggested that some of Claudel's works have been wrongly attributed to Rodin. Whatever the facts may be remain for art historians and critics to seek out.

 The novel is divided into three parts that trace the rise and fall of Camille Claudel. Hers is a tragic story of a borderline personality balancing on the tightrope of mental stablity who is pushed off the wire by passions she cannot control and by a family with absolutely no understanding of the fragile nature of her soul. All this Dr. Bond attempts to imagine in the form of a novel. In part one we meet the young Camille, bright, outgoing, and talented. We trace her development within the drama of the family. In fact, a family with two gifted children. Camille's brother, Paul Claudel became renown in French literature. He was the younger brother yet within this family he was empowered to make decisions that adversely impacted upon his sister. And, Camille's mother was responsible for failing to understand the sensitive nature of her daughter's creativity. One has to remember that at the time that Camille lived young women were expected to marry and have children not go off and live independently while making art and having affairs with famous men. All this Bond recreates through recall as we follow the artist's thoughts as she ponders her life.

Camille tells readers, After hours, days, or even weeks, an image seizes hold of me and I attack the clay in a frenzy. It is like a fever, I know the instructions are coming from somewhere and I must carry them out. I remain in a daze for hour after hour and hardly know where I am. Bodily needs pass unheeded....During this period, everything seems possible. (41) Thus Bond puts us in touch with Camille's absolute dedication to her art. Towards the end of part I. Bond gives us some insights into just how difficult it was for a woman to become an artist, and especially a sculptor. Camille wants to study art but she, like most women artists of the era is having a hard time finding a qualified teacher that she respects. Finally, because the L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts does not accept female students she decides to try the private studio of Rodolphe Julian because it accepts women and foreigners. The fees are high and Julian charges women students twice as much as the men. The only other possibility that she can afford is the Academie Colarossi and it appeals to her because Colarossi is a sculptor himself so places more of an emphasis on the three-dimensional form in space.

Camille was nineteen years old when she began studying with Auguste Rodin. Part II. of the novel trances her career and affair from 1881-1912. This was a tumultuous time for the young artist. She found herself becoming more and more intrigued with the  bulky, bow-legged,  40 year-old Rodin. He stood five-four inches tall and sported a thick red bush of a beard. He had an enormous head that dominated his short, powerful, hulking body. His voice was gentle and monotonous, and an enormous energy seemed to radiate from him. She confused her love of art with her love for hiim. When they began their affair she was a virgin. She was insanely jealous and eventually made scenes with him that was an embarassment. He was married and very much aware of his reputation despite being infatuated with her for a time. Camille for her part, despite her Catholicism and her family's shock continued their affair. During this period her career flourished and she came into her own as an artist. In 1894, Paul Claudel published his first book  The Golden Head,  which won him critical acclaim. He was now as well known as his older sister.

Bond hints at an incestuous relationship between Paul and Camille which may explain his abiding need to control her and account for his decision to have her institutionalized later on. Certainly, as Bond takes pains to point out Camille's brother was permeated with violence and cruelty.  (114). The truth is that Camille's mother and brother were ashamed of her because of her affair with Rodin. She further complicated things by becoming pregnant by Rodin. Bond's description of Camille's forced abortion is horrifying. As a result she begins to see things--things she didn't want to see. She made the mistake of telling her brother about her abortion. Bond's portrayal of the outraged Paul goes straight to the quick of his reasons for institutionalizing her.  To kill a child, an immortal soul, what a horrendous thing to do  How shameful  How terrible  How can you live with yourself with such a crime on your conscience? You’ll rot in Hell for that. The good Lord will never forgive you 

Actually, the  good Lord  didn't care about little Camille and had already forgotten about her but her brother made up his mind to make her pay for what he considered her  sin.  Meanwhile, her relationship with Rodin continued to deteriorate. She claimed that he had stolen her work and sold it under his name. The truth is that Camille at forty-one still could not support herself.

 The novel concludes with Camille's continuing saga of victimization. Her years at the Asylum run from 1913 to 1943, when she was carried off from her studio and confined  for her own good,  by her family. That same week her father and only protector passed away. She felt totally abandoned and unprotected. In her increasing paranoia Camille thought that her mother had murdered her father. She also suspected her sister Louise who she thought greedy. Moreover, she believed that Louise was in  cahoots  with Rodiin to destroy her.

What Bond tries to do in this book is to show Camille Claudel as a victim of her times, a shame based family, and her own inability to cope with reality. She gives readers an idea of the brutality of the mental health system in nineteenth century France and elsewhere in Europe during the time that Camille Claudel came of age and died. That she  succumb to despair  comes as no surprise. She was 79 years old and had spent the better part of thirty years in a nut house. If she wasn't totally crazy when she went in, she certainly was by the time of her death. Her brother, the great giant of French literature only came to see her once in a while; in June of 1915 and he spent most of his time talking to the nuns who cared for the inmates about Catholicism. And his next visit wasn't until 1920, five years after his first visit. Camille did not see him again until 1925, when he coldly informed her that Maman had sold their house in Villeneuve.

Paul saw his sister again in 1928 and let slip that Rodin had died in 1917. No one had bothered to tell Camille that her eternal love--her eternal enemy had died. A year later Paul informed her by letter that her mother died. Madame Claudel had not seen her daughter for thirty years. Two years later she was visited by her nephew and it would be another two years until she saw anyone from the outside world. Totally out of contact with reality, not permitted to read newspapers, and perpetually sedated, it is a wonder that the poor woman had any rational thoughts at all. Her her old gallery dealer Eugene Blot came to visit her because he still had a financial and mild emotional interest in her. Between old age and surgery for an Epiploic Hernia, Claudel's final years were anything but golden. Her pain and suffering were relieved only by the fact that in 1934 the Salon of Modern Women Artists showed three of her sculptures. The next year her hateful sister Louise died. Finally, Camille herself died.

Despite the high quality of her work, which was sometimes attributed to Rodin, she was virtually unknown until the 1970s when feminist art historians rediscovered her work and reattributed it to her rather than to Rodin.

Alma Bond's fictional recreation of Camille Claudel's life is written in memoir form and illustrates the tragedy of her life. One would hope that the novel inspires some younger art historian to undertake a factual work that will compare and contrast Rodin and Claudel's work while at the same time looking at the vast differences in the possibilities open to them as French artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It would be instructive to compare Claudel's life and art to that of her contemporaries Romaine Brooks, Mary Cassatt, and Berte Marisot. 

 


TCM Review
Reviewed by Mayra Calvani


In this her latest novel, psychoanalyst-turned-author Alma H. Bond offers the reader a beautiful, yet highly disturbing portrait of Camille Claudel, the gifted French sculptress from the late 1800’s who was mistress to famous sculptor Auguste Rodin.
The story is told in first person through the eyes of Camille herself as she writes her own story while confined to an asylum, where she tragically spent the last thirty years of her life.  

In lovely detail Camille pens her life from her early childhood to her very last days, giving a grim glimpse of her love/hate relationship with her mother, her love, edging on incest, to her younger brother, her struggle with the male-dominated artistic establishments of the time, and her turbulent, obsessive, destructive affair with Rodin, who was a married man.

The tale is addictive and totally engrossing. Bond brings to life the dark workings of Camille’s genius mind, from her deepest obsessions to her paranoia. Camille comes across as an arrogant, selfish, ambitious yet complex and tragically frail figure of her times, when women artists were nothing more than  anomalies.  Most remarkable is the gradual change in Camille’s mind as she becomes more and more unstable. Flawlessly crafted and beautifully written, Camille Claudel: A Novel comes highly recommended from this reviewer.

 

 

Southern Review
Books worth noting from lesser-known publishers: Camille Claudel


Camille Claudel, a Novel, tells a juicy story of love, infidelity, and creative genius. The subject, Camille Claudel, was a renowned female sculptor who produced most of her work in the late 1800s. Fueled by the rejection of her lover, Auguste Rodin, she became insane. The novel begins with Claudel, an old lady confined to the Asylum for the Insane in Montdevergues, France, reviewing her life. She says, “I hope my memoir will illustrate the heights of passion Rodin and I reached, and unravel the mystery of why they were transformed into vinegar and ashes.” The tragedy is not only hers, she adds, but that of many female artists who found it impossible to achieve the success of male artists of lesser ability.


The book illuminates her childhood and the rise of her career in the setting of her ecstatic life with Rodin. Their 10 years of bliss are followed by the disintegration of her love for him, and its evolution into hatred and psychosis. The last third of the book describes the horrors of Claudel’s life in the asylum, ending with the highly original manner in which she comes to terms psychologically with Rodin and the other important figures in her life.


By psychoanalyst Alma Bond, the book is a story of adultery, deception and heartbreak. Claudel was passionately in love with sculptor Auguste Rodin, who returned her affections for over a decade but refused to leave his wife. The pain caused by her loss of Rodin drove Camille into an insane asylum for the rest of her life.

 



CAMILLE CLAUDEL A NOVEL

Review by Kirtimaya Varma, 07-01 The Signature, 51
Changi Business Park, Singapore 486 066

9th April 2006

The genius of Dr. Alma H. Bond recreates the genius of
Camille Claudel, and the great French sculptor is
brought back to life through the pages of the novel.
As one turns through the pages, one is led through the
toil and turbulence, pathos and passions, dreams and
despondency of the sculptor in intimate details. It is
immaterial that this intimacy is partly based on Dr.
Bond's imaginations. The narration of the story
described in the prologue as "one of the greatest
catastrophes of our era" needed the insights of a
psychologist and the soul of a writer to become more
complete than a historian alone could have made it.
Dr. Bond, the psychologist, has provided these
insights. Dr. Bond, the writer, has provided the soul.
Together, the psychologist and the writer go beyond
Dr. Bond, the historian, into the heart and mind of
Camille to tell this story.
The reader can see Camille sculpting in LA SAKOUNTALA
the passion of her life; in LA VAGUE the supreme
tragedy she shared with her lover Auguste Rodin; in
L'IMPLORANTE OU LE DIEU ENVOLE the devastating end of
her love-affair with Rodin; in CLOTHO the
foreshadowing of her years in mental asylum; in PERSEE
"a glimpse of the death of my soul while my body lives
endlessly on;" in L'AGE MUR her plea to Rodin to love
her; and so on.
"I had hoped through the statue to reach his heart, he
whose life and mine had intertwined around our art,"
one can almost hear Camille's cries and feel her
anguish. "Please, please, don't leave me. I need you,
I want you, I'm nothing without you."
Her cries still reverberate, and her anguish still
lives on-in the heart of Dr. Bond-and the writer
shares it with her readers in this marvelous novel.
The cries and the anguish are not those of merely an
individual. They are those of womankind, of an age. An
age in which women in the arts were given no support
from the art world, and their works were hardly sold.
"Perhaps the record of my life will help future
generations to understand the horrors in the life of a
woman artist who was betrayed by her times. . .,"
Camille says, and warns, "Look on my catastrophic
life, oh ye women of the future, and take heed you do
not repeat it."
Through this masterpiece in fictional reminiscence,
Dr. Bond has put into words what Camille wanted to put
into her sculptures-"the truth I see in people's eyes,
not the way they show themselves in the world."
Reading "the truth" has helped me grow, and I am sure
other readers will share this experience.