Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet
In Claude & Camille, Stephanie Cowell has penned a sentimental portrait of the relationship between the struggling young artist, Monet, and his first wife, Camille Doncieux.
Though Monet had glimpsed Camille as a child, it isn’t until a chance encounter in her uncle’s bookshop that the artist and his muse finally meet. Smitten, he asks that she pose for him—a scandalous act for a proper bourgeois girl—but Camille is at the dangerous age of eighteen, and she agrees. Because of Monet’s poverty, Camille’s disapproving parents, and the existence of a proper fiancé, their courtship is difficult, even after Monet receives acclaim for “The Woman in the Green Dress,” a portrait of Camille accepted into the famous Salon of French Artists. Despite these obstacles, Camille commits to the artist. She is soon pregnant; a difficult situation given that Monet’s critical acclaim has not brought financial rewards. So begins a sad cycle of financial success and absolute penury, as the childlike Camille slowly realizes what she has given up by marrying Monet, and Monet struggles to keep her happy while trying to make a living through his art.
It’s difficult to write with rising narrative interest the quotidian ups and downs of a romantic relationship, so it is not surprising that, in parts, the strain shows. So, however, does Ms. Cowell’s passion for her subject, best revealed in her lively depiction of the young impressionist painters—Monet, Pissarro, Manet, Renoir—struggling to make their mark in a glorious Bohemian Paris.