Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Rodin’s Lover is a historical fiction novel about the relationship between French sculptor Auguste Rodin and his student/muse/partner, Camille Claudel, in Paris in the late 1800s. Admittedly, I knew nothing about these two artists, though I do love historical fiction about art. After finishing the novel, and reading the author’s end note, I was blown away by how much of the [heartbreaking] story was based in fact.
The novel begins with an adolescent Claudel struggling in her provincial home, with aspirations of artistic greatness and a mother who withholds her affection and approval. Claudel and her family then move to Paris, where she comes into her own as a talented young artist, despite a number of challenges – including her tumultuous relationship with mother, societal expectations of women, and her struggles relating to other people socially. Enter Auguste Rodin, who takes Claudel on as a student, which of course, turns into more. I loved Claudel’s passion about being taken seriously as a woman artist. She recognized the difficulties in front of her, and refused to be treated as less because of her gender. At the same time, Claudel’s character was extremely unlikable at times. Webb does a great job of building Claudel’s character through the novel, as her behavior goes from passionate to frustrating to bizarre and tragic.
I am trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid comparing Rodin’s Lover to The Girl with the Pearl Earring, but I can’t help myself. As a well-crafted novel about artists and muses, I couldn’t help being reminded of TGWTPE. However, I realize that is pretty unfair. TGWTPE is a totally fictionalized attempt to create a backstory for a Vermeer painting. In Rodin’s Lover, Webb has woven the known details about Rodin and Claudel’s relationship into a novel that covers French politics, complex characters, and the creation of sculptures.
There’s a lot going on in this novel, and found myself getting lost in it. If you have, like me, an affinity for historical fiction about artists and their muses, this is definitely worth a read.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin’s First To Read program.