cover image Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel

Anne Delbee. Mercury House, $20 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56279-026-4

Until recently, it appeared that the sculptor Camille Claudel (1864-1943) had effectively disappeared from history. The 1980s, however, saw a biography by her grand-niece Reine-Marie Paris, a biographical film starring Isabelle Adjani, and both a play and this novel by Delbee. Born into the upper middle class in 1864, Claudel braved the skepticism of society and her family--including her brother, the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel--to become a sculptor. Her studies with Auguste Rodin led to their stormy affair. While he was inspired, she was left drained and--much as she resisted--her name has forever been associated with that of the older artist. Though she gained a measure of critical success, she was never able to support herself and continued to receive money from her father. A week after his death in 1913, she was institutionalized; she remained in the asylum for 30 years, until her death. Unfortunately, the melodrama that drew Delbee to Claudel has also overwhelmed her narrative. All the facts are here, but it is the tiny fragments drawn from Paul Claudel's works or Camille's few remaining letters that evoke the pathos of her life, not Delbee's overheated prose (``The storm raged. The sky flashed white. She was warm, warm with her frantic efforts, warm like an expectant lover'') The facts alone are sad enough. Photos not seen by PW . (Oct.)