Claude and Camille was one of my favorite books of 2010 (read my review here). The paperback edition just went on sale yesterday, and in honor of the book’s re-release, today I’d like to welcome author Stephanie Cowell for an interview. I have had the great pleasure of meeting Stephanie several times, once at her Barnes & Noble book launch last year while I was living in NYC. I filmed a good portion of her talk and posted the videos here, so if you just can’t get enough Monet chatter, go ahead and check those out when you’re done reading this interview! Oh, and be sure to fill out the entry form at the bottom of this post to enter yourself to win one of *5* paperback copies of Claude and Camille!
While much is known about the life of Claude Monet, very little is known about his great love, Camille Doncieux. This lack of information gave you a wonderfully broad creative license to shape Camille’s character! How did you go about piecing together the nuances of her personality?
Camille was very complicated to create: we know such little about her. I spent a long time studying reproductions of his paintings of her in books. A few are quite sad (the one on the sofa in London, the one outside the window in the snow looking like a left-out child in red kerchief.) I think he only did one of her smiling, the one in the Japanese costume. But (and this is the strange and mystical way books are written) when I had him find her in the bookshop writing to some person whom he will not identify until the end of the book, I knew she was a mystery to him and to us. And she was a mystery to herself as well. I never worked so intensely with an editor as I did with the gifted Suzanne O’Neill at Crown who acquired the book. She kept asking questions about Camille and all these scenes would just spring into my mind. I also knew a few young women years ago who were a bit like her: thinking suffering for art was romantic, making up her life as a great story because she hated the pettiness of her bourgeois family, inventing lovers and all sorts of things until Claude can’t understand what is truth and what is not and neither can she. I could never plan to create a character like Camille; she just showed up in a way.
Your book illustrates for readers how closely knit the Impressionists were, through the good times and the bad. What do you think it was that kept them going under such stressful–at times, dire–circumstances?
Well, Auguste Renoir said, “We stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the world.” He also said he would have quit had not Monet kept him going. I think when you have the sort of talent these young men did, there is no leaving it.
Without giving too much away, do you view Claude and Camille’s relationship as a great romance, or a great tragedy?
I think it’s both a great romance and a great tragedy, but the tragedy is brought on too early by all the poverty they faced. I think they still loved each other intensely no matter what they faced.
If forced to choose, which is your personal favorite of Monet’s many works?
My favorite is from the period of the novel; a painting of the village of Vétheuil seen from across the icy river in winter. I actually knew Monet’s earlier paintings before I ever looked much at his flower/water lily paintings which he did in his older years. I finally really looked at those in the Marmottan Museum in Paris and burst into tears, they are so emotional. They’re big; you are caught in a huge world of daffodils or water lilies. They are not so very peaceful when you see them up close; they move all over the place. Now I’m talking about the water lily paintings! But I think it’s very odd and wonderful that the paintings which are so spiritual to us were painted by a man who claimed it was not spiritual.
Have you thought about what topic/time period you next book might cover? If so, what can you tell us about it?
I am well into the second draft of new novel set in Victorian London about the love story of the poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. She was an invalid of 40 and still very beautiful when he found her in her father’s house and snatched her away from her family to live in Florence with him. I am also working on a 16th century novel set in an English abbey, about the goddaughter of the abbot who grows up in the monastery working in the library with her father and falls in love in a dangerous way. England was my first love in history and I set my first 3 novels there. The love of it has come pouring back to me! I very much regret never having written a queen novel. Who knows, maybe I’ll try one day! But there are so many terrific writers out there writing about English queens and royalty!
About the Author
STEPHANIE COWELL is a historical novelist with a passionate interest in bringing the great artists, musicians and writers of the past “to vivid life” (as the NY Times said) between the covers of a book. Her latest novel CLAUDE & CAMILLE: A NOVEL OF MONET was originally published by Crown in April 2010; the paperback version released April 5th, 2011. Currently on sale in many languages and editions is MARRYING MOZART, the story of Mozart’s romantic involvement with the four Weber sisters of Vienna. Stephanie is also the author of three novels set in Elizabethan times (W.W. Norton): NICHOLAS COOKE, THE PHYSICIAN OF LONDON and THE PLAYERS: A NOVEL OF THE YOUNG SHAKESPEARE.
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