Q: I loved “Claude and Camille and named it my most beloved novel of 2010. My question is since you helped me envision the real person behind the inspirational water lilies paintings: what is it that inspired you to so passionately convey Claude and Camille’s tragic love?
A: Thank you so much for your kind words about the novel! You know we know very little about the real Camille; she died at 32 which is in itself horribly sad and some people believe it was Monet’s second wife Alice who destroyed all her papers. So we have a few facts about her here and there. My agent pointed out to me that Claude Monet painted more portraits of Camille than he ever painted of anyone in his life. I have been in the arts all my life as have most of my closest friends and money is seldom reliable in the arts. So we had Camille who was nineteen and full of illusions of the glory of living for art alone and Claude Monet who was very sexy at twenty-five (he looked like a young Johnny Depp) and he thought that any day, any week he would make his fortune with his work. In reality they sometimes had no food money and were thrown out of their rooms because they could not pay their rent and had to pawn their things. When she died, he was still so poor he had to try to get her necklace out of pawn so she could be buried in it. So they had this passionate love against a very difficult reality and when she became so sick, he was working too hard to provide food to know how to get the best care for her. I think that haunted him all his life.
Q: “Claude and Camille” really brings to light the phrase “poor starving artist”, how proud are you that you can say your award winning novel contributes to part of the impressionism legacy Claude left behind?
A: I am very proud to have been able to bring Claude Monet to life as a young man as well as the other young painters who one day would band together for their first exhibition (which they paid for) and be called Impressionists by a sneering critic who thought their work was pretty awful. “A bad sketch for wallpaper is better,” he wrote. The sort of work Claude and his friends were doing was very shocking to most people; it wasn’t art.
Q: Since “Claude and Camille” is now being sold at Monet’s home of the water lilies Giverny. I am curious to see if you have had the chance to visit there? If so where was your favorite Monet spot?
A: Oh yes, I did visit there but a few years ago, during the research period for the novel. I loved standing on the Japanese bridge the most. It was April and the water lilies had nor bloomed yet. It was an intensely spiritual experience for me. I felt Monet everywhere. And then after I was walking down the path outside the house and saw a church with steps rising to it and I had to climb them! And I did not know he was buried there. I found his family tomb with his name on it and I took a tiny sprig of some plant growing near the grave and brought it back to my husband who could not travel with me. There was a crowd in the Giverny gift shop but the graveyard was quite deserted.
Q: Monet has been inspiring the masses for some time now and I must ask which work of his is your favorite and why?
A: May I name two? My favorite is oddly from the period of the novel, a painting of the village of Vétheuil seen from across the icy river in winter. It’s in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. It’s profoundly lonely. I wrote it into the novel as the thing he paints before he understands for the first time that Camille is very ill. He was painting and painting then and dragging his work into Paris to try to sell some of it. The second favorite is of the Japanese bridge over the lily pond. He painted it a lot. There are beautiful ones in Princeton and the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Q: I have noticed a trend in your novels that they feature creative power houses like Mozart and Monet. Your unquestionable gift for prose is clear but do you hide any other creative muses in your life?
A: Oh goodness, well I was a classical singer for years. I sang a lot of the Mozart roles in very small opera houses. I miss singing with others very much, but you have to practice a lot and I haven’t in ages. And I love theater. I belong to a Shakespeare reading group and always hope I don’t get cast as the villain as I am bad at villains. No other gifts at all! My parents were painters and I think I was too intimidated to try.
Q: “Claude and Camille” has won a few awards would you care to enlighten us on its success with readers?
A: Unless I am forgetting something, I can say in all modesty that the only “award” it had was for one of the best novels of the year from January magazine. Maybe you are seeing its happy future! I won an American Book Award for a previous novel about an Anglican priest and physician in London circa 1640 called The Physician of London, which was the second book of a trilogy which I have yet to complete. But I have had just the most amazing e-mails from people about how much they loved Claude and Camille. I had a fair number from men too and of course it has had some marvelous reviews, including yours!
Q: Are you currently working on another project?
A: I am working on two projects at the time. One is about the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her incredible love story with Robert Browning who snatched her away from her London home when she was an invalid of forty and took her to live a romantic live in Italy. And the second is a love story set in an English abbey during the period when Henry VIII was closing all the abbeys; it’s from the point of view of the abbot’s goddaughter who grows up as a bookbinder amid the monks. I am not sure which one will be finished first.
For more on Stephanie Cowell and her lovely novels, you can check out the below links:
Her Website and be sure to check out the dates and locations of her live upcoming events!
Her Blog: EVERYDAY LIVES OF THE FRENCH IMPRESSIONISTS
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