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Authors: Heather Webb

Rodin's Lover

BOOK: Rodin's Lover
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© Angie Parkinson

is a contributor to the popular writing blogs
Writer Unboxed
Romance University
, and she manages her own blog,
Between the Sheets
. When not writing, she flexes her foodie skills, or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and lives in Connecticut with her family. Connect online at, Twitter/@msheatherwebb, or Facebook/Heather Webb, Author.

  Praise for Heather Webb and Her Novels

“Dazzling! . . . In
Rodin’s Lover
, author Heather Webb brings to life, with vivid detail, the story of brilliant and tormented sculptress Camille Claudel and the epic love affair with the legendary sculptor who worshipped her. Deeply moving and meticulously researched, this book will capture your heart, then hold it tightly long after the final page.”

—Anne Girard, author of
Madame Picasso


Rodin’s Lover
is a textured historical novel that captures the indomitable spirit of artist Camille Claudel, a woman whose mighty talent was
nearly eclipsed by her potent love for fellow artist Auguste Rodin. Can two passionate, creative talents thrive together or will one flame inevitably consume the other? Webb gracefully explores this ignitable relationship while illuminating Claudel’s untold heartbreak and evocative artwork. A story of human emotion, once raw and malleable, now preserved to lasting stone.”

—Sarah McCoy, New York Times bestselling author of
The Baker’s Daughter


“Webb holds up a light into the inner recesses of a fascinating and contradictory woman. . . .
Becoming Josephine
is an accomplished debut.”

New York Journal of Books


“Webb’s portrayal of the range of Josephine’s experience—narrow escapes from bloodshed and disease, dinner-table diplomacy, and her helpless love for Napoleon, her children, and a small dog—is exceptionally concise and colorful. A worthy fictional primer on Empress Josephine.”

Kirkus Reviews


“A debut as bewitching as its protagonist.”

—Erika Robuck, author of
Call Me Zelda


Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

A Penguin Random House Company


First published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2015


Copyright © 2015 by Heather Webb

Illustrations by Joshua DeLillo

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.






Webb, Heather, 1976 December 30–

Rodin’s lover : a novel / Heather Webb.

pages cm

ISBN 978-0-698-18308-7

1. Claudel, Camille, 1864–1943—Fiction. 2. Rodin, Auguste, 1840–1917—Fiction. 3. Sculptors—France—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3623.E3917R63 2015

813'.6—dc 2014028322

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Cover design: Sara Wood

Cover images: (foreground) Rue des Archives / The Granger Collection, NYC – All rights reserved; (background) Roger Schall / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet / The Image Works



About the Author

Title page

Copyright page




Part One: 1881–1885

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13


Part Two: 1885–1887

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25


Part Three: 1887–1898

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34



Author’s Note


For my parents, Jeff and Linda Webb, my biggest fans


Go, bloom near the somber captive,

And tell her truly that we love her.

Tell that through fleeting time

Everything belongs to the future



—Louise Michel, L’Œillet

Part One


The Dawn

Chapter 1

amille dropped to her knees in the mud. Her skirts absorbed last night’s rain and the scent of sodden earth. She plunged a trowel, stolen from her neighbor’s garden, into the red clay and dug furiously, stopping only to slop hunks of earth into a wooden trough. She needed one more load to mold the portrait of Eugénie. The maid
sit for her again, regardless of her protestations.

The sun climbed the sky, though it did little to warm the damp chill. Thankfully, the heat of summer had not unleashed its force to scorch the grass and dry the earth. It made for easier digging.

Camille breathed in a lungful of air laced with the mineral scent of clay. Perfection.

“Read to me, little brother,” she said. “If you’re not going to help, that is.”

Paul dangled his legs over the edge of the boulder on which he sat. “I’ll help you lug it home, but I’m not listening to Mother’s howling over my soiled trousers again.”


Paul cared for appearances, with his proud chin and shining blond hair, his perfectly polished boots, even at the young age of thirteen. Camille grinned. It was a fatal mistake in a household with a sister obsessed with clay.

Her brother ignored her and flipped to a page in Verlaine’s
Poèmes Saturniens
. He read aloud.

How far away now is all that lightness

And all that innocence! Ah, backwards yet,

From black winter fled, to the Springtime of regret,

From my disgust, my boredom, my distress

“Can’t you read anything more lively?” Camille stood and stretched her aching back. It would not do to feel so fatigued already. She had too much to accomplish today. “You’re always so melancholy.”

“As you’re always spiteful.”

She gouged her fingers into the slick clay and lobbed a fistful at Paul. It splattered his vest and the cuff of his once-pristine shirt. She laughed and gathered another handful.

“Cretin!” He jumped down from his perch and chased her through the wood toward the edge of the riverbank.

She squealed as she fled. “You’ll never catch me in your fine shoes.” Her dark hair came loose from its haphazard knot and streamed down her back. She laughed as she laced through maple and chestnut trees and leapt over underbrush. How easy her brother was to goad.

Paul threw himself forward and caught her arm, spun her around, and smashed a wet mound of earth on her cheek. Camille shrieked, then grasped his free hand and tugged him toward the water’s edge.

“Oh no you don’t. Let go!” He leaned away from her with all his weight.

“You’re covered in mud,” she said. “You need to bathe.”

With a final yank, they tumbled together into the river, a heap of flailing limbs and fabric. Paul sputtered in the cold russet water before he gained his footing on the silt bottom. “You’ll pay for this. While you sleep.”

“Try it. I dare you.” Camille splashed him before she waded to shore, flopping onto the embankment in her soaked gray gown, a fish out of water. Paul trudged over soft riverbank and plopped onto the carpet of grass beside her, tucking his hands beneath his head. He stared up at the clouded sky.

“Rats!” In a sudden movement he scrambled to his feet. “Our lessons! Monsieur Colin will be angry if we’re late.” He offered his sister his hand. When she reached for it, he yanked it away, and she tumbled back to the ground. He laughed at her startled expression. “You deserved that.”

Camille giggled. “So I did.” She stood and pulled at the wet fabric sticking to her skin. “I’m sure he started with Louise. You know how long she takes at the pianoforte. We needn’t hurry.”

Monsieur Colin had traveled to Villeneuve-sur-Fère to tutor the children during the summer months. Gracious of him, considering he had many commitments. Papa paid him well for his services.

They returned to the rocky hillside and hefted the heavy trough back through the windswept fields to their house in the center of Villeneuve. As they passed the town’s
, the sonorous clamor of church bells tolled the hour from their Gothic tower.

“It’s later than I thought,” Camille said, lowering the clay to the ground. A sinking dread settled in the pit of her stomach. Mother would be angry.

“Hurry!” Paul urged her.

They dragged their load through a rusted iron gate and around to the barn behind the house. Camille covered the clay with a moistened cloth and left it beside Grand-père’s old kiln before following Paul to the house.

Monsieur Colin bounded down the front walk. “There you are.” He studied their ruined clothing with shrewd eyes. “It seems you have gone for a swim instead of tending to your studies. I prefer not to waste my time.”

“I beg your pardon, monsieur.” Camille cast her gaze to the ground. “We didn’t realize the hour. I was looking forward to another drawing lesson.”

Moi, aussi,
” Paul said.

Monsieur Colin gave them a stern look. “I left a list of assignments for next Thursday. I will be in Paris the remainder of this week. And Camille”—his stern tone softened—“your mother isn’t happy with you.”

The dread reemerged and slithered in her stomach. What sort of punishment would she receive today? She met her tutor’s eyes. “She never is.”

“Try not to take it to heart. Your studies are progressing well, when you attend to them.” Monsieur Colin winked and a smile lifted the corners of his bushy mustache. He continued down the walk and raised his cane in the air. “Paul, keep your sister out of trouble.”

, monsieur,” he said. “I will do my best.”

Camille pinched his arm. He shoved her in response. “Now we must face Mother, thanks to you.”

“What’s another admonishing? We’re always at war.” Camille’s words were braver than she felt. The last time she had broken a rule, she had been restricted from the barn for a week. She had been reduced to making shapes with her pureed potatoes.

When monsieur’s coach disappeared down the street, they entered the familiar stucco house. Mother swept into the hall in her usual gray day dress unadorned by lace, corsage, or frills, embellished only by a modest bustle and a cameo. She wore her hair slicked and shiny, parted down the middle, and rolled into a tight chignon at the nape of her neck. Her sharp expression and rigid shoulders—held stout like a soldier’s—did little to soften her austere appearance.

Camille braced herself.

“Where in the devil—” Mother’s hand flew to her mouth. “Camille, look at you! You’re a disgrace.” She stared at the red clay caked on her daughter’s gown and boots, the naked forearms and elbows covered in grime. “Those filthy sculptures. I have told you not to wear your good dresses outdoors, yet you insist on keeping up with this nonsense. If you continue to run amok like a heathen, you will ruin the family’s reputation.”

Camille flinched. She didn’t wish to destroy the family’s reputation, but she did not see how sculpting could be shameful. It filled her with purpose and joy. Sculpting was all beauty and inspiration—and passion, something Mother had not experienced a single day in her life.

“I’m an artist, Mother,” Camille said drily. “Not a whore or a gambler.”

Paul snickered.

Mother’s nostrils flared. “Yet you appear as one, just now.”

Camille’s mouth fell open.

“Don’t talk to her that way.” Paul jumped to her aid.

“Know your place, young man,” Mother snapped. “You aren’t the head of this household.”

“Why do you dislike me so much?” Camille asked. “Because I am not him? Your infant who died?”

Mother’s eyes bulged in their sockets—the desired effect. Camille had struck a nerve.

“I had not yet been born, and you deride me as if I made him die,” Camille continued. Sorrow and anger clawed at her throat.

“Do not speak of him!” Mother said, her voice strangled. Tears shone in her eyes.

Camille had gone too far, and yet, she knew her words rang true. She had always paid for Mother’s pain, for her loss. “I am sorry.” She reached out a trembling hand to comfort her mother, despite her instinct to recoil.

Mother pulled away and crossed her arms. “You’ll spend the rest of the day in your bedroom. And Paul, you will work off the cost of your ruined shoes.”

His face fell.

“I will work for his shoes.” Camille tucked her hand through his arm in solidarity. “It’s my fault.” She bumped him softly with her shoulder. Grateful, her brother squeezed her hand.

“Fine.” The rigid lines on Mother’s forehead deepened. “And no more talk of being an artist. It’s absurd. You will finish your studies and find a husband, Camille, as it is supposed to be.”

Camille’s insides turned to stone. A husband? She could think of nothing worse. She turned on her heel and stormed up the creaky oak stairs. Mother couldn’t force her.

“Wait.” Paul raced after his sister, reaching her bedroom just as she closed the door.

“Not now, Paul.” Camille paced in the tiny space, littering clumps of mud behind her on the wooden floor. Mother wanted her to behave like every other lady, or better yet, to behave like Mother herself—a submissive, miserable woman. A victim of her own life.

“I can’t believe you said that to her,” Louise said. Her sister braided her hair before the mirror for the second time that day. She admired her new set of ribbons entirely too much—and her own reflection.

Camille stopped. “Of course you wouldn’t understand, because she never reprimands you.”

“It’s not difficult to follow the rules.”

Camille struggled with the laces of her damp gown, freed herself, and tossed the offending garment into the corner with a savage thrust. She could not be a demure, overly sweet creature who shrank beneath the weight of duty.
—even the word—turned her stomach. She would not spend her days pleasing everyone but herself.

Paul knocked at the door. “Camille, let me in.”

She pulled on a dry chemise and opened the door.

“Don’t listen to her.” Her brother embraced her. “You’ll be a famous sculptor one day. You’ll be one of the first women to do it. I know you will.”

Thank God for Paul. He would always be there, defending her to the last.

Camille lit another candle. Evening descended, and soon she would need to sneak the lantern from her bedroom into the barn. She scooped a mass of clay onto an old farm table to roll and knead it, to wick away unnecessary moisture. With forceful thrusts, she pushed against the clay again and again. The sticky lump formed beneath her hands, bent to her will. She could control clay and depend on its soothing smell. She marveled at the way it held a secret identity until she coaxed it to life.

The barn door screeched on its hinge. Camille looked up to meet the intruder. “Papa!”

Louis-Prosper Claudel had returned home after a week’s stay in Paris. Camille kissed his cheeks. The familiar scent of his mustache wax hovered about him.

Bonsoir, mon amour
.” He removed his morning coat and loosened his cravat. “It’s good to be home. Paris is abysmal in the summer.”

Camille wondered what abysmal looked like—she had never seen the capital city. Mother deemed it unsafe since the fall of the Paris Commune and the Prussian invasion a decade ago. Still, Camille had pleaded for a visit more times than she could count. She longed to tour the Louvre and see the works of the greats.

“Mother said you haven’t eaten since this morning.” He rubbed her back. “Come and have tea with your papa.”

But she had so much to do—the bust of Poseidon needed some attention and she had to prepare more clay. Perhaps she would work more after a visit with Papa.

“Very well. I’ll join you.” She dunked her hands in a bucket of water and scrubbed.

They strolled to the house and into the salon, where the rest of the family lounged. Paul snapped his book closed, and Louise ceased her piano practice to greet their father.

“I asked Eugénie to save you a plate from this afternoon.” Mother tilted her cheek so Papa could kiss her, but did not look up from her sewing.

Camille noted Mother did not do the same for her.

As Papa turned the cylinder on the gas lamp, a flame blazed to life. Satisfied, he settled on the settee. “And how are your studies, children?”

BOOK: Rodin's Lover
5.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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