Category Archives: Carole Di Tosti’s Book Reviews

Camille Claudel by Jeanne Fayard: Book Review

Jeanne Fayard is a French writer who is an expert on sculptors August Rodin and Camille Claudel. She has made an invaluable contribution to what we know and understand about Claudel’s early years in her book Camille Claudel.

When I was in Paris, I had the occasion to speak with Jeanne Fayard at length about Auguste Rodin’s one time mistress, who was a magnificent sculptress in her own right. Indeed, Camille Claudel who met Rodin when she was around 19 inspired some of Rodin’s finest work. Claudel has been the subject of two films (Camille Claudel, Camille Claudel 1915), because of her extraordinary life as a maverick artist and because of the dramatic response of her family to her individuality, autonomy and sheer genius all of which caused her mother great distress. Camille Claudel lived in a time when women were pawns; Catholicism crucified women who stood against the grain in how a woman was supposed to comport herself; morality for a woman was supposed to be above reproach.

'The Wave' by Camille Claudel. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Camille Claudel’s La Vague (1897), The Wave at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Camille’s father shielded and supported her throughout the first part of her career, despite her mother’s profound disapproval of her daughter. After her father died, Camille’s mother and brother, diplomat Paul Claudel, had Camille committed to an asylum in 1915 because of Camille’s alleged mental illness and outrageous behavior. Despite the implorement of doctors and others of renown who clinically deemed her eccentric but not insane, her mother and brother made sure Camille remained committed. It is certainly a tragedy for us and the art world that she spent the last thirty years of her life in confinement unable to work on any sculpture or art, an act which the family had forbidden.

Jeanne Fayard who initially intended to write a book about Rodin forty years ago and who had been researching and studying Rodin, ended up writing a book about Camille Claudel first because of an unusual series of events that happened. Jasques Cassar was an art lover who shared an interest with Fayard about Claudel and Rodin. After Cassar discovered Camille Claudel’s work (four sculptures), which Paul Claudel donated to the Musée Rodin in 1951, he became impassioned about Camille Claudel. He gained access to family files and continued his work in earnest, but was unable to finish his biography on Claudel before he died. Jeanne Fayard who had worked on a play about Camille Claudel was a friend of Jacques Cassar. She was privy to Cassar’s work and made sure the files were published posthumously, stating the work was authored by Jacques Cassar. Fayard wrote the Preface for what is known as Dossier Camille Claudel by Jacques Cassar.

Camille Claudel's The Age of Maturity (1899), a controversial and extraordinary work at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Camille Claudel’s The Age of Maturity (1899), a controversial and extraordinary work at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Fascinated by her subject and inspired by Jacques Cassar’s work and her love of Rodin, Jeanne Fayard continued her investigation of Camille Claudel. Through a process of viewing Camille Claudel’s amazing sculptures and comparing them with Rodin’s, Fayard realized that Claudel had launched out on her own led by a brilliance that could not be learned, that could not be instructed. Fayard understood that Claudel had a light, a divine provenance within her soul that fostered such incredible work. It was this light that struck Camille’s father to support his daughter. It was the same animating light that motivated teacher/sculptor Alfred Boucher to mentor Claudel for three years and then encourage Rodin to work with her. It was this same vitality that entranced Rodin into a tempestuous affair with her. And it was this stirring force of Camille’s vibrance that influenced Rodin’s work to new heights.

The realizations prompted Jeanne Fayard to search back into Camille Claudel’s early childhood. There she understood Claudel’s motivations, her early talents in drawing and art. In her investigation she discovered her personality, her determination, her influences, her inspirations. Fayard’s explorations revealed how Claudel’s early life shaped her psyche to develop what would become an incredible artist in her own right apart from Rodin. Indeed, these early beginnings molded Claudel like the clay she shaped into the figures that would eventually be cast into bronze or other materials and that are now housed at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

Camille Claudel's An Old Woman at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Camille Claudel’s Clotho (1893) at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Fayard’s work is essential to understanding how Camille Claudel’s elements as a child, melted under the heat and pressure of her life with family — her mother, brother, father and sister. The early years, revealing her own innate artistic talent and acumen were the crucible which formed the woman who was a maverick for her time and one of the most striking and originally skillful women sculptors of all time. Certainly, she was a feminist if that word may be loosely applied to Camille Claudel’s bravery and mental fortitude to leave Rodin, destroy the work some of which she created during the period she was with him and move into the dark, uncharted waters of her own soul’s genius.

Jeanne Fayard’s work is in French, and if one has an average knowledge of the language it is easily understood. Certainly, for what it contributes to our knowledge of Camille Claudel, it should be translated in English to inspire those who adore Claudel’s work in this country and those future female artists who would gain inspiration from reading about Claudel’s early beginnings. For women Claudel’s entire life is a crucial read; it provides a revelation of the extent to which women are capable of coming into their own, and the extent that that remains a dangerous threat to other women who have the power to destroy them.

This Book Review first appeared on Blogcritics.

Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair by Jewel Kats, Illustrations by Richa Kinra

Cinderella's Magical Wheelchair by Jewel Kats, Illustrations by Richa Kinra

Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair by Jewel Kats, Illustrations by Richa Kinra

In a land far, far away there was magic and there was brutal reality. If that sounds like a bit of a fairy tale, so it is. But when you think about the long haul of eternity, life is a bit of a fairy-tale in its beauty and pain. There are magical times and then there is the brutal reality of sorrow and loss,  But with faith and effort, there is overcoming. Such are the themes of the modern fairy-tale Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair told by Jewel Kats (illustrations by Richa Kinra) with the caveat that we can have a wonderful things, but there might be some things we will never have.

Most of us are familiar with the iconic Disney animated film with Cinderella’s fairy godmother, the pumpkin coach and the mice attendants who outfit our heroine for the ball. If you visited NYC, you might have taken your daughters to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Broadway. There are film versions  and adaptations, for example Ever After: A Cinderella Story starring Drew Barrymore and Kenneth Branagh has directed a live action Cinderella which is slated to come out in March 2015.

The Cinderella story is mythic, digging into the heart of every girl’s and every woman’s unconscious needs. The handsome, wealthy prince takes kind, sweet Cinderella away from the horror of her wretched, abusive Stepmother and wicked, ugly, demeaning Stepsisters. For the rest of her life as Mrs. Prince, Cinderella “lives happily ever after,” while the Prince with his inherited family wealth supports her in comfort and style, wiping out all the sad memories of her hurtful treatment by the “Steps.” The irony is a man, Charles Perralt, wrote the story in 1697, not a woman. Indeed, the story supports a paternalistic, oppressive culture which inspires women to endure the drudgery of life with the hope that “one day, their prince will come” and if she is proposed to, her man is her prince and “king of his castle.”  Such is the stuff that inspires Golddiggers and naive brides alike. Unfortunately, the reality of marriage and “happily ever after” is very different.

That is why I like Jewel Kats’ retelling of Cinderella. In Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair. Kats’ Cinderella is disabled. However, her spirit and attitude are not broken. When the fairy godmother comes to transport her to the ball, she doesn’t touch her wand to Cinderella’s feet or legs creating mobility. Some things do not change; at 12:00 AM, all returns to what it was before. But something magical does happen to Cinderella’s wheelchair. At the ball, the prince is intrigued by this woman and forgets about her disability. What he understands about her touches his heart.

At 12:00 AM they part and reality sets in once more, but the ball has opened Cinderella’s eyes. She leaves the miserable life she led with her Steps, packs up and sets out on her own. This is a self-reliant woman who knows how to take her skills and use them to live and support herself. She is not “waiting for her prince to come.” She will make it on her own.

What happened at the ball? Does she eventually meet up with the prince again? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself. I’m not telling. I do think that Kats’ version is the most modern and prescient of all. What I love about it is that to a great extent, it explodes the dangerous myth that there is “happily ever after” in marriage. Not that there isn’t, but that you have to work at it and some things, some realities, you cannot change. You must adjust to them.

This is a very important message to bring to young girls. Life can hold magic and pain, and the most disabled are those who are wicked, jealous and cruel.

PS…

Some fairy tales are not told by paternalists, but are retold by resilient, smart women.

A very special thank you to Chris Miller who introduced me to the work of Jewel Kats.

The timeless story of “Cinderella” dates back to 1697 when first created by Charles Perrault,

Ditzabled Princess by Jewel Kats with Katarina Andriopoulos

Ditzabled Princess: A Comical Diary Inspired by Real Life. Author Jewel Kats Artist, Katarina Andriopoulos

Ditzabled Princess: A Comical Diary Inspired by Real Life. Author Jewel Kats
Artist, Katarina Andriopoulos

Have you ever heard, “It’s all in your attitude?” Well, Ditzabled Princess by Jewel Kats and artist Katarina Andriopoulos is an adorable mid-level children’s “comical” book that teaches a wonderful lesson about it. With a positive, uplifted attitude one will draw friends, family and others toward love and a spirit of living life to the fullest.

We are not talking Pollyanna, here, either. We are discussing a strong realistic and affirming way to view circumstances with an approach that uses humor and humanity to get over what a negative individual might carp, complain and stress themselves into a hellish place over. Thank goodness, Jewel Kats is the opposite, for she has given us a Jewel of a book that even adults would appreciate. And I can think of a few adults who need to “get over themselves” that I will probably buy this book for when they need a laugh.

Ditzabled Princess is a diary of a 33 year old disabled princess. Please underscore princess. There is nothing disabled about this women. In fact she is so capable, it’s like she is living the life of three able bodied individuals rolled into the body of one beautifully spirited and outwardly lovely person. Jewel tells us who she is in a nutshell: “a demanding Diva who loves to shop as much as she loves to write.” Jewel is assisted by a lovely “hot pink elbow crutch.” What’s not to love?

Jewel Kats is much, much more, of course. Add to that creative, talented and very clever, and she is aided and abetted by her “Dad,” her “Mom,” her beloved “Hubby,” “Baby Sis,” “Middle Sis,” and B.F.F. (best friend forever). And each of them in their own right “handles” this diva with love, humor and at times, utter frustration. Did I mention that this princess is also a bit of a messy house keeper and not a very good cook? I don’t know about you, but I’m down with that.

By the end of reading the comical exploits of Jewel Kats (I had a smile on my face the entire time.) I understood what I should do. Any time that inner critic (You know the one who criticizes you at the most rotten times.) opens her mouth to say something really dark about where I am along my own journey, I would get out Ditzabled Princess and read it again for the humor, the wisdom and the CLEVERNESS which will snuff out that nasty feeling. And I will especially go to pages 50-51 and read them over a few times, then read them to my niece who will really appreciate them. (She’s around 11 going on 18 and is a princess-in-training.)

Now, don’t expect me to tell you what’s on those pages. You will just have to buy the book on Amazon yourself.

Thanks to Chris Miller  for introducing me to the Ditzabled Princess Jewel Kats. Wish I had known of her sooner…I could have honed my princess skills with her tips.

%d bloggers like this: