Friday, August 28, 2015

Winner of The Sisters at Versaille Giveaway

The Winner of The Sisters at Versaille Giveaway 


Nadine Tatum

Thanks everyone for entering and for reading the blog!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review and Giveaway: The Sisters of Versailles

Title:  The Sisters of Versailles
Author:  Sally Christie
Pub Date:  September 1, 2015
Publisher:  Atria Books
How obtained:  Via TLC Book Tours (Edelweiss)
What is it about: Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters—Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne—four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot—and women—forward. The King’s scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters—sweet, naïve Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne—will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

My Thoughts:  I first heard about the Mailly-Nesle sisters when I was researching Hortense Mancini, one of Charles II’s mistresses, for a blog post that I ended up not writing. I was intrigued to discover that Hortense’s great granddaughters had also been royal mistresses to Louis XV. Not just one great granddaughter but four of them! You don’t come across that very often while researching Scandalous Women in history! Unfortunately there wasn’t very much information about the sisters. For some reason, no one had written a biography about the sisters which seems a shame. They seem to have been overshadowed in history by Louis’s other mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and Madame de Barry.

Thank goodness, Sally Christie, decided to write The Sisters of Versailles to rescue these fascinating women from the murky depths of history.  Anyone who has read my blog over the years has heard me bitch and moan about the plethora of books set during the Tudor period in England when the court of Versailles is even more fascinating.  The rigorous adherence to court etiquette combined with the endless backstabbing and jockeying for position for power, along with the loose morals of almost everyone at Versailles should be catnip for historical fiction writers. The Sisters of Versailles gives the reader an intimate look at the French court, peeling back the curtain to show the rot underneath. Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down, I devoured it like a particularly tasty salted caramel macaron. I stayed up until past midnight last night to finish it, and when I was done, I felt bereft. I didn’t want to leave this intriguing but dangerous world. I wanted to continue to savor this story and these women.
The book is narrated by all five sisters, using first person POV.  Christie does a masterful job at delineating each sister so that even without the heading for each chapter, the reader knows instantly who is narrating the story at any given time. It’s a remarkably accomplishment for a first time novelist. They are so vibrant, they fairly leap off the page. 

Although the sisters come from the noblest backgrounds, they start the novel of with a disadvantage, they are poor by aristocratic standards. Their father has pretty much gambled away their inheritances, each of them can only expect 7,500 livres for a dowry.  Their mother who is beautiful but feckless, spends most of her time at Versailles, leaving the sisters under the supervision of their governess. Louise, the eldest, is sweet, idealistic and naïve. 

She is married off to a distant cousin who neglects her, her mother-in-law despises her for being unable to produce an heir. Louise longs to be part of the glittering court, for her life to start. She gets her wish when she is appointed a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. When it looks like the King’s interest in the Queen is waning, Louise is pushed to become the King’s first mistress. Although she knows that she is committing a sin, Louise falls hopelessly in love with Louis. She reminds me very much of another Louise, Louise de la Valliere, the mistress of Louis XIV.  Louise de la Valliere was also pushed into the arms of Louis XIV to combat the rumors of the King’s relationship with his sister-in-law. Both women loved the King more as a man than a sovereign, and both love affairs end unhappily.

When their mother dies, the four remaining sisters are split up.  Pauline and Diane are sent to a convent and Hortense and Marie-Anne are sent to live with their Tante Mazarin. Pauline’s letters to Louise at court are hilarious as she takes every opportunity to try and convince Louise to bring her to court or to find her a husband. Pauline is ambitious for power and advancement, to make her mark on the world.  She’s also intelligent and bossy. She’s that girl in school who gets things done but who is also a pain in the ass.  What I love about Pauline is that she doesn’t really care about making friends or people liking her.  She has one goal and she achieves it, even at the expense of her sister.

The heart of the book is really about sisterhood, what do you do when the people who should have your back, your family, stab you in the back? Even before the sisters are torn apart by the deaths of their mother, there is a clear divide in the family, and how they remember their childhoods. Marie-Anne, the youngest, is a hard, glittering diamond, who will stop at nothing to achieve power when the King sets his sights on her.  And then there is poor Diane, not the sharpest tool in the shed, silly, sweet Diane who loves everyone, even the unlovable Pauline.  I think Diane was one of my favorite characters in the book, she only wants to be happy and to have lovely things to eat, to gossip and wear pretty clothes. She’s probably the most uncomplicated of the five sisters. And there is Hortense, the good one, the only one to survive to a ripe old age.

Christie offers a wealth of period detail, from the descriptions of the rooms at Versailles, to the clothing, the backstairs maneuvering, all offered in a lively, modern tone. She doesn’t try to mimic the intricate writing style of the 18th century. Instead imagine an 18th century version of Vanity Fair magazine. If you love period films or novels like Ridicule or Les Liaisons dangereuses, you will love The Sisters of Versailles.

Giveaway (US only)

- To enter, please leave a comment below and include your email address (only comments with email addresses will be entered in the giveaway).
- If you are not a follower and become one, you get an extra entry
- If you tweet about the giveaway, you get an extra entry.
- If you like my Scandalous Women Facebook page, you get an extra entry.

Good luck!
- Giveaway ends on August 26th.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Anna May Wong

Over the weekend, I went with friends to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While we were there, I took the opportunity to go through the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit again (I discovered that I’d completely missed two whole floors of the exhibit). Once again, I was drawn to the section of the exhibit dealing with Anna May Wong (1905-1961) who was the first Chinese American movie star. Along with her costume from Limehouse Blues, the exhibit featured dresses that were inspired by dresses that Anna May had worn in her films, along with clips of several of her movies including Toll of the Sea, one of the first Technicolor films, Shanghai Express with Marlene Dietrich (one of her best remembered films), and Limehouse Blues where George Raft unfortunately cast as Asian.  Even with the sound off, Anna May Wong is so vibrant and alive in these clips, particularly the scenes from Toll of the Sea (1922) which is based on Madame Butterfly. The film and Anna May’s performance seem incredibly modern, not dated at all. It’s hard to believe that she was only 17 when the movie was made.

During her career she made dozens of films in Hollywood, London and Berlin. She was glamorous and sophisticated; photographers flocked to take her portrait. Despite never having graduated high school, she was worldly and articulate, with friends like Carl van Vechten, Evelyn Waugh and Paul Robeson. Yet she spent most of her career typecast either as a demure, submissive, painted doll ‘Butterfly’ roles or a scheming Dragon Lady. Some people see Anna May as a victim of Hollywood, condemned to play stereotyped Asian roles — lotus flower or dragon lady, and shouldered aside by white actors such as Luise Rainer and Myrna Loy in yellow face. Anna May Wong’s reputation has suffered over the years because of the roles that she played. The older generation blame her for playing stereotypical roles in the same way that Hattie McDaniel was condemned for playing maids. It’s hard to be the first one, whether it’s flying across the Atlantic or becoming the first Chinese-American film star. People had expectations that Anna found almost impossible to fulfill. She had no role models to look up to. And Hollywood didn’t jump at the chance to develop films for her or groom her for stardom. They just didn’t see her as leading lady material.

The newspapers and film critics in China were also harsh in their criticism of her film roles, that they were shameful. As if she were in a position to pick and choose, and she just chose the ones that had her playing prostitutes and dragon ladies. They didn’t know what to make of her, she looked Chinese but she was thoroughly American, with her western clothes and California accent. She partied hard, dancing the Charleston, the fox-trot and the tango, showing her knees.

Anna was born and raised in L.A., the daughter of a laundryman and his wife who were both second generation Chinese-American. She was given the name Wong Liu Tsong which means “yellow willow frost” on January 3, 1905.  She was the second child and second girl, eventually the family included several more children including the much longed for sons. She didn’t grow up in Chinatown but just outside it, in a neighborhood of mainly Mexican and European residents.  Initially Anna and her older sister went to a public school but after enduring racial taunts from her classmates, her parents enrolled them in a Presbyterian Chinese school. The classes were taught in English, but Anna attended a Chinese language school on the weekends. Although Anna's family had been in the United States since before the Civil War, they were still subject to intense scrutiny.  Chinese immigration had been curtailed since the 1880's.  Every time Anna made plans to travel abroad, she had to fill out paperwork detailing her plans, otherwise there was also the chance that she would not be able to return. Given her outspokenness, it wouldn't be surprising to find that the FBI kept a file on her activities. 

Like many teenage girls, Anna May dreamed of being in the movies.  She would sneak out of school, spending all the money she had saved going to the movies. But she managed to achieve her dream, first as an extra in films and then later on in featured and secondary roles.  Lucky for her that the movies had relocated from the East Coast to the sunny climate of Southern California.  Movies were being made in and around her neighborhood. From childhood, Anna May was pestering the filmmakers to get them to allow her to be in the movies. Eventually Anna May dropped out of high school to focus full-time on acting. “I was so young when I began that I knew I still had youth if I failed, so I determined to give myself 10 years to succeed as an actress.”

Despite her success, Anna May struggled her whole career to take somehow imbue the stereotypical roles she was cast in into something more.  She worked closely with the costume designers and hair and make-up artists to create her characters, often bringing in clothes from home to wear.  She lobbied hard to play the lead role in the MGM film of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth only to discover that to the producers, she “too Chinese to play Chinese”. The Chinese government also apparently advised against casting her in the role.  Anna had to see a role that she had dreamed of playing given to a white Austrian woman, Luise Rainer, who won her first Academy Award for the role.  Instead, Anna was offered the only unsympathetic role in the film.

The production code of the 1930’s stymied her career.  Interracial love was taboo. If a non-Asian actor was cast to play an Asian male, Anna could not share an on-screen kiss with him. There was only one leading Asian man in U.S. films in the silent era, Sessue Hayakawa. Until other Asian leading men could be found, Anna’s career was stifled. In interviews, she was outspoken out the dangers of typecasting.  The salary that she was paid were nowhere near comparable to what her white counterparts or even her Asian male co-stars.  For Daughter of the Dragon (1931) Wong was paid $6,000 compared to Sessue Hayakawa who was paid $10,000 or Warner Oland who made $12,000 for 23 minutes of screen time.

In Europe, Anna May found fewer casting restrictions.  In 1934’s Java Head, she actually got to kiss the white actor who played her husband on screen. She made her stage debut in play based on an Edgar Wallace novel starring a young Laurence Olivier as well as 5 films in England over the years.  Moving on to Germany, she made four films before the Nazi’s came to power.  Anna picked up languages easily, adding German and French to her repertoire.  While in Germany, she became friends with Marlene Dietrich, leading to rumors that the two women were lovers which damaged her reputation and embarrassed her family. Even in Europe, Anna was considered wonderfully foreign, there were few Chinese living in England, France or Germany.  In some ways, she was like a exotic pet at the zoo.

Throughout her career, Anna May worked diligently on her craft. When English critics complained that her voice was too American, she learned to speak with an English accent.  She took voice lessons to work on her voice so that it could be heard in the theatre.  When film roles were thin on the ground, Anna May created a cabaret act which she toured through Europe and the United States. After the disappointment of losing the role of O-Lan in the film version of The Good Earth, Anna May decided it was time to visit China.  Her father and younger siblings had all moved back to the tiny village of her ancestors. She spent a year touring China, studying Mandarin and Chinese culture.  Her plans were to eventually bring English translations of Chinese plays to the West to promote a better understanding of Chinese culture.  Unfortunately those plans never came to fruition.

Returning to Hollywood in the late 1930s, Anna May Wong starred in a series of B pictures, where she finally got play Chinese Americans in a more positive light including King of Chinatown where she portrayed a surgeon! Once America entered World War II, Wong turned her attention more towards fundraising, devoting her time and her money to helping the Chinese cause against the Japan. Post-war, Anna returned to acting, but on television rather than film. In 1951, she had her own series entitled The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, which was the first U.S. television show featuring an Asian-American lead.

Her personal life was just as tumultuous as her screen career. At 17, she had an affair with the director Tod Browning who was not only older but married as well.  Most of her relationships were with white men, which Anna May kept out of the public eye. An interracial relationship would have ended her career. She was openly admitted in interviews that she would most likely never marry, claiming that Chinese and Chinese-American men found her too independent. Her sister, Mary Wong, who had also pursued a career in film, committed suicide.  Suffering on and off from depression, Anna began to drink and smoke heavily, which over the years began to take its toll on her health. Still she forged on with her career, receiving a start on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.  She was just about to start shooting Flower Drum Song in 1961, when she died suddenly of a heart attack during her sleep. She was only 56.

Further reading:

Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend, Hong Kong University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2012)

Anne Helen Petersen, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema, Plume (September 30, 2014)

Mark Bailey, Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.

Monday, June 1, 2015

June Books of the Month

It's been awhile since I posted but also since I've done a Book of the Month post. This month I have two great books to tell you about:  Hissing Cousins by Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer and Model Woman by Robert Lacey.

Hissing Cousins was published by Penguin Random House at the end of March. I've slowly been dipping into the book thanks to Net Galley.  If you watched the recent Ken Burns documentary on The Roosevelts on PBS than you will definitely want to read this book. It gives the readers a more upclose and personal view on the relationship between Eleanor and Alice and also the dynamics between the Oyster Bay Roosevelts and the Hyde Park Roosevelts.

ABOUT HISSING COUSINS: A lively and provocative double biography of first cousins Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, two extraordinary women whose tangled lives provide a sweeping look at the twentieth century. 

When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, his beautiful and flamboyant daughter was transformed into “Princess Alice,” arguably the century’s first global celebrity. Thirty-two years later, her first cousin Eleanor moved into the White House as First Lady. Born eight months and twenty blocks apart from each other in New York City, Eleanor and Alice spent a large part of their childhoods together and were far more alike than most historians acknowledge. 

But their politics and temperaments couldn’t have been more distinct. Do-gooder Eleanor was committed to social justice but hated the limelight; acid-tongued Alice, who became the wife of philandering Republican congressman Nicholas Longworth, was an opponent of big government who gained notoriety for her cutting remarks (she famously quipped that dour President Coolidge “looked like he was weaned on a pickle”). While Eleanor revolutionized the role of First Lady with her outspoken passion for human rights, Alice made the most of her insider connections to influence politics, including doing as much to defeat the League of Nations as anyone in elective office.

My second book of the month is Model Woman by Robert Lacey.  Back in olden times, also known as the 20th century, Michael Gross wrote a revealing book about the modeling industry called appropriately enough MODEL which detailed the history from its infancy all the way through the then crop of supermodels.  Robert Lacey deals in depth with the woman who really changed everything for the better and the worst, Eileen Ford. This book is not a salacious biography along the lines of say someone like Kitty Kelley or Jerry Oppenheimer.  This is a very even-handed biography of a very interesting woman.

From the back cover:

Eileen Ford, working with her husband, Jerry, created the twentieth century's largest and most successful modeling agency, representing some of the fashion world's most famous names—Suzy Parker, Carmen Dell'Orefice, Lauren Hutton, Rene Russo, Christie Brinkley, Jerry Hall, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell. Her relentless ambition turned the business of modeling into one of the most glamorous and desired professions, helping to convert her stable of beautiful faces into millionaire superstars.

Model Woman chronicles the Ford Modeling Agency's meteoric rise to the top of the fashion and beauty business, and paints a vibrant portrait of the uncompromising woman at its helm in all her glittering, tyrannical brilliance. Outspoken and controversial, Ford was never afraid to offend in defense of her stringent standards. When she chose, she could deliver hauteur in the grand tradition of fashion's battle-axes, from Coco Chanel to Diana Vreeland—just ask John Casablancas or Janice Dickinson. But she was also a shrewd businesswoman with a keen eye for talent and a passion for serving her clients.

Drawing on more than four years of intensive interviews with Ford and her intimates, associates, and rivals, as well as exclusive access to agency documents and memorabilia, Robert Lacey weaves an unforgettable tale of a determined entrepreneur and the empire she built—a story of beauty, ambition, business, and popular culture as powerful and complex as the woman at its center.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Winner of the Michelle Moran Giveaway!!!!!

So sorry that it has taken me this long to announce the winner of the Giveaway but family drama, and snow etc. meant that instead of posting on Valentine's Day (was my plan), I am announcing the winner of The Rebel Queen giveaway today:

Stephanie Grant

Congratulations Stephanie.  I will be emailing you to get your address.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Author Michelle Moran on Janam Kundlis and Giveaway!!!!!

Scandalous Women is pleased to have a guest post by author Michelle Moran.  Her new book The Rebel Queen about Queen Lakshmi—India’s Joan of Arc—who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom, will be published March 3rd.

With every book I write, I discover something about the culture I’m researching which completely blows me away, often because it’s so unusual and something I’ve never encountered before. In the case of my book, REBEL QUEEN, set in India during the British invasion, the concept of Janam Kundlis struck a chord with me, particularly since Janam Kundlis very nearly played a role in my own life and my marriage to my husband, who is Indian.

Also known as an astrological chart, a Janam Kundli is made by a priest for each child in India. No one is sure when the concept of a Janam Kundli came to be, but as Vedic astrology is several thousand years old, it’s not surprising that my protagonist’s Janam Kundli would have looked similar to my husband’s,­ even though they were born more than a hundred years apart. A person’s Janam Kundli includes the details of their birth–time, date, planetary alignments. It also includes other things which aren’t so common in the West, such as that person’s probable future career and who they were in their most recent past life (in my husband’s case, a yogi!).

Reading a person’s natal chart is serious business. Once a person’s Janam Kundli is created, they will keep that document with them for life, producing it when it’s time for marriage. Even today, Janam Kundlis are used to make prospective matches between brides and grooms throughout India, where the majority of marriages are arranged. And woe betide anyone whose Janam Kundli declares them to be a manglik, or a bad-luck person. If that’s the case, as it was for the famous Bollywood actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, one of two options are available. You can either marry another manglik, thus canceling out your bad-luck status, or you can hire a priest to conduct a variety of ceremonies that will make it possible to marry someone who isn’t a manglik like yourself. This last option, however, is only available if the non-manglik person’s family finds the risk acceptable. In Aishwarya Rai’s case, her in-laws obviously felt the “risk” was worth it, and in 2007 she married a tree before she married her husband, thereby canceling out her bad-luck in this way.

Why a tree? Well, this was something I very nearly discovered myself when my own Janam Kundli was made. Apparently, like Aishwarya Rai, I too am probably a manglik, meaning marriage for me would most likely end in the divorce or death of my spouse. I say probably because my Janam Kundli was done online. The effect, however, was very nearly the same. Major discussions took place as to whether I would need to marry a tree before the wedding could proceed, or whether my Janam Kundli should be discounted since I am not, after all, Indian, and my Janam Kundli hadn’t “officially” been made by a priest.

In the end, it was decided that my husband should take the risk and go for it. I never had to marry a tree or even choose among a variety of clay urns for my groom. Either option, apparently, is acceptable, as it’s believed that a person’s manglik dosh can be canceled out if the manglik person’s bad luck is spent on the first marriage. Thus, the bride first marries a clay urn or a tree, then either breaks the clay urn or chops down her tree-husband in order to become a “widow” (in some places, the tree is allowed to survive). After this, the second marriage is ready to proceed without a hitch.

There are varying interpretations of this ceremony, and even though it didn’t end up affecting me, a person’s Janam Kundli can alter their destiny, just as I describe in the beginning of REBEL QUEEN. It’s cultural gems like these which make researching historical fiction such a pleasure, and it’s these type of details which I try to include in each of my books. As a writer, my hope is that they pique the reader’s interest along the way, and as a reader, they are the sort of facts which help ground me in another place and time.

Thank you Michelle! Scandalous Women will be giving away a copy of Michelle's new book to one lucky winner along with these lovely bangles.

Giveaway (US only)

- To enter, please leave a comment below and include your email address (only comments with email addresses will be entered in the giveaway).
- If you are not a follower and become one, you get an extra entry
- If you tweet about the giveaway, you get an extra entry.
- If you like my Scandalous Women Facebook page, you get an extra entry.

Good luck!
- Giveaway ends on February 12th.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

New Review: Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb

Title:  Rodin’s Lover
Author:  Heather Webb (Becoming Josephine)
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 1/27/2015
Pages: 320
How Acquired:  Through Publisher

What it’s about:  As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.

My thoughts:   I initially had trepidations about reading this book. I did a great deal of research on Camille Claudel for the chapter that I wrote in Scandalous Women, and I feel a bit proprietary about her. She was one of several women that I was just obsessed with.  I related to her struggle to be an independent artist, to forge a separate artistic identity from the man that she loved passionately. Her mental breakdown is heartbreaking.  Was she schizophrenic, bi-polar? Or was she even mentally ill at all are just some of the questions that come up when you read about the life of Camille Claudel. I wondered if a single novel could capture the complexity of this tormented genius.  And a genius she was.  All you have to do is look at the photos of her sculptures on line to see her amazing talent.

I’m happy to report that Rodin’s Lover calmed all my fears.  Heather Webb miraculously brings to life the volatile love affair between Rodin, arguably one of the era’s greatest artists and Camille Claudel.  When we first meet Camille, she is eighteen years old and bursting with talent.  Her one aim is to escape her provincial village and become one of the greatest sculptors of all time.  But from the very beginning Camille has to fight tooth and nail to develop her talent.  While her father believes that she will one day bring glory to the family name, her mother believes that Camille is unnatural for wanting to pursue art instead of marriage and children.  When an opportunity arises for Camille to study in Paris, her father insists that they move to Paris.
Camille struggles with feelings of loneliness, her devotion to her sculpture has left her with few social skills. Although she shares a studio with two other female students, Camille knows that unlike her, they will eventually marry and give up sculpting.  We don’t really get to see any of Camille’s relationship with her sister Louise, she’s something of a cipher in the book. Her most complex relationship, in a way, is not with Rodin but with her brother Paul.  Both are artists, Paul longs to be a writer. But while Paul is willing to compromise, taking a job in the diplomatic corps while writing on the side, Camille refuses to even countenance taking on pupils.  Even though the money would go a long way towards paying her bills. While Paul finds solace in religion, Camille’s religion is her sculpture. It's what she holds on to, even in her darkest hours.

But then she meets Auguste Rodin. She tries to fight her undeniable attraction to him but she can't ultimately. She senses immediately that their passion will consume them.  Camille believes that she is just as talented as Rodin, and that she will one day to etch her name in history despite society's belief that women can't be artists. However, her ambition and her need to forge an independent identity soon comes between them. And the dark voices in Camille's head grow louder with each passing day,  threatening her ability to work.

Webb’s writing is flawless.  She gets under Camille’s skin, refusing to shy away from the more negative aspects of her personality, her stubbornness, her jealously and her ego. There were times when I was reading the novel that I wanted to shake Camille. In many ways, Camille was her own worst enemy.  Webb gives the reader a glimpse into constant sexism that female artists faced in the 19th Century, particularly those artists like Camille who refused to limit themselves to scenes of domestic life.  There is a scene late in the book when Rodin and Camille have reunited after a short break when they attend a dinner where they run into one of Rodin’s frenemies who makes it clear that he would love to take Rodin’s place.

Then there is the matter of Rodin’s long-term relationship with Rose Beuret, the mother of his only child.  Despite his love for Camille, he cannot bring himself to break it off with Rose. Camille cannot hide her jealously of Rose. She wants Rodin all to herself.  The book is told through both Camille and Rodin’s point of view which allows the reader to see Camille through someone else’s eyes. She’s particularly good at detailing the struggle that Rodin has between the two women in his life.  Rose, who has been with him since the beginning, and Camille, his passionate muse. Webb also adroitly illustrates the personal toll of being driven by great ambition. Despite Camille’s successes, she’s constantly compared to Rodin, the sensuality of her work which is unheard of in most female artists, costs her commissions. She struggles to maintain her own identity, to not let herself be submerged in Rodin’s.  Despite Rodin’s successes, he still struggles to get his vision across without compromising too much.

Anyone who is interested in la Belle Époque Paris will find much to enjoy in Rodin’s Lover.  I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that the love story doesn't end happily for many reasons. There is not false moment in this novel, a moment that I could have pointed to as out of character for what I know of Camille from my own research. Unlike the movie Camille Claudel, Webb never blames Rodin for Camille's misfortunes. You never get the sense that he's actively using her. In away, they are using each other but not in a negative way.  There are hints in the book that Camille may have inherited her mental instability from her mother. Webb builds Camille's madness slowly, from just little things like her uncontrollable temper and her jealously, eventually escalating to paranoia and the voice inside her head. In the end, this book is heart-breaking in it's portrayal of one of the art history's most fascinating and complex women.