Unveiling Camille Claudel's Identity through Biographical and Autobiographical Sources: "Une Femme," by Anne Delbée and "Correspondence," by Camille Claudel
Dr. Isabelle Chapuis-Alvarez
Camille Claudel: sculptor, Paul Claudel’s sister, Rodin’s mistress, madwoman. Throughout her life, Camille’s relationships with others forged her identity. Her own voice comes through in her personal correspondence, which author Anne Delbée uses to create the identity Camille never could make for herself, posthumously, through biographical and autobiographical techniques in “Une Femme.” Although her book is technically a biography, by creating her identity, Delbée writes Camille’s autobiography for her. The author portrays her as a victim of her relationships with powerful people: her family who reduced her to a lunatic in an insane asylum, her love for Rodin who exploited her talent, and her brother, a famous writer, who delivered her into captivity in the asylum. Delbée focuses on Camille’s thirty years of creativity and genius work rather than the last half of her life spent in an asylum. She notes the paradox that Camille could coax meaning and identity out of a piece of marble or stone to create a beautiful sculpture, but could not create her own identity. In order to accomplish this in her book, Delbée uses three voices: the narrator, who knows the full story and reveals it bit by bit; Camille through her surviving letters; and the author herself by presenting her reactions and the personal significance of her journey to free Camille’s true identity from its imprisonment. She uses several other writing techniques, including straying from the chronological order of Camille’s life to emphasize certain points, as well as taking artistic liberty to recreate a dramatic and moving story based on limited factual information about Camille’s life. The result is a combination of Camille’s voice crying out to be freed in her letters and Delbée’s creation of Camille’s identity to free her story after her death.
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