SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: Claude and Camille
Author: Stephanie Cowell
Page Count: 338
Genre: Historical, biographical fiction
Tone: Lush, leisurely
1. In the beginning of Claude and Camille, Monet’s mentor Boudin said “The only thing I see you lack Claude, is humility. When you learn that, you will do your best.” Do you believe that Claude ever learned humility? Was it necessary for him to succeed? Would Monet have been as successful if Boudin hadn’t challenged him?
2. Where did Claude Monet first see Camille? What was his reaction to her? Is Camille Claude’s muse?
3. What did you think of the sexuality displayed in Claude and Camille? Did it surprise you?
4. Do you think Camille ever actually intend to marry her fiancé? What would lead you to that conclusion?
5. Claude and Camille ran off together and spent a week in Sevres (which, by the way, is Mt. Prospects Sister City). Claude had painted a picture of Camille (Women in the Garden) and as it was time to go back, he packed the picture away. He said, “My love is inside there now, my love is rolled away in darkness.” What do you think he meant by that? Was he talking about Camille or was the painting his love?
6. Camille is from a wealthy family and had a life of privilege. Do you think Camille realized how much her life would change when she defied her parents to live with Monet? If she had realized do you think she would have made the same choices?
7. What did Camille see in Claude? Why do you think they lived together and didn’t immediately get married?
8. What did you think of Camille’s parents’ attitude towards Claude? How would you feel if she were your daughter?
9. A recurring theme throughout Monet’s life is his refusal to take a job and his insistence on pursuing his art fulltime. What did Camille think about this? What do you think of this? Did you ever admire or agree with Claude’s choice to remain solely an artist? As an artist, do you think he could have achieved the success he did without solely concentrating on his art?
10. Do you think Claude’s father should have helped him more financially? What would you do if you had a budding Monet?
11. Did you wonder if Camille was mentally unstable?
12. When Camille thinks she is pregnant, Claude is clearly not happy, why is that? Why didn’t Claude and Camille marry when she discovered she was pregnant?
13. Claude goes to Le Havre to ask his father for more money after they learned of the pregnancy but he stayed there for quite some time. Why? What did you think of Camille’s reaction?
14. Camille’s first lover was Frédéric Bazille. He lets the cat out of the bag on the day Claude and Camille get married. Why then? Were you surprised to learn who Camille’s 1st lover was? Does Claude have a reason to be upset? Do you think Camille would have had a “better” life had she married Bazille?
15. There is a suggestion that Bazille was in love with Monet and Monet accepts this. What are your thoughts?
16. Was there any way that Claude could have prevented Bazille from going to war? If Frédéric had not died in the war would they have resumed their friendship?
17. Camille tells Claude that she gave up the Theatre for him. Is this a true statement? Why or why not?
18. After Claude and Camille’s argument at the house in Le Havre, Claude goes off to paint and Camille leaves the baby and goes to the shack where they made love. Claude comes home to find the baby crying and cold and angrily goes in search of Camille. What are your thoughts on both of their actions? Who do you sympathize more with?
19. After his suicide attempt, Claude writes Camille the most passionate letter of his life and then he leaves her to go to Le Havre. Why did he leave her? Why doesn’t he take Camille with him?
20. Camille’s uncle suffered a heart attack and she takes over the book store. She and Jean move into the rooms above it. Claude has been writing her sporadically. He writes her passionately and she is silent for three days and then her letter, when it comes, is “cautious.” How does Claude react to this? What does his reaction say about him?
21. How did you feel about Claude taking his family to London to wait out the war? Pissarro said, “…Our friends are safe and so are we….living our lives with the sole justification to paint…” What did you think of the artists? Do you think they were more important than common workers?
22. Monet and Camille were happy when Monet gets a lucrative commission from Ernest Hoschedé to paint some panels on the wall of the gazebo at his wife’s chateau. While there he becomes attracted to Alice Hoschedé. What do you think attracted him to her? Was she attracted to him?
23. Claude claimed to love Camille deeply. He had the example his father set of what happens to a relationship when there is infidelity and yet Claude had a tryst with Alice? Your thoughts?
24. Claude seemed very upset at the idea of Alice’s husband mismanaging her fortune and losing all those things she held dear. How is this different from how Claude took Camille away from her life of privilege and why does he feel so badly for Alice?
25. Claude eventually married Alice. Why? How was Claude and Alice’s relationship different than Claude and Camille’s?
26. Claude seemed genuinely upset over the death of Camille. He was an artist and he painted her on her deathbed as a way to keep her with him. Why was Camille’s sister Annette so horrified to see the picture Claude painted?
27. In the first interlude Monet is an old man working on his famous Water Lillies. He is having a difficult time and says, “What can these paintings of water lilies which are such a struggle for me have to do with my long lost love?” What do you think the lillies had to do with Camille? And why were they such a struggle for him?
28. Monet is writing to Camille’s sister Annette asking if she knows about Camille’s old love letters. Why does he want to see letters written to another man? Why did Annette hate Claude? Why did Annette blame Claude for Camille’s death?
29. Did reading this novel affect how you regard Claude Monet? How?
30. Do you think it is necessary to understand art to love it? Can learning too much about an artist ruin your art appreciation? Explain.
Stephanie Cowell’s official book discussion questions
Lit Lovers‘ book discussion questions
Chocolate and Croissants interview
Huffington Post interview
Passages to the Past interview
Be sure to stop at the second floor Reference Desk to ask about Claude Monet art history and coffee table books.
If you liked Claude and Camille, try…
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-wives of Cézanne, Monet, and Rodin by Ruth Butler
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro