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Claude and Camille (Cowell) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Claude and Camille:

1. Claude Monet first glimpses Camille Doncieux at a train station...and quickly sketches her. What initially attracts him to her? And in what way does she become his muse? (What does it mean to become someone's "muse"?)

2. How does Stephanie Cowell present her two main characters, Claude and Camille? Are they fleshed out as real people, emotionally and psychologically complex? Or are they drawn more superficially? How would you describe the two individuals as the author portrays them?

3. What is at stake for Camille in defying her parents and choosing to live openly with Claude Monet? Do you think she realizes how difficult her life will become as the wife of an unknown young artist? If she had known, do you think she would have changed her mind? Would you have taken the risks she does?

4. What takes priority in Claude's life—his wife or his career? What do you make of his choice of priorities? Does an artist have a choice?

5. What is the nature of Claude and Camille's relationship? How do they nearly destroy one another...and yet manage to remain together? In one unhappy scene, Claude tells Camille to take their son and leave him. "Minou, all the things you thought about me, all the bright, wonderful things, are wrong." What does he mean? Could that passage be true of any marriage?

6. How familiar were you with the Impressionists and their paintings before reading this novel? What have you learned about impressionism as a movement? What is "Impressionism," and how does it differ from the accepted painting style of the 19th-century art world? Why was Impressionism so disparaged by its contemporary critics?

7. Talk about the other Impressionist painters, the group of artists who meet, along with Monet, in the cafes around Paris. How do they inspire and support one another? What do they learn from each other. What do you make of Frederic Bazille—what role does he play in Monet's life?

8. What do you make of the book's opening quotation by Monet:

I had so much fire in me and so many plans. I always want the impossible. Take clear water with grass waving at the bottom. It's wonderful to look at, but to try and paint it is enough to make one insane.

What does that statement suggest about the artistic endeavor and the nature of art? Can the same be said regarding a writer or musician—or any artist?


9. Monet and company never realized the full worth of their creations. How does it make you feel that the price of Monet's paintings—the paintings of all the impressionists—are now high up in the stratosphere?

10. Did you enjoy the framing of the novel, with Claude Monet looking back on his life from the vantage of an older man? Or did the time frames confuse you and disrupt the narrative flow? Why might Cowell have structured her novel the way she did?

11. Have you read other historical novels about the lives of painters—Susan Vreeland's The Luncheon of the Boating Party...or Tracy Chevalier's The Girl with the Pearl Earring? If so, how does this book compare to the others?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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