To Speak, to Tell You?
Black Widow Press, New York, 2009. ISBN 978-0-981808-8-8.
Sabine Sicaud, born on 23 February 1913 in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, a city in the southwestern part of France, is the precocious author of a collection of poems published when she was only thirteen. These Childhood Poems, prefaced by celebrated poet Anna de Noailles, introduce us to a happy world of animals and plants, of discovery and, most of all, of compassion for all things small and vulnerable. But Sabine too was vulnerable. Stricken with a painful illness, she died at the age of fifteen. During the last year of her life, confined to her bed, the young adolescent expressed her suffering in poems unforgettable in their poignancy, powerful imagery, and depth of vision.
Odile Ayral-Clause interviewed the last persons to have known the Sicaud family, and wrote the extensive introduction to this bilingual volume that presents the majority of Sicaud’s œuvre, masterfully translated by Norman R. Shapiro.
To Speak, to Tell You?
To speak, to tell you? No, I can’t.
I’d rather bear my suffering like a bird—
Perched silent in the linden tree, unheard—
Or even waiting, like a patient plant…
Waiting… Yes, like them I wait patiently.
Alone, they suffer. We must learn to bear
Our pain alone. Let no friend come bestow
A hypocritic smile or moan on me.
Mute is the plant; the bird, still. What is there
For them to say? Like it or not, this woe
Of mine is all my own. No others share it.
One leaf’s distress, one bird’s, will always be
Unknown to others. Bird and leaf must bear it.
Unknown… Unknown… Are others like us? No.
And, if they were, what would it matter? Here,
Tonight, I have no wish to listen to
A lot of chatter… So, let time elapse…
Mute as the finch, still as the old tree near
My window, I wait… For a drop of dew?
A breeze? Who knows? We’ll wait together though.
The sun promised them to return, perhaps…
Sabine Sicaud: Le rêve inachevé
Contact Odile Ayral-Clause: firstname.lastname@example.org
Les Dossiers d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux, 1996. ISBN 2-905212-30-6.
Published in France in 1996, this volume gave rise to the recently published bilingual collection To Speak, to Tell You ?
Camille Claudel: A Life
Harry N. Abrams, New York, 2002. ISBN 0-8109-4077-9.
Camille Claudel, sister of writer Paul Claudel, was a gifted nineteenth-century French sculptor who worked with Auguste Rodin, became his lover, and then left him to gain recognition for herself in the art world. With a strong sense of independence and a firm belief in her own considerable talent, Claudel created some extraordinary works of art and challenged the social and artistic limitations imposed upon the women of her time. Eventually, however, she crumbled beneath the combined weight of social reproof, deprivation, and art-world prejudices. Her family, distraught by her unconventional behavior as well as her delusions and paranoia, had her committed to a mental asylum, where she died thirty years later.
Camille Claudel’s life has been romanticized in print and on film, but this is the first fully researched biography to present a rounded picture of the life and work of this remarkable woman. The author presents Claudel as a major sculptor of the period, establishing her position in the context of the late-nineteenth-century Paris art world, in which she struggled to overcome the obstacles that faced all women artists of the time. The last chapters describe in heartbreaking detail Claudel’s isolation from friends, family, and work during the last third of her life and answer many questions that have been posed over the years about the circumstances of her confinement.
The train carrying Jessie Lipscomb Elborne and her husband, William, rolled across the colorful countryside in the south of France toward the ancient walled city of Avignon. The English couple had planned this detour on their way to Italy in order to reach the Montdevergues asylum, a nearby hospital for the mentally ill. There, Camille Claudel, a friend of Jessie’s youth and her studio partner in Paris, was expecting to see Jessie again after forty-two years of silence. It was 1929, and Camille had already spent fifteen years in Montdevergues and one in the Ville-Evrard aylum. During these years, the Great War had brought its wave of devastation to both sides of the Channel, but it is doubtful that Camille had a clear understanding of it. In asylums, time stops and is spent in waiting; at this point, Camille was waiting to see Jessie, her loyal—if long-lost—English friend.
The reunion was recorded by Jessie’s husband, William, an amateur photographer who also produced gelatin silver prints of their earlier times together. Two photographs, one of Camille alone and the other with Jessie, show the aged women sitting by the door of a stone building. Camille, aged sixty-five, is dressed in a long coat, her hair covered with a hat and her hands folded over her arms, as she stares directly at the camera. Softness has remolded her once-haughty expression, but her dignity is still evident. No sign of madness mars her dreamy eyes. Jessie, sixty-eight, has placed one of her hands on Camille’s lap and appears to stare into her own thoughts. The Paris of the 1880s, the Paris of dreams and endless possibilities, the Paris that drew the young artists together and led them to Auguste Rodin’s atelier was long gone, but it remained vivid in the women’s minds. The years Jessie had spent raising her four children in England had never erased the brightness of those early days. For camille, their brightness had turned into a brutal irony. “I have fallen into an abyss,” she wrote from Montdevergues to a friend. “I live in a world so curious, so strange. Of the dream that was my life, this is the nightmare.”
Of the dream that was my life… As Camille sat beside Jessie in the asylum, the Paris years must have swelled toward her in a rush of poignant memories.
Camille Claudel: sa vie
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Editions Hazan, Paris, 2008. ISBN 978-2-7541-0264-3.
French version of Camille Claudel : A Life. It has been edited to take into account the most recent research on Claudel.