a small room will be enough. A kitchen and a small room with the bright light from the garden. A veranda. The kitchen and a veranda. I’m tired of dark corridors. The pain in my hands will disappear and I will begin to touch the clay again. The doctor says that he will remove my bad thoughts through electric shock if I don’t stop writing. But once again, secretly, I am composing this letter and I apologize for this.
For eight years I have been living locked behind these boarded up windows. I have lost the yearning to deface my work: I only feel a great desire to see you, and to see our house again.
Your health has never allowed you to visit me and I regret this very much. Paul always brought me your greetings, but now he has disappeared for months. I fret for extracting his figure from onyx, freeing him from the fierce material that restrains him in his ideas, motionless.
The doctor also says that the countryside could help me: the choice is yours but, I beg you, let me come back. On my behalf I assure you that no one will have to reproach you because of an unworthy act on my part.
Faraway is the childhood, remote the time when my heart was burning for Auguste.
Back then I was wild in the manner and in the eyes, and the red earth often colored by my fingernails. The appeal of that second skin drying on my hands was irresistible. Innocent, I created imaginary characters, producing loyal and quiet friends. Remember? I captured the footsteps of farm animals in a simple block of marl: geese, ducks, my rabbit. Vague memories of games, the first pottery in which I imprisoned the imprint of Paul as a child. The scar on my wrist in memory of the burn procured in cooking it.
You didn’t grasp my stubbornness. «Dirty hands again, Camille. Come on, go and wash your hands!» you ordered.
«One moment, just one last minute», I replied each time.
«And thatdisheveled hair! Where’s your hair ribbon?».
«I’ve lost it. I’m sorry. Maybe it’s there, I don’t remember».
You didn’t understand that child who was indifferent to clothes and lace. But you didn’t give up trying to tame me. «Camille, come on: it’s time for embroidery. No one will want to marry a girl without equipment». And every day you imposed that torture upon me.
You got to persuade my father to leave the country. Paris, the great city, could have managed to mold me, transforming me into a good catch. Social life would break my voracity of forms. So at least you’d hope, my dear mother. How wrong you were.
Of course, women were not allowed to attend the Academy, but I convinced my father, your husband, to enroll me into a private art school.
«Thank you, father. I promise you will not regret it» I said in the most beautiful day of my life.
«Are you sure, Camille? You don’t want me to fight with your mother, do you?».
«She will understand. When she sees the beauty of my sculptures, she will forget my calloused hands, my dirty fingernails. She will stop looking for a husband for me». I deceived myself. Or, perhaps, I was trying to trick him.
Young and full of enthusiasm, I faced long hours working at the Colarossi Institute.
I still remember, mother, your words: «Being a sculptor? It’s not a woman’s thing! It’s the devil who tempts you». And then again: «A shame! For me, for the family. A good girl doesn’t stay among naked men».
You didn’t understand. You couldn’t realize the beauty of the anatomy imprisoned in what, at first, was a shapeless bulk. The seduction of the elastic material that, upon contact with warm skin, becomes smooth and pliable. Shapes unknown to most of the people, under my watchful eyes were animated and heated a disquiet heart.
I was appreciated as a model. «Please, Miss Claudel, could you pose for the class?», professor Boucher often asked me at the Colarossi Institute «Of course! Shall I remain like this, in this pose?» I replied glancing the industrious hands of other students.
«Yes, like that. But don’t look at us: direct your eyes to the horizon».
They didn’t understand that posing was my way to steal, in that male world, the ability to release the forms from the excess of concreteness. My life flowed through my hands, along my fingers. The urge took me up to the paroxysm: a subtle vibration of the veins in the wrists, until the work was hewn out. Neither hunger nor fatigue could distract me: only the memory of a caress from you mother brought me back to reality. My hands couldn’t remain idle at my sides.
Hands, indeed. Auguste let me modeling only hands. I had met him by chance at school, while working a block of clay. Already stated as a sculptor, he had appeared with his red beard and his hair like waves in a storm. In front of my work he said: «Good, a really accomplished bust. Who was your model?».
«My brother Paul, Paul Claudel».
«And what about this other work? Is it yours too? Less successful, it’s lacking softness: the figure is stiff».
His criticism made me blush. Then looking into my eyes he said: «Miss, would you come to work in my studio?»
«Mr. Rodin, I …». Upset, confused, I ran away from the room.
The next day I received a note. Auguste had written these words: «Even the contrast is sometimes necessary. I’m waiting for you in my office».
The anger in front of his criticism had become challenge. I took a hammer and destroyed my work to start again. I decided that I would study from Rodin, without knowing whether it was my art or the cobalt blue of my eyes that had attracted him.
«I’m going to learn from Rodin!» I said that day, coming home full of hope.
Your answer was like a curse, «You’ve got the devil in your body. What attracts you is living in sin. God will punish you».
I didn’t believe in God, a stupid idea that man invented to tie and submit us.
I deceived you, and began attending Rodin’s studio, while you thought I was at Colarossi.
«Sculpture is truth» Auguste repeated to me, and I wasn’t afraid of truth.
«I love truth», I replied laughing. «I want to run over to it».
The rightness of my feelings was comforted by what I discovered in the clay. The gift of which I felt the messenger flowed from my hands, right into the heart of the material: the movement of life changed into immortal form.
Until the day when, crazy, I went away from home to run to him.
Auguste loved me. I loved him. I molded the hands of his works and his hands molded my body. They went from me to the clay and from the clay … to other women. Never forgetting of Rose, his wife, the mother of his only son.
I knew then jealousy, wing of death which, until then, had never touched me. I decided that we would have a contract. «Write, please, Auguste. Miss Camille Claudel will be my only student. I will not see any other women apart from her». I compelled him to write it by his own hand and sign it in front of my eyes.
«Of course, Camille, I’ll have no other women»
«And then we’ll get married».
«All right, we’ll get married».
«Look, it’s a contract. If one of us will fail in the promise, everything will end».
«Yes, yes, as you want, Camille. You know I cannot live without you, I cannot work … I cannot create».
And yet, he went back to her every time, and when Rose met me, she laughed, mocking me. «Silly little girl», she said meeting me on the steps, «you’ll never be able to take Auguste away from me».
«Excuse me, ma’am, but I don’t understand what you’re saying. I don’t know what you’re talking about».
«You’re not the first nor certainly will you be the last whore to be a trinket of his» she warned. She was a proud woman, forged in torment, determined to maintain her own privileges.
«I am only a student of the master. I help him to shape hands and feet».
«Sure, and I bet he loves you, and soon you are going to live together. Ah! Poor fooled you».
I could no longer stand that comedy. «Well, yes. Soon I’ll take him away. Be sure. He loves me!», I shouted.
Jealousy burned my soul. Auguste didn’t have the strength to leave me, nor to renounce to the others, to his wife and his son. I was the one who went away to open a studio on my own. In return, he stole my ideas. That old insensitive man feared me: he knew that I was the best of the two.
Isolated in my burrow, among marbles, cats and cobwebs, I created and then smashed up my works. So that one day my hands rebelled and my body rebelled with them. Not standing the contact with anything, anything but air.
On the death of my father you made me retire. When I was uprooted from my studio, I was completely naked. Even just the touch of hair on my shoulders was unbearable.
I shed dense tears, which turned into wrinkles on my skin.
Now the time when my heart was burning for Auguste is long gone. Distant are those fallacious and turbulent years. And I’m tired of dark corridors.
The pain in my hands will disappear soon.
I beg you, my mother.
I beg you.
Translation by Anna Anzani