I’ve already mentioned this book a couple of times, so you know I enjoyed it. Here’s my official take.
Radical Woman, a Künstlerroman about artist Gwen John, also sculptor Rodin’s long-time lover and model, captivates.
This book by Maggie Humm, Woolf scholar and author of Talland House, is told in the heat of first person, present tense. Humm dives right into the passion of the artist for art and love. John’s yearning and desire for Rodin throughout speaks to the hunger to create art and to be near one who creates art worthy of emulation.
Once Rodin appears in the novel, his shadow looms, whether he’s in scene or not. One gets the feeling that John’s obsession with art is married to her obsession with Rodin. As an astute friend of hers tells her late in the novel, “Art is your true calling. Not modelling for Rodin.” He then qualifies this by saying that it’s equally important that she experiences love, something he sees as needing to be learned. These themes twin throughout the work.
John also exhibits considerable physical hunger for others both before and during her relationship with Rodin, as does he. It’s not his body she minds sharing so much as his attention.
While John’s commitment to her art fluctuates temporarily as she negotiates her relationship with Rodin, ultimately she never loses her devotion to either.
Humm is to be congratulated on highlighting the art of a woman too often relegated to the category of “lover of a famous man.” Fans of passionate, earthy historical fiction about the arts and those who want to understand the inner workings of a relationship between artists with its unique set of rules will devour this novel.
P.S. That it’s in first person, present, reminds me of my first novel, Victorine. Oh, and I guess Southern-Fried Woolf is likewise first, present. But it’s not about an artist. You should still consider reading it. 🙂