DEPTHS OF GLORY: A Biographical Novel of Camille Pissarro by Irving Stone
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DEPTHS OF GLORY: A Biographical Novel of Camille Pissarro

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This 28th book and 12th biographical novel by the apparently tireless author is dedicated to its editor, Jean Stone, ""for the several years of her devoted righting of this manuscript."" Perhaps the most interesting side to the novel's subject, the French Impressionist painter, is not his talent but his long liaison with and eventual marriage to Julie, a strong peasant woman who loved and helped him and was the mother of his children. Also the kindly Pissarro had a gift for getting to know all the best artists (Corot, C‚zanne, Manet, Monet, Degas, and on and on) of his time. The story chiseled out here in 14 chunky chapters is a tale of making it--finally--through perseverance and loyalty to a modest talent. Born on the island of St. Thomas to a middle-class French-Jewish family, the would-be artist, as the novel opens, returns to France, where he had gotten a lyc‚e education, secretly burning to paint despite his parents' wishes. Camille should join his father's chandlering business, but, no--""His mind was as filled with clashing and disparate emotions as any trunk checked with the porter at the Boulogne station.""At length he makes his way to the studio of ""Papa Corot,"" who is ""sitting near the door, singing an aria from Gluck, a large meerschaum pipe, which he called Pipette, in his mouth."" One by one, Pissarro meets the to-be giants of 19th-century French art. Manet is a wit, sort of. Degas, an anti-Semite, but not really. C‚zanne, ""a sad and lonely man fighting desperately to remain aloof. . ."" The psychological insight is nonexistent, but the focus on success, however tortuously gained, never wavers. For much of his life, Pissaro was under the financial and, evidently, emotional sway of his unbending Maman, a figure whom Freud would have relished (Stone wrote his ninth biographical novel, The Passions of the Mind, about Freud). The artist as careerist and Oedipal victim may never before have had a longer (631 pages)--or more unintended--portrait. Too bad the picture is hopelessly clouded by endless, aimless obligatory detail. In the end Pissarro never emerges as any sort of singular figure--a sad truth in its way, perhaps.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday