Camille Claudel: trajectory of a psychosis

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The French sculptor Camille Claudel at about the age of 40 developed a psychotic illness that proved to be chronic. Delusions of persecution, focused on her former mentor and lover Auguste Rodin, gradually became systematised until they dominated her life completely. She abandoned artistic work, withdrew into social isolation and lived alone in conditions of squalor and severe self-neglect until eventually, after her father’s death, she was committed to an asylum and spent the remainder of her life in institutional confinement. Only within the past 20 years has her achievement been recognised and her fate drawn wide sympathy. Previous psychiatric studies have dismissed or downplayed the significance of Camille’s adverse life experiences for her case history. The present reassessment, drawing on modern interactionist models of the genesis and course of psychosis, sets out to place both her creative drive and her mental instability within a broader life-course perspective and to arrive at a more balanced judgement of the case.

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