Rembrandt's Whore by Sylvie Matton
Book DescriptionThis internationally acclaimed novel is the fictional monologue of Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt's last mistress. It combines all the qualities of a naturalist tragedy, historical novel and exposition of seventeenth-century Dutch society. Matton has researched not only Rembrandt's life and works, but also contemporary Amsterdam and the Black Death to provide an intriguing, intimate and privileged view into the painter's life. Above all, this is Hendrickje's story. A sensitive innocent, she escapes the harsh realities of her garrison home-town to become a servant in Rembrandt's household. She soon becomes his lover and closest confidante, filling the void in his life resulting from the death of his wife and two of their children. 'Reborn at twenty' in Rembrandt's studio, enlightened by the positive values of beauty, truth, love and art, Hendrickje is fated to discover the hypocrisy and fickleness of Amsterdam society, which ostracises her and precipitates Rembrandt's final collapse. In a serene, sensuous style of writing, Matton paints a powerful fictional portrait of this impassioned relationship in the fascinating context of a turbulent era of Dutch history.
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Book DetailsISBN: 9781841953229
(198mm x 129mm x 13mm)
Imprint: Canongate International
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Publish Date: 4-Jul-2002
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
Books By Author Sylvie Matton
Charles Matton, Hardback (August 2011)» View all books by Sylvie Matton
Charles Matton (1931 2008) was a French painter, sculptor, photographer, stage designer, screenwriter, and producer. This book invites the reader into the magical realm of the artist, where he constantly reevaluated preconceptions about the proportionality of both the world and ourselves as its inhabitants.
UK Kirkus Review » Sylvie Matton's second novel is a painstakingly researched account of Rembrandt's later years, when he became passionately involved with one of his models, Hendrickje Stoffels. It contains a wealth of historical detail, yet is above all the deeply moving and intimate story of a relationship which outraged 17th-century Dutch society. Hendrickje tells her own story, from the time she leaves her country home to take up a post as a maidservant in Rembrandt's Amsterdam home to the tragic final pages. God-fearing and in awe of her new master, she is overcome when he asks her to pose for him. Despite the difference in their ages (Rembrandt is 43, Hendrickje in her early 20s) they are irresistibly drawn to each other, and begin an affair which will have far-reaching consequences. The besotted Geertje Dircx, Rembrandt's housekeeper, has long nursed a secret passion for the widowed artist, convincing herself that he would eventually marry her. When his affair with Hendrickje becomes public knowledge, she vents her jealousy by taking him to the courts for breach of contract. From this humiliating experience, Hendrickje becomes known as Rembrandt's whore, the target of the vitriol and hypocrisy of the Amsterdam elite. Matton's prose has a beautiful, rich lyricism; she wields her pen as subtly as Rembrandt wields his brush, painting a picture of an Amsterdam society of wealth and arrogance built on foundations of decay and corruption. Hendrickje bares her soul to the reader, yet the artist himself is a somewhat elusive figure; we seem to catch glimpses of him with his red nose, his puffy cheeks and his stocky body, but it is Hendrickje and her emotional turmoil which dominate the book. Financial ruin sets in, and the little family has to make some harsh decisions. Bankruptcy is looming and Rembrandt's patrons are falling away. As the lovers and their children draw ever closer together against the demands of Dutch society, the spectre of the plague reappears. Set against the wider historical background of a Holland in political crisis, this is a love story chronicled with profound tenderness. (Kirkus UK)
US Kirkus Review » Financial insecurity and the Plague hover threateningly over the great artist and his beloved servant, narrator of this sad and obtuse tale. In 1649, a girl named Hendrickje Stoffels arrived in Amsterdam as a servant in the household of the master painter Rembrandt. Stoffels was a real person, used here by Matton in a fictional memoir from Stoffels's perspective. The luxury of the big city is an adjustment for the girl-"For the first time in my life, I'm not going to sleep sitting up." At 20, she's a quick study, fits smoothly into the household's workings, and is soon modeling for the master. With little fanfare, she also becomes Rembrandt's lover and muse. But as Rembrandt's fortunes decline, the outside world also begins to intrude on their happy home. The Plague is ever-present, with Stoffels's country superstitions about it peppering the narrative. After she gives birth to a girl, she is known throughout the fickle city as "Rembrandt's whore," and when the artist's debts force him into bankruptcy, society circles in closer, buying up his possessions at a humiliating auction. Meanwhile, the number of dead rises daily. Descriptions of life in 17th-century Amsterdam are sensuous and vivid, but Stoffels's episodic story does too little to create tension or a sense of attachment to the characters. The girl's love for Rembrandt is well rendered, but through her rose-colored view we see little of the real man. Characters enter and exit with little consequence, while so important a detail as the first romantic encounter between Rembrandt and Stoffels gets little prominence. A grimly amusing theme is Stoffels's insistence-widely believed at the time-that cats and dogs were responsible for the Plague, but that rats were helpful killers of other vermin and should be spared. Fans of Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring may snatch this one up, but in truth it seems less suited for a general audience than for Rembrandt enthusiasts. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Sylvie Matton
Syvlie Matton is the author of a previous novel, L'Econduit (1997). With her husband, the artist and film-maker Charles Matton, she worked for two years on a feature-length film on the life of Rembrandt, premiered in Britain in 2001.
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