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The agony and the ecstasy

William Rose’s tale of passion, religion and art defies definition, says Jane Clinton

28 November, 2019 — By Jane Clinton

William Rose. Photo: Lindsay Wells

IT is a genre-defying novel with elements of fantasy, religion, art, mysticism and psychoanalysis.

Camille and the Raising of Eros, as the title suggests is, among other things, concerned with the stirring of passions.

Written by William Rose, who lives and works in Clerkenwell as a psychotherapist, the story begins with Camille, a young woman in Spain in the 1920s.

The book opens with Camille experiencing a dreamlike vision that troubles her. It is unclear what is a dream and what is real, but Camille is deeply unsettled by the sensuality of the ecstatic experience.

We then jump to Paris 1935 and an essay written by Dr Paul Faucher about his colleague, the psychoanalyst, Dr Jean-Luc Javert or J, as he is better known.

It is here that we learn of how Dr Faucher regularly meets with J to discuss their cases.

One case J mentions is that of Camille and her blissful, otherworldly happiness

Camille’s father is worried that this ecstasy is the prelude to a mental breakdown. He brings Camille to J and so we learn of Camille’s back story.

Her happiness has come through “an adoration of God” and it is her desire to become a nun that has deeply troubled her father.

She meets with J but he is impressed with her resolve and wishes her well in her life as a nun.

And so Camille joins the Carmelite convent in Córdoba, southern Spain.

The novel takes us through Camille’s story, interspersed with contributions from J and Dr Faucher on her case.

Her religious ecstasy is full of sensuality. J and Dr Faucher discuss the possible sublimation of Camille’s sexual passion for this religious rapture.

It is a novel of twists and turns, with Spain, France and Africa in its midst.

In Africa we meet Sister Africa and learn of her dramatic flight from Africa to Spain and to the same order as Camille’s.

The two are drawn to each other and it is this intimate relationship which precipitates a crisis for Camille.

In torment she utters J’s name as the only person who can “redeem” her. In a letter to J the reverend mother asks for help with Camille.

Camille is transferred to a monastery close to Paris where she meets the Reverend Mother Geneviève. Camille, Sister Africa and Geneviève’s stories intersect from Spain, Paris and La Belle Époque, to slavery in Africa. We learn of their histories but one part of that story is shared by them all. And so begins another chapter in Camille’s life and an analysis of the origins of the Carmelite order.

The Discalced Carmelites, an order devoted to quiet prayer, poverty and austerity, was started by Teresa of Ávila.

The Spanish nun is perhaps best known through Bernini’s sculpture in Rome which depicts her in a state of rapture and where religious and sexual ecstasy are blurred.

An image of the famous sculpture is on the front cover of this book and signifies an essential theme of this novel.

Camille, we realise, in all her sensuality, is a direct link to Teresa of Ávila.

William Rose weaves an intricate and complex tale of love and shared histories. A psychoanalytic psychotherapist himself, as well as an art historian, he credits these aspects of his life as well as his love of Spain, in particular, Andalusia as the inspiration for this novel.

“I did start off with asking about Carmelite nuns but at the same time it is not just about Carmelite nuns in a monastery; it is about their lives beforehand,” he says. “I wanted to write about art and the Paris Exposition of 1900 and the huge celebration of art.

“I was fascinated with such devotion to the spiritual end and giving up so much to do that and what goes on in the psyche when a passion is sublimated?”

Camille and the Raising of Eros. By William Rose, Aeon Books, £9.99

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