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Rembrandt's Whore [Paperback]

Sylvie Matton
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: 6.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

1 Aug 2003
This 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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Product details

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Reprint edition (1 Aug 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841953229
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841953229
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 12.8 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 369,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

* Matton's novel has been assiduously researched, and she memorably evokes the cruelties and hardships of everyday life 300 years ago. Mail on Sunday * Matton has created a work of incredible beauty, juxtaposing the darkness of a society riddled with Black Death with the passion shared by the painter and his muse. Bizarre * A precious alloy of human interest, detailed historical research and inspired sensitivity to Rembrandt's work ... the writing is as careful and subtle as the master's paintings. Magazine Litteraire, France

About the Author

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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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
2.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I ordered this book in the hope that it would be in the same category as Tracy Chevalier's "Girl With a Pear Earing" or "Tulip Fever" by Deborah Moggach. It is the story of Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt's model and lover, her treatment by the society of the time and the financial ruin of Rembrandt which follows.
I'm afraid I was disappointed by this book on two main counts. Try as I may, I didn't find the heroine terribly attractive and by the end of the book I really knew little more about her than at the beginning. Yes - I knew of her passion, almost the pain she feels for Rembrandt,and yes I knew of solidarity and closeness within their household against the hypocrisy and cruelty of Amsterdam society. But for all of that it is hard to know why Rembrandt fell for her in the way he did - presumably for her lack of artiface. However,I'm sorry to say that I found her unconvincing and her personal thoughts and fears laboured. Secondly, I didn't feel that I really got to know Rembrandt or his work through this book. Yes I know more biographical details and did get a feel for life in 17th centrury Amsterdam, but can't honestly say that I have been able to look at the artist's work with fresh eyes. Perhaps I was hoping for too much.
My final comment may seem a little contradictory. I found the historical details, no doubt authentic in themselves, somewhat artifical in their placement in the book. It was almost as if they had been added to give a scholarly gloss.
I found the book overlong and at times repetitive; tighter editing would have let the moments of beauty within the book shine from the darker passages. For all of my criticisms still worthy of a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What a struggle! 31 Mar 2006
By DubaiReader TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It has just taken me 3 weeks to get to the end of this 190 page book. What a struggle!
The overly poetic style, repetitions and jumble of references to the bible, Rembrandt's paintings and the current time, made every paragraph a labour.
It has, however, left me with an interesting view of the 14years Rembrandt spent with Hedrickje Stoffels, his common law wife from 1649, when she arrived at the house as an innocent young girl, his new maid, until 1663, when she died of the plague.
Because of the views of the time, Hendrickje was labelled a whore and the disapproval of Amsterdam society paid a large part in the decline in Rembrandt's fortunes.
Whilst I would not recommend this book, if you are fascinated by Rembrandt and enjoy this poetic style of writing, then it may be worth the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking 1 Dec 2005
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this book, having read, The girl with the Pearl Earring, I was looking forward to it.
It is not written in a straight forward story book way but from the thoughts of the heroine herself.
A wonderful translation into english and highly recommended. Also it is quite short. Many questions are left unanswered, and this will trigger the need for further research by the reader.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard work 29 Feb 2008
Format:Paperback
I didn't notice when ordering this book that it was a translation from the French. I don't know if it is easier to read in its original version but in English it was hard work.

Writing in the second person always makes a book seem a little arty-farty and the addition of the strange punctuation accentuates this trait. There are a lot of sentences that aren't. Sentences. Really - you know what I. Mean?

The historical content is a bit contrived and the use of footnotes to explain the use of old dutch vocabulary made it feel a bit too much like a history lesson. The language used is not convincingly that of an illiterate girl.

Maybe if you really know your Rembrandt already - and maybe if read in the original French version - but otherwise; no
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars extraordinary imaginative work 20 Jan 2003
By Robert Spencer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Writing historical fiction or biography presents unique challenges. The author must reconcile what is known with an act of the imagination to create characters and story. This is true even when writing non fiction, with fiction it is even trickier. I have recently read "Girl with Pearl Earing" and "Girl in Hyacinth Blue", two other novels attempting to portray the golden age of art in Holland, both centering around Vermeer. Both are noteworthy, but this effort, about Rembrandt, surpasses both.
First of all, the main character, from whose point of view the story is told, thinks more like someone in the 17th century than the characters in the other two novels. There is the omnipresence of religion, the imagery with which thought occurrs(the little white worms!). Then there is the sense of time and place..Amsterdam here is not some nostalgic spot in the Dutch past, but a complex culture mixing religion, innovation, and art in the country where modern capitalism arguably emerged. It is the merchants who rule this world, not the old aristocracy, and this world is in flux. The tension between the merchant class, the religious reaction to them, and artist as personified by Rembrandt is fascinatiog. One also feels the force of natural events, the Plague, and the floods which always threatened Holland.
There is much about Rembrandt here, much about the struggle of an artist who attempts to remain true to his vision, both as an artist and as a human being, against the spirit of a conservative phillistine society.The descriptions of Rembrandt's way of seeing the world, and most importantly the people in it, will change the way you look at his art.
Lastly, this book is simply a joy to read. Mattons language is rich and evocative and lingers in the mind. Her observations about the people who live in this world ar sharp and true. The love story in these pages is erotic and powerful. She also has a unique way of blending story lines with the Rembrandt's paintings that enriches the story even more.
My highest recomendation!
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could have been an outsanding novel.... 28 April 2005
By Juan C Villamil - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
REMBRANDT'S WHORE takes place during the second half of Rembrandt's life, in Amsterdam. It tells the story of Hendrickje Stoffels, a 20 year old girl who moves in from the country, in order to serve as maid in Rembrandt's household.

Rembrandt has her pose for his paintings, and soon falls in love with her. Because of a contract he has signed, regarding not being able to marry after his former wife's death, at the expense of having to pay a sum which he does not posses, he is not able to marry her, and thus she becomes his "whore".

From a historical perspective, we are exposed to war, the plague, religious intolerance, and politics. All of these factors play important roles as they compose the background of the story.

The second half of Rembrandt's life was characterized by bankruptcy, illness, and his downfall from Amsterdam's best known painter to his being exploited by various political figures, who took advantage of his precarious situation. Hendrickje stands by him and provides him with care, emotional support, and a child, Cornelia.

It is because of her that Rembrandt is able to live, having lost his wife Saskia and children in a tragic manner.

The plot is well conceived and interesting.

I was unpleasantly surprised by the book's form. REMBRANDT'S WHORE is basically a monologue by Hendrickje, sometimes in first person, and others in second, as she talks directly to Rembrandt. Quite franky, the novel is often confusing.

Also, due to the fact that a 20 year old, practically illiterate, peasant girl narrates the story, the novel's flow is absolutely nonexistent. This makes it difficult to read and quite franky boring.

I have read quite a few biographical novels regarding the lives and times of famous painters, and this one rank's pretty low, and cannot be compare this to other books of the same genre. A specific example is Irving Stone's LUST FOR LIFE, about Vincent VanGogh. Now, that's a masterpiece.....
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meet Rembrandt van Rijn 30 Mar 2007
By Paul Azzopardi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a great little book. I enjoyed it tremendously. It brings the artist to life and shows how life with the Rembrandt felt like for Hendrickje, a country girl who became Rembrandt's common law wife. The book shows how it was to live in Amsterdam back in the mid-1600s, in all the little details. It is also a study of the intricate social structures which dominate small communities everywhere. The book is thick with atmosphere and envelopes the reader in another age showing what it must have felt like to live with a genius, at the time of the Plague, and submerged in religious bigotry. It also artfully weaves into the story the feelings of a good woman as she copes with her love, her passions, people, misunderstanding, prayer and fears. A great read for those interested in Rembrandt and Holland during the 1600s. I read the book in the silence of my room, alone, so nobody could lurch me out of that atmosphere and that age !
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read 29 May 2011
By Fred C. Bunch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was fascinated by the title of the book and it took a while to find it. It was worth the search.
Based on numerous sources, the author, Sylvie Matton, has produced a fascinating tale of the lives of Rembrandt and his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels, as related through Stoffels eyes and thoughts. Stoffels left no traces of her life because she could neither, read nor write because girls weren't allowed the privilege.
For the last years of Rembrandt's life he loved, painted and fathered a child, Cornelia, with his twenty-year-old house maid, Hendrickje Stoffels. He was 43-years old and widowed with a son, Titus. Titus was born in 1642, but Rembrandt's wife Saskia died a few months later. Geetje Dircx was hired as Titus' drynurse, but after Saskia's death, become Rembrandt's model and lover. She and Rembrandt apparently ceased to be lovers, however she stayed to become head of his household staff.
Hendrickje had left her family, over her mother's protests and journeyed to Amsterdam to become one of his housekeepers. But, in just a matter weeks she become his model, lover and pregnant. Their affair is complicated when Geetie becomes livid and storms out of the house. But Rembrandt refuses a demand of the church council to marry Stoffels. The refusal turns their lives into a turmoil. The story takes the reader through an inside look at the painter's life, the morals of the period and life and death in a city stricken by the Black Plague, all through the voice of Hendrickje.
It makes for a fascinating story. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Deliberately Obtuse and Essentially Dull 11 Mar 2005
By L. Young - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Told from the point of view of Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt's mistress, paragraphs in dark and darker colors, like Rembrandt's own brush strokes paint a picture of mid 17th century Amsterdam and the second half of the life of Rembrandt. It's a time of plauge, war, floods, superstition and religious intolerance.

Suffering after the deaths of his three small children and wife Saskia, Rembrandt finds solace in the arms of Hendrickje, a beautiful servant in his household, 23 years his junior. He never marries her (thus the name given to her by the towns people, "Rembrandt's whore") but clearly loves her, as he loves the child they have together as well as his beloved Titus, son of Saskia.

Written in a deliberately obtuse style with shifting points of view we are told of an endless succession of visitors to the Rembrandt household, as well as providing laborious information on his bankcruptcy and the loss of his house, his paintings and other possessions. Interspersed with this are amorphous descriptions of his paintings that can only be deciphered by those completely familiar with the Rembrandt oeuvre. This book is essentially boring and confusing.
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