Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

At least three themes inextricably manifest themselves in the course of this novel. Figes’ focus is constantly on the artist and the question of the value of art itself: Can it achieve its goal? At what price in human terms? What worth can it claim for itself alone?

Monet’s obsession with transforming life into paint on canvas is inevitably doomed to failure, for art is always once removed from life, however one defines either art or life. While Monet may look at Lily on the veranda and see Mimi, his daughter who died long ago, or look at Germaine and see his wife as a young woman, he has not really known these people. He has been too busy with his own work.

While Alice is depressed because she does not fully know her husband, however hard she has tried, Monet makes no comparable attempt to enter Alice’s world. He recognizes that her life has been difficult: He has often been absent from home; they have had financial troubles; she has had to tend gravely ill children; she has been forced to manage on her own after her first husband left her; she has what Monet believes is an unfounded jealousy of other women. Nevertheless, he chooses to believe that her unhappiness is sadly misguided, that she is unhappy simply because she does not see things as they are. Yet the substance of Monet’s carefully created world at Giverny without the light and without the color is perceived as incredibly limited and devoid of humanity. Monet serves his...

(The entire section is 582 words.)