By Diana Holmes (auth.)
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Extra info for Colette
The flat into which the couple moved in Paris was dark and sunless, decorated obsessively by a previous tenant with thousands of tiny pieces of coloured paper stuck on to every available surface. Gabrielle had left behind the warm, abundant space of the maternal world and found herself alone in an environment that was radically, painfully different. The forests and flowers of Burgundy were replaced by the streets of Paris, Sido's loving attention by Willy's frequent indifference and soon by his infidelities, and the sheer powerlessness of a young woman in a deeply patriarchal society became an acute reality without the counterbalance of Sido's alternative values.
The narratives may limp a little, for between the first meeting of the two main characters, and the final destruction of one or the other, there are only a series of repeatedly unsatisfied sexual encounters, often narrated in such equivocal terms that it is quite hard to decide what exactly, in physical terms, is supposed to be happening! But in the radical reversal of roles there is an oblique commentary on the norms of patriarchy. Raoule de Venerande in the notorious Monsieur Venus (1888) reduces her male "mistress" to a passive and mistreated instrument of pleasure and having finally brought about his death 36 COLETTE replaces him, with ghastly symbolism, by a mechanical dummy bearing the dead lover's own hair, teeth and nails.
CH, 230) A significant sub-plot also sees Helle finding ways to help an unmarried mother whose plight formed the subject of several other contemporary texts by women (Marie FilleMere by Lucie Delarue - Mardrus, for example, published in 1908). Such expressions of dissent, however, are rapidly recuperated within the narratives themselves. The problematic question of a conflict between female aspiration and social reality is resolved by means of the exceptional hero: if marriage figures as a threat to female autonomy, it is redeemed by the appearance of a husband whose 34 COLETTE authority is benevolent and who shares the heroine's high moral standards.
Colette by Diana Holmes (auth.)
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