Colette’s La vagabonde

Sidonie Gabrielle- Colette was born in the Burgundy region of France in 1873. In 1893, Colette married Henri- Gauthier Villars, an unsuccessful and degenerate writer known as Willy. Her first works were the Claudine series, published under the name of her husband Willy. Claudine is a collection of four novels written from 1900 to 1903. Due to her husband’s adultery, she divorced him in 1906, becoming a music-hall performer. After her divorce, Colette becomes the avant-garde, well-known woman who had love affairs with other women and used to appear on stage showing her breast. 

In 1912, Colette decided to marry another man, Jouvenel des Ursins but they divorced after gossips about her relationship with her stepson Bertrand de Juvenel. In 1935 she married Maurice Goudeket. Colette’s novel La Vagabonde, an autobiography that unveils the author’s struggle to live independently, is published in 1910.  In the early twentieth century, Colette reveals her rejection of gender roles imposed at that time. As other women writers in Europe in the early twentieth century, Colette used her literary works to challenge women’s roles in her society. She also influenced other women writers of the period. It is worth noticing some resonances of Colette’s La Vagabonde in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. 

In La Vagabonde, Colette argues that women are not allowed to write because they do not have a room of their own; they do not have economic independence. It is intriguing that she compares women writers to Balzac, a prominent male writer as Woolf compares female writers to Shakespeare. Through Colette’s story, the reader experiences the chains that confine the protagonist to a society where women need to refuse their destinies. Destiny is not always an ally, but Colette brings to the center of her narrative the question of choice. 

At the beginning of the novel Rene, the protagonist, is like a dry land, a bitter woman who cannot live again after a tragic experience with her former husband. The recurrent image of fresh water means hope and rebirth. The narrator emphasizes the colors blue and green which define her trajectory. Blue means nostalgia and green means exactly the hope she is looking for. A woman who refuses to be limited by religion, wealth and power, Colette challenges structures which contribute to women’s oppression, disempowerment and male domination.  

In La Vagabonde, the reader loses the notion of time and space, the text is fragmented. In a passage, the narrator goes back to the past and remembers herself as on a train. She feels herself as the child who has a free spirit and does not accept limitations the life impose on her. 

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