Monday, February 28, 2011

The Innocent Libertine by Colette

Since my conference paper was on a story of Colette's I've been trying to read more of her work before I expand my paper or seek publication.
This novel is actually a compilation of two shorter pieces about the same character, a girl named Minne. Published together in 1909, I was a bit shocked at some of the racy content. Perhaps the nude, reclining woman sketched on the cover should have tipped me off-- and not to be stereotypical, but French art and literature does have a reputation.
In the first part, we are introduced to a fourteen year old girl name Minne. She has an overactive imagination and likes to pretend she is the mistress of a notorious criminal. She pores over the papers reading about thieves, killers, prostitutes, and dreams of being the queen of them all. Her devoted, widowed mother doesn't notice these strange tendencies, but her cousin, Antione does.
They visit with her Uncle and cousin over the summer and Antione, just a few years older than Minne, discovers he has feelings for her. She does not show any signs of reciprocating and tells him she is engaged to another man-- her assassin of the underworld. Perhaps saddest of all, Minne does seem to believe there is a man of mystery waiting for her.
After an incident which leaves Minne's virtue in question we begin the second part of the story. It takes place a few years later, after Minne and Antione's marriage.
Though Antione has gotten over his awkwardness, Minne is still unsure of loving him. She feels that she was forced into the marriage. Feeling emotionally and sexually unfulfilled, she begins having affairs, looking for a man that will 'make her like other women.' She finds no happiness in these liaisons, however, feeling that her lovers are using her to find pleasure that she never experiences.
Minne is an interesting character that does many rash or questionable things, but still gains the reader's sympathy. At times she can behave in cold and extremely aggravating ways. Antione is also a likable figure. He is so in love with Minne that he is willing to allow her almost anything to make her happy.
The picture Colette paints is of, no doubt, a slightly unconventional heroine. Unlike figures such as Madame Bovary, another unfaithful wife, her story ends well. She isn't punished for her sins, nor does she feel especially guilty. She does maintain a sort of internal innocence in spite of her actions. Of course there are one or two loose ends left by one of Minne's former lovers that one can't help but wonder about.

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