The Vagabond Summary (Colette)



(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Divorced after eight years of her husband’s faithlessness and cruelty, Renee Néré has been struggling to support herself as a music-hall performer for the past three years. The first of the book’s three parts opens as she waits in her dressing room until it is time for her to perform. Renéee meditates briefly on her solitary condition, the cold of the night, and her faith in chance and good luck; she checks her makeup in the mirror that she hates to face, then goes off to perform, no longer depressed and anxious but confident and controlled.

In this first third of the novel, Renéee’s life as an artiste is delineated: her work as a mime and a dancer, her friendly but casual relations with her fellow performers, the small flat that she shares with her maid, Blandine, and her dog, Fossette, and her introduction to Maxime Dufferein-Chautel. Maxime presents himself at her dressing-room door one evening, and Renéee summarily dismisses him as an unwanted and awkward intruder, charming and respectful though he seems to be. She meets him again, in more formal and proper circumstances, after a private engagement arranged by his brother. Night after night, Renéee’s admirer watches her performance from the front row of the stalls and patiently waits for her.

With her old friend Hamond acting as a go-between, Renéee and Maxime become slightly more friendly. The three have dinner together, Maxime visits her, and she acknowledges that she has...

(The entire section is 463 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Renée Néré muses as she applies makeup to her face in her dressing room at a French music hall. She looks into the mirror at her own reflection, and it begins to speak to her. Her image asks her why she is seated there, all alone. Renée waits to go onstage to perform and listens to the voice of her double in the mirror, all the while wondering who or what might appear at her dressing-room door to change her state of solitude. Renée wishes for something that will release her from the solitary life she has created for herself, but she also fears any change.

She performs her act and returns to her dressing room to find a note from Maxime Dufferein-Chautel, the marquis de Fontanges. The marquis expresses his admiration for her talents on the stage and inquires whether Renée has other talents. He invites her to dine with him that evening, but Renée refuses.

Alone again in her dressing room, she reviews her eight years of marriage and three years of separation from Adolphe Taillandy, a pastelist. He had lied to her and had been a womanizer. Renée had been a jealous and tormented young wife, and she turned to literature as an outlet. She has written four books that attained varying levels of success, but once she separated from Taillandy, she was shunned by their middle-class friends. That was when she took a ground-floor flat for herself in Paris and turned to the music hall to earn her living.

Meanwhile, Brague, another mime, has set up an evening performance by the two of them at a private home. Renée arrives at the residence of a wealthy Parisian to dance before an assembled audience, and she spies several of her former husband’s mistresses in the audience. Aware of the shock in their eyes, she dances before them unabashed but aware of the pain of her past. It is not she, Renée reflects, who has done any wrong.

The winter progresses, and one night Renée’s friend Hamond brings Maxime, uninvited, to dinner at Renée’s flat. She is not impressed with him as a suitor and laughs him off. When...

(The entire section is 838 words.)