Considered by many critics to be one of the greatest of French fiction writers, Colette was the first woman member of the Académie Goncourt. The author of more than fifty books, she began her writing career at the insistence of her first husband, Henri Gauthier-Villars, known as Willy. She was twenty-seven years old when her first novel, Claudine à l’école (1900; Claudine at School, 1956), was published under her husband’s name. That novel was the beginning of the highly popular Claudine series. After her divorce from Willy, Colette supported herself as a music-hall mime and continued to write, publishing the acclaimed novels The Vagabond, Chéri (1920; English translation, 1929), and La Fin de Chéri (1926; The Last of Chéri, 1932). Many more novels followed, and Colette became widely celebrated.
In The Vagabond, Colette treats the theme of a woman’s conflicts between love and independence. Her probing analysis of the psychological states that give power to these conflicts and her lyrical, rhythmic prose style give voice to the struggles women have with society and with their own desires. Analytical, harsh, lyrical, and honest in its examination of a woman’s choices, The Vagabond is one of Colette’s most important novels.
The novel’s theme may be stated as a woman’s difficulty in reconciling sensual love with the need for independence. This dilemma is posed by Renée, who, wounded by the memory of her past with her former husband, cannot give in to her temptation for a physical and emotional relationship with a man. Rather, she must choose a life of...
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