Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The plot of this novel is uncomplicated, and the characters are all really supernumeraries, except for the central figure, the principal “vagabond,” Renéee. The epithet that gives the book its title personifies its theme: Only by wandering in pursuit of the fulfillment of her talents, by cherishing her solitude and privacy, by keeping relationships casual and temporary, can a woman attain the autonomy she seeks. The factors that militate against this achievement, as sketched above, are not as important as the nature of the woman herself, who possesses the determination and self-knowledge that enable her to work toward her goal despite its pain and cost. The book clearly indicates that the effort is worth the battle and that any other outcome would render the woman’s life meaningless and servile.

The significance of her heroine’s life is not expressed as a universal truth about the lives of all women, but Colette does appear to suggest that women would do well to examine closely their motivations and values, and those of men as well. In this particular book, she does not seem to think that men are as capable as women at this effort. She is somewhat contemptuous toward men, though good-humored, tender, and sympathetic.


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The foregoing topic also constitutes a major theme of the novel. Renee's problem goes beyond the making of this decision — she elects to remain independent — and encompasses her attempt to choose the sort of person she wants to be. Since she is a writer as well as a performer, Renee has a more than casually complex set of options. She delights in writing or at least experiences the need (as Colette said of her own feeling) to "seize . . . the iridescent, fugitive, bewitching adjective."

A further dimension of Renee's dilemma is her suspicion of human relationships, largely, of course, because of what she regards as her betrayal by her former husband, so that she tells herself on "lucid days," "Be careful! Keep alert! All who approach you are suspect." The whole question of marriage is seen as deliverance from vocational servitude into another, perhaps worse, captivity: the entrapment of love. A large part of the difficulty, as Colette maintained on numerous occasions, is that the sexual needs of women are such that women can satisfy them only by submitting to a "master" or engaging in irregular erotic activities. In this novel, the conflict starts out as relatively platonic, since she is not at first physically attracted to Max. However, she does come to love him, after a fashion, perhaps because of her loneliness (which is, in itself, a topic of great prominence in nearly all of Colette's fictional works).

Finally, the struggle within...

(The entire section is 353 words.)