- Colette, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, Marcelle Tinayre: émancipation et résignation
Mélanie E. Collado's excellent study offers a careful and lucid appraisal of the representation of the dilemmas faced by 'emancipated' women in works by three successful early twentieth-century French women writers. While Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, Marcelle Tinayre and Colette publicly rejected the label 'feminist', Collado persuasively argues that their writings are deeply [End Page 282] concerned with the question of women's rights and roles in the period between 1900 and 1914. More specifically, she contends that they reflect an ongoing conflict between, on the one hand, a desire for more professional, emotional and sexual autonomy and, on the other, a reluctance to move too far away from traditional ideals of French femininity. The reasons for their partial conformity to patriarchal norms — a conformity that has been criticized by pre-existing feminist analyses of their writing — are shown to be both pragmatic and ideological. As journalists and novelists who needed to earn a living, they sought to reassure their readers and critics who would have been appalled at any hint of a more radical Anglo-Saxon feminist agenda. As middle-class women who had in their own lives found it difficult to combine their role as professional writer with that of wife, lover or mother, they articulate the contradictions inherent in mainstream French gender debates during the Belle Époque. Collado's study is divided into three parts. The first deals with the broader sociopolitical context within which the authors were operating, the second with their literary careers and the third with close readings of Colette's La Vagabonde, Delarue-Mardrus's La Rebelle and Tinayre's La Monnaie de singe. This approach allows Collado to construct a convincing thesis about why the three novelists in question tend to offer disappointing dénouements in which the heroine moves from an initially rebellious position in terms of gender imperatives to a more submissive female role. While the dénouements of the three novels chosen for scrutiny conform to this model (in the case of Colette, she takes into account L'Entrave, the sequel to La Vagabonde, in which Renée, the protagonist, renounces the freedom of 'vagabondage' that she initially appears to embrace), Collado suggests that this does not necessarily mean that the writers wholeheartedly accept all aspects of the myth of 'le féminin idéal'. Rather, they adapt certain features of this myth for their own ends, or even in order to raise questions about its desirability: 'le choix des caractéristiques reprises ou non correspond à une réappropriation qui ouvre la voie à la réflexion sur la "norme" féminine et, dans une certaine mesure, à la contestation et au changement'. Collado's clearly structured and eminently readable volume is to be recommended, first, for bringing to light the largely forgotten writings of Delarue-Mardrus and Tinayre and, second, for offering a refreshingly nuanced analysis that reveals the extent to which these writers, despite expressing their frustration with the sexual double standards and political and professional inequalities that they face as women, continued themselves to be attracted by powerful French myths of the 'eternal feminine'.