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Physique de Colette. By Jacques Dupont. Toulouse, Presses universitaires du Mirail, 2003. 232 pp. Pb €24.00.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, criticism on Colette has taken a special interest in her representation of the body. Her feminized men and virile woman, and her abiding fascination with the figure of the androgyne, have provoked a significant reappraisal of her work, which is now recognized as subversive and complex in its gender politics. Dupont's text takes this trend to the limit, focusing exclusively on what he calls the micro-events of the body, detailed lovingly and exhaustively by Colette and creating a rich, coherent theory of the interplay between subjectivity and its materiality. His approach is phenomenological with an element of psychoanalysis; hence the theorists to whom he appeals are Merleau-Ponty and Didier Anzieu, but this is by no means a text dominated by its theoretical framework. Dupont's intention is not to draw overarching conclusions from Colette's œuvre, nor to explore any particular critical concept in relation to the Colettian body. Instead we find an analysis that is dominated by Colette's voice, by the myriad examples of blood circulating, muscles straining, complexions altering, appetites sharpening and pulses quickening. The Colettian body is porous and passive, responding to the slightest external stimuli. The barely audible but insidious messages of the body determine the subject's sensual and sexual orientation in the spaces it occupies and become indistinguishable from the experience of happiness and suffering. Colette's images of the body draw repeatedly on concepts of plenitude and lack, beauty and health associated with lascivious qualities of tautness or roundness, old age and illness tending towards the slack and the shrivelled. The question of appetite and consumption is explored in depth, with Dupont proposing its fundamental relationship to the erotic in Colette's work. It is unfortunate that, as Dupont himself notes in his introduction, Kristeva's analysis of Colette came too late for his own publication, as there are intriguing parallels to be explored in his exposition of the world and the sexual body as edible for Colette's protagonists. The erotic is only ever a step away from the cannibalistic in her texts, as Dupont suggests that: 'Consommer un homme […] c'est s'approprier sa substance, le [End Page 410] vampiriser, le vider' (p. 114); hence the phallic virility of Colette's women, represented repeatedly by a textual focus on laughing mouths full of strong, white teeth, and 'erectile substitutes' such as the clitoris and the nipple. Dupont makes a compelling case for the intimate, probing vision of Colette that obsessively documents and evaluates the body's tropistic responses. The deductions she bases upon this material evidence are partly Balzacian physiognomy, partly a quasi-medical response to bodily symptoms, partly the attribution of a phantastic understanding of the body that is unique to Colette. Although some might be disappointed that this critique does not take the extra step of analysing the phantastic body created in and through Colette's texts, there is an abundant wealth of textual detail to be enjoyed here that reminds us of Colette's extraordinary literary inventiveness, and her original representation of being-in-the-world.

Victoria Best
St. John’s College, Cambridge

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