Monday, June 23, 2008

Colette: The Vagabond

I have posted here before on the French writer Colette (1873-1954). Her novel The Vagabond, first published in 1911, is a fictionalised account of her experiences as a dancer in the cafés chantant and music halls, and of the tension, for a woman in this period, between the demands of a respectable marriage and freedom - even if the price of the latter was solitude.

I was struck by this description of her dancing in front of the kind of bourgeois onlookers from whose domain she was in flight, with its sense of the dance itself a rejection of the constraints on the female body:

"I dance and dance. A beautiful serpent coils itself along the Persian carpet, an Egyptian amphora tilts forward, pouring forth a cascade of perfumed hair, a blue and stormy cloud rises and floats away, a feline beast springs forwards, then recoils, a sphinx, the colour of pale sand, reclines at full length, propped on its elbows with hollowed back and straining breasts. I have recovered myself and forget nothing.

Do these people really exist, I ask myself? No, they don't. The only real things are dancing, light, freedom, and music. Nothing is real except making rhythm of one's thought and translating it into beautiful gestures. Is not the mere swaying of my back, free from any constraint, an insult to those bodies cramped by their long corsets, and enfeebled by a fashion which insists that they should be thin?"


Rachel said...

This is gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

Because January 28 is Colette's birthday, I linked this post to the calendar.