Rooms of Their Own: How Colette Uses Physical and Textual Space to Question a Gendered Literary Tradition

Helen SouthworthRobert D. Clark Honors College, University of Oregon
Vol. 20, No. 2 (Fall 2001), 253-278

This article raises the issue of experimentalism as a means to renegotiate textual and physical spaces traditionally dominated by Western Caucasian men. Extensively analyzing Colette’s famous novels La Vagabonde (1910) and La maison de Claudine (1922), followed by her lesser known novels Duo (1933) and Le Toutounier (1939), the essay uncovers a spatial poetics in which the conventional marriage plot is rejected in favor of a thickened plot of interwoven and fractured narratives and, with these narratives, a language made dense with metaphor and simile, color and texture. Space here has less to do with national categories than with gendered ones. Colette’s spaces are ones where her protagonists remain on the move across borders, and her spaces remain thus necessarily incomplete. Recalling also Virginia Woolf’s appeal for a “woman’s sentence” as well as Woolf’s admiration for Colette’s new form, the essay argues that Colette answers Woolf not so much with a sentence as with a question, retaining rather than resolving the problem of space.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]