RAGE AND FIRE by Francine du Plessix Gray


A Life of Louise Colet
Email this review


 To ``reinstate a colleague'' and ``resurrect another woman,'' Gray, novelist (October Blood, 1985) and journalist (Soviet Women, 1990), has composed a life and sexual history of Colet (1810-76), poet, political and fashion journalist, dramatist, and muse to Flaubert, by whom, after their tempestuous affair, she was immortalized as Madame Bovary. Born in the provinces, motivated by fictional romances, Colet ran off to Paris with an impoverished musician (to this day, her descendants, who have turned the family home into a golf resort, continue to disown her). In the heady world of salons, artists, and writers such as Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Alfred de Musset, the newcomer flourished as poet and dramatist. She had considerable renown when she met the unknown Flaubert, 11 years her junior, repressed, sexually conflicted, and syphilitic, who seduced her in hansom cabs, made fetishes of her slippers and hair, obsessed over her letters and then, in one dramatic moment, burned them all. The affair was brief, followed by a seven-year friendship, and here it's Flaubert's life, travels, opinions, and explicitly sexual letters (indeed, everyone's explicitly sexual letters) that take up most of the biography. There are informative side-essays on Parisian women, 19th-century women writers, and men's sexual relations--as well as interesting digressions on venereal disease and on sodomy in Egypt, where Flaubert traveled--making up a cultural history of sexual practices. Sadly, except for tantalizing allusions to Charlotte Corday and The Last Cleric--a scandalous attack on the Catholic Church--and some translations of her poetry, Colet's reputation as a ``literary star'' and feminist is obscured by her sexual history. A vivid and absorbing account--but Colet is as unsympathetic as Madame Bovary, remaining an unknown, misguided figure of unfulfilled passions and talents, a heroine in a naughty novel, famous for the scenes she made and the men she loved.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1994
ISBN: 0-671-74238-8
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1994


FictionTHE QUEEN'S LOVER  by Francine du Plessix Gray
by Francine du Plessix Gray
NonfictionMADAME DE STAËL by Francine du Plessix Gray
by Francine du Plessix Gray
NonfictionTHEM by Francine du Plessix Gray
by Francine du Plessix Gray