Author

Ann Robbins

Date of Award

5-2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Language

French

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Modern Languages & Classics

Advisor

Cathleen M. Bauschatz

Second Committee Member

Raymond J. Pelletier

Third Committee Member

Kathryn E. Slott

Abstract

Colette stands alone in her time as a woman who brought a new way of looking at the world. Critics have accused her of frivolity because she stressed the senses and not the intellect as a means of interacting with life, but in her demonstration of style and thought she worked her intellect beyond conventional boundaries, creating a new liberal humanitarianism that recently has seen a resurgence in popularity. One can find quotes from Colette's work in popular magazines and advertisements, proving the timelessness of her influence. When Colette was writing she used experiences from her childhood in the French countryside and her relationships with men and women in Paris before, during and after the time of two World Wars. It is the experience of her life as a woman that Colette brings to her writing and which makes her so relevant today. In our modern age of technology we often find our human capacities failing to absorb rapid change. The world seems smaller, yet our problems are global in scope. New fields of science such as gene alteration, human cloning and weapons of mass destruction leave us confused and looking for basic truths on which to center our lives. Colette found her stability in a primordial force of life, one that exists independently of society's cultural codes of morality and behavior. She called this force a pure, unnamable sensation that reacts with the natural elements of earth, water, wind and fire, shared by humans and non-humans alike, linking them in the cosmos. Critics today would call this a pagan religion, but Colette was ambiguous enough to also believe in a social order and code of morality based on a strict discipline of personal responsibility. She would not have liked to be labeled a lesbian or a feminist, and remains free of any classification. I would not presume to label Colette an ecofeminist, but I have found many links between Colette's thoughts and the modern philosophy of ecofeminism. I chose Dialogues de Bêtes, La Chatte and a journal of collected animal stories, Bêtes libres et prisonnières de Colette to demonstrate Colette's idea that the confusion and anguish created by man's arrogant domestication of life can be healed by returning to nature and recognizing our instinctive links with all life and non-life, which is the basic principle of eco-feminism In a recent article on the rescue of exotic animals, a woman volunteer was quoted on her moment of truth, "…that working with animals teaches something about yourself. That was the one moment that I absolutely knew who I was, your mind is screaming, but you're reacting the way you're supposed to. Now I know what I'm made of. It's enlightening, in a weird way" (Smithsonian, March 2003, p.98). Because of the strong biological links to nature, women in Colette's work and in ecofeminism are stronger than men in reestablishing their position of self worth. This does not mean that men are not capable of overcoming the gap caused by the arrogance of dominating nature. Men can profit from women's softening of the word domestication and share in a new interaction, one that encompasses the universe and allows for a deeper appreciation of life. This is an appreciation of life that Colette painted so beautifully with her artistic and female senses.

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