La Garçonne, the sulfur feminist novel without which feminists would have succeeded

Summer series: A century ago, women 1/4

A century and a day ago, July 12, 1922 appeared boyish, A bestseller signed by Victor Marguerite. By portraying the free but corrupt life of her short-haired heroine, Monique Lerbier, the Feminist Ally was meant to serve the cause. But on the activists’ side, we were embarrassed more than anything else.

boyish It is just a step in [la] The inevitable feminist march towards the wonderful goal you will reach. » These words full of ambition are the ones that Victor Marguerite said when he defended his novel on the occasion of its many reissues. in this program The theater “Therefore: the female is certainly liberating, though sex, lesbianism and cruel drugs above all, are all told in sensual and even raw language.

This is the paradox of one of the most sullen books of the beginning of the last century, which was published in July 1922 in the heart of those tumultuous twenties when the bourgeois and artistic avant-garde, which no longer wanted to hear the news of war, constrained morality. . On the one hand, he attacks the blame boyish and its creator, who will be stripped of the title of Officer of the Legion of Honor, the first in the history of the order. The scandal is so big that “The Association of Fathers of Large Catholic Families first applies for the book to be confiscated, but the Keeper of the Seals has banned it, fearing the absurdity of the trial in the Assize Court. “,” He refers to historian Yannick Ripa in his excellent introduction to the Petit Biblio edition. On the other hand, the book was a real sales success – “Twenty thousand copies were sold in four days, and three hundred thousand copies were sold in six months, and half a million copies were exceeded in 1924, and it reached one million in 1929.” Feminist historian Kristen Bard details, in her landmark article boys – Victor Marguerite is allowed to buy a villa overlooking Sainte-Maxime in the Var. We can say that the adventures of Monique Lerbier brought her money, glory and setbacks.

“Without the short hair, and the mahogany, she looks like Monique.”
– she is! Isn’t that right, baby Max?
The critic, after his one-eyed modification, declared:
– she is. How does he change her, say, this hairstyle! Today, for women, it is a symbol of independence, if not a symbol of strength. Previously, Delilah Samson singled out his hair. And today she thinks she has become more manly by shortening her salary! »

Here is how it was revealed at the beginning of the second part of the work about the transformation of Monique, worthy of his title, into the novel. Disappointed at the infidelity of the man she was about to marry, after she breaks off her engagement against the advice of her parents, the young woman once awakens her delusions by sleeping with the first comer, and soon several others. , both men and women. Of bourgeois origin, she runs the music halls of post-war Paris, gains her financial independence as a designer, and discovers the pleasure of the body, but also the pleasure of drugs.

Breaking traditional femininity

These liberating experiences are symbolized by the red dye – the color of the glamorous – and above all, her long hair cut. Gesture, as Yannick Ripa notes, already “Long before the war it showed a break with traditional femininity and secular seduction” and with it, “Reject the gender hierarchy”. This is what Monique Hare-Cort says when she says to a suitor:

Come on, Prescott! So it’s so unusual that when it comes to…love (I hesitated, finding no other word), a woman thinks and acts like a man? You have to get used to that idea, and take me for what I am: boy.
He was at the end of his lips: a whore, and because of politeness, he ended the word:
– Boy, I know. boyish! »

With this novel this term boyish enters the common parlance, having appeared in the 1880s under the pen of Joris Karl Huismans who described the androgynous silhouette using Hard and small chest, boyish breasts with a violated tip ». Monique Lerbier became the archetype of these liberated women who break taboos in their modern lifestyle and blur gender in their clothes: hair, of course, but also cigarette accessories and flowy dresses that hide the forms of timeless femininity, while revealing the ankles, allowing you to walk and dance unobstructed. She has also become an icon ever since, in the wake of her literary success, Even in the countryside, their hair is falling out and they wear a “boyish” hairstyle “,” Yannick Ripa notes. However, says Kristen Bard, Take little girls who shave their hair […] The stakes: family squabbles, marital squabbles that sometimes resonate in the press. »

Margaret, this ally is on the plate

If he embodies and contributes so much to the zeitgeist, it is because Victor Marguerite sees his work as an heir to the naturalism of the last century. Having been exposed to the good morals posed by Monique’s excessive hedonism unleashed on partying, sex, and taking illegal products, he responds that he is only portraying reality.

But this book, which aims to support the women of her time, is contradictory. On the one hand, Monique puts Putting the advice of Leon Bloom into practice marriage (1907) where he encouraged premarital experiences for boys and girls »Kristen Bard explains. from the last, very moral ending boyish It is an exorcism, The historian continues. Monique miraculously meets a man who respects her and offers her salvation by saving her life.. » Thus, Monique’s Sapphic love veers into the youthful stage. Worse yet: she agrees to let her hair grow out and drop redheads because her white knight asks her to!

She looked up for an answer to her silent question: “Do you love me?” But he only said:
If you let your hair grow without dyeing it? Their true shadow, at the root, is beautiful.
– I will, if you prefer. »

Right to vote vs. basic

Beyond these confusions, a few feminists defended Victor Marguerite in the media storm – from Catholic newspapers, and from the right as well as from the left – that erupted boyish. At the time, they had other fish to fry, as Yannick Ripa explains: Saffron cannot have a place in the reformist feminist movement, which is so wary of sexuality. […] The post-war period, referring to the home of the bruised men, lengthens the silence. Women’s bodies must appease the warrior and welcome his seed to repopulate France, which emerged bloodless from the conflict. Of this duty, the majority of feminists intend to use it to assert their claims and in the first instance to obtain the suffrage and eligibility that all of their organizations have included in their platform since 1909.. » It would be better understood that Monique’s eccentric gaudrioles leave the guerrillas unmoved, especially since, coincidentally, the day of the novel’s publication in the Flammarion was poorly chosen: on July 12, 1922, the Senate voted against the women’s suffrage sanctioned by the Assembly in 1919.

Furthermore, they don’t all taste “evoking” the woman that Monique represents. In September 1922, an article by French which, since 1906, wants to be “the newspaper of feminine progress”, recognizes in Margaret the qualities of‘Excellent feminist’ state “Men face their injustice towards women”. However, beware! : “Women’s liberation will not be achieved by ‘boys’ who try to equal morals from below.” Fortunately, since then, we have invented a sorority …

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