Literary Ladies #3: Nous sommes toutes des filles françaises

Literary Ladies is my weekly series where I nerd out for a bit & update movie versions of my favorite female protagonists.

Oooh, how French I felt this morning, with my baguette buttered-toast and bitter coffee for breakfast. I had a third Literary Ladies post ready to go, but after spending my morning the way I did I decided to whip up a new one, centering around two of my favorite French literary heroines Emile Zola’s Nana Coupeau, and Fadette of George Sand’s eponymous La Petite Fadette. (Don’t let the masculine name fool you: George Sand was not only a woman but another ardent proto-feminist who wanted her female characters to own their destinies, rather than the other way around.)

First, the story of a dirty little girl of low birth: pegged by the townspeople as a witch because of her grandmother’s knowledge of healing herbs, & discriminated against because of her mentally retarded younger brother, who never had proper care under their grandmother’s dismissive eye.
(Lily Cole as Fadette; yes, I know she’s English, not French.)

The story was originally written in the early 19th century, so people have different feelings now about just what constitutes ‘witchcraft.’ Let’s imagine the setting is unusually rural for 2008. Fadette lives in a close-knit agricultural community where disinterest or non-participation in church is reason for social ostracism. After striking up a romance with a boy considered by the whole town to be ‘too good’ for her, Fadette goes into self-imposed exile, and upon gaining control of the family finances after her grandmother’s death, is able to turn public opinion to her favor by returning as a respectable lady, her brother cared for & her reputation restored. It’s not the best feminist manifesto, because Fadette does emerge as more of a ‘follower’ than she initially seems. But you know, in 2008, feminism means taking control in your own way, so it fits for today more appropriately than in its time. Go Fadette!

La Petite Fadette by GephydroXX

Fadette’s wardrobe wouldn’t be outlandish, even though after returning to her village, she could have afforded luxurious clothing. I liked the pretty simplicity & feminine lines of the silver-gray linen dress, and the polished-but-trendy look of the bolero to cover up with. Fadette would enjoy natural jewelry and long beads, accenting her unusual and striking beauty. She would wear practical shoes during the day & strap on a sexy pair of heels to go dancing with Landry in the evenings.

In a modern remake of Emile Zola’s Nana, I cannot picture anyone but the beautiful, enchanting Clémence Poésy (she was Fleur Delacour, that’s why the name is familiar) as ‘la blonde Venus’, Nana.

Nana Coupeau is a courtesan, a high-class call girl always cared for by rich men, oblivious & indifferent to the destruction & suffering she leaves in her wake. Throughout the story, Nana, a marginally talented actress with a wild streak uses and breaks men, her whim as dangerous as Death’s iron scythe. While not a sympathetic character, Nana is nonetheless intriguing and mysterious as a woman no one can resist. A character like Nana would exist in a completely different world today: in 2008, her profession would be a secret rather than a topic of discussion, her conquests too a braid of deceptions and lies. She is Hurricane Nana, she is void of compassion & full of lust, manipulative & thoughtless, beautiful & damned. In 2008, she’d dress like this:

Nana by GephydroXX

But her life would come unravelled in much the same way. Nana’s destruction doesn’t stop at the men in her life; their suicides and ruin only serve as the inevitable foreshadowing of her own slow suicide, living a life of complete excess & debauch. Sensual and softly feminine, Nana would dress in slink cotton/silk slacks, cut extra low & slim. She’d tempt men in a ruffled corset top, drenching her decolletage in diamonds to draw attention to her fine features. She’d drink too much wine & swill absinthe while alone. Late in the feature, I feel very strongly she must be a closet addict: addicted to money, to beauty, to sex & to ‘fun.’ She’d splash out thousands on bags and shoes, trying to fill the void left by her father & her work. She’ll die dirty, Venus crumbling to the ground, undone by her own wild temptations.

Who are your favorite French literary heroines? Spanish? Indian? Do your own collage & if it’s featured here I’ll send you a NEN magnet!


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3 Responses to “Literary Ladies #3: Nous sommes toutes des filles françaises”

  1. Kate Says:

    that second photograph is beautiful…

  2. Literary Ladies #4: Elizabeth &… Not… Rebecca? « new england noir Says:

    […] Literary Ladies is my weekly series where I nerd out for a bit & imagine my favorite literary heroines into the modern world. Email me your suggestions or leave a comment below! […]

  3. Thanks for the great responses! « new england noir Says:

    […] column) and Elizabeth Bennett, who was originally lined up for #3, but whom I betrayed for Nana and Fadette. (Forgive me, Elizabeth. Your outfit is super-fierce to atone for my poor friendship.) Another […]

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