"I had seen the proud and arrogant recluse deny all his doctrines on art and love one by one and sell his opinions for small change- and for his least lofty lusts.

When conscience no longer guides our actions, when self interest and vanity become the spirit's sole motives, then any notion of honor and idealism disappears. Life then has no other constraint than the prudence of escaping punishment from the law. From thence, unrecognized traitors, cruel voluptuaries who hide their murderous instincts behind a smile, agitators of human affairs, ready for any crime, are decorated in public with the title of statesmen."

Lui (Colet 313)

Louise Colet published her then infamous novel, Lui, in 1850. The novel was based on three romances: her short lived romance with Alfred de Musset; her affair with Gustave Flaubert; and Alfred de Musset's love of noted novelist George Sand. Each of the principal players has their counterpart within the story, and many of the events portrayed are true to the recollections from Colet's journals and her correspondence with Flaubert.

While the novel at first seems to be a condemnation of Flaubert, Colet set out with a larger theme than just revenge. At its essence, Colet's work can be viewed as a feminist manifesto. In attacking both Flaubert and Musset, Colet is also attacking the very concept of the French male intellectual of the time. There are several clues to her intentions from the introduction of the novel, where she makes such scathing remarks as "men's physical beauty has now become as rare as their moral beauty has always been" (Colet 3).

In her depiction of Alfred de Musset, Colet is particularly unforgiving, crediting him with such remarks as "I'll sup with some beauty who will spare me metaphysics" (Colet 55) Even in his own narrative of his doomed romance with George Sand, Alfred comes across poorly, and it is not until near the end of the account that Sand is depicted as even close to at fault for their separation as Alfred. In part this comes from empathy for Sand on the part of Colet, as both are women of letters and face some common obstacles from the society of the time.

Colet's feminist themes also greatly influenced the style and tone of the work. Rather than romanticizing the people and affairs, Colet produced a very realist novel. There is no happy ending for any of them, just as in life. Colet and Musset could never be in love, for when they are together, each longs for another: Colet for Flaubert, Musset for Sand.

Critical response to the novel was harsh, as could only be expected. Some of the harshest reactions came from the other principal players in the real life narrative. In a letter to Gustave Flaubert, George Sand criticized the work, calling it "a chamber-pot of a book in which Colet excreted her causeless fury" (Flaubert~Sand 264).

Works Cited:

Colet, Louise. Lui: A View of Him. Translated by Marilyn Gaddis Rose. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Flaubert, Gustave and George Sand. The Correspondence of Gustave Flaubert & George Sand. Translated by Francis Steegmuller. London: Harvill Press, 1981.

This write up also appears at http://www.wam.umd.edu/~amsalter/colet/index.html as part of a study on Louise Colet I maintain.