The story begins: we see the mime artist, Renée Néré, musing at her reflection in her dressing room as she steels herself for her risqué double act in a Parisian music hall. I was immediately drawn into her world as the story begins to unravel rather like a diary, written in the first person, taking you into her confidence as she relates her daily life. In fact, I read it almost as a memoir.
Renée is based in Paris, but most of the novel is written whilst on tour in seedy hotels, backstage and on trains, as she describes the key characters in her newly found world of theatre. The writer is interested in exploring the effect these people have on her, both physically and sensually. Colette manages to perfectly portray with great precision, the nuances of each of Renée’s liaisons, highlighting their differences. For a woman to write in such a way was virtually unheard of in 1910. We find out why she left her oppressive ‘bourgeois’ husband who she often pillories mercilessly in the novel.
The Vagabond is considered as one of the first feminist novels, before feminism as we know it. It is worldly: we see the novelist trying to define a new way of life for the character of Renée who expresses herself through the sensuality of mime ultimately defining herself as the ‘vagabond’, radically rejecting the traditional and prescriptive roles for being born a female.