Places: The Other One

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La Seconde, 1929 (English translation, 1931)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological

Time of work: 1920’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Franche-Comté

*Franche-Comté Other One, The (franshe kohn-TAY). Mountainous area in France southeast of Burgundy and near the border with Switzerland. Franche-Comté is a popular resort area, and it is here that The Other One opens. Fanny Farou and her playwright husband, known simply as Farou, and their son, Jean, are at the Villa Déan for a summer vacation. Also a member of the party is Jane Aubaret, Farou’s assistant, sometime mistress, and Fanny’s friend–and rival. Jane is the “seconde”–“number two,” or perhaps “second fiddle.” Both of these meanings are suggested by the French word.

The heat, the dry terrain, the unkempt vegetation, and the mountainous horizon constitute the principal features–and drawbacks–of the villa setting. Farou comes and goes, frequently commuting to Paris, where he has plays in production. Fanny is initially uncomfortable during the family’s first summer at the villa. She finds the landscape dreary, the heat unpleasant; even the beautiful sunsets, she thinks, are for other people on the other sides of the mountains. In her view, Jane too is unnerved by the frequent thunderstorms and begins to weep over lost love affairs. Colette’s descriptions here emphasize the shrubbery, flowers, and unpruned trees; the leaves and branches of some of the latter even encroach upon the house.

There is a certain wildness to the place. Sixteen-year-old Jean, who falls in love with Jane, though she is twice his age, often seems to inhabit the shrubs, trees, and shadows, leaping from them unexpectedly. Disorder manifests itself, too, in Farou’s infidelity to Fanny–including his ongoing fling with Jane, thus intruding into the tranquillity of Fanny and her household. And finally, Jean’s adolescent, young-animal passion is disruptive: he stays out late at night, spies on Jane, makes little effort to conceal his infatuation.

Farou is responsible for Fanny’s discomfort in Franche-Comté, as well as in other resorts he chooses for family holidays and in Paris, to some extent. Habitually adulterous, Farou embodies disruption, displacement, and disorientation for Fanny, who would much prefer to remain in Paris. However, even in Franche-Comté, she can find solace in her books, armchair, angora wrap, and chocolates–her ways of making a home. Eventually, after two successive summers at the Villa Déan, Fanny becomes so at home there that she regrets having to leave.

*Paris

*Paris. France’s capital city is home to the Farous, the place where Fanny feels happiest is within her own apartment in the fashionable Champ de Mars-Eiffel Tower area. She is most comfortable, most in control of herself when she is near the apartment’s fireplace. Once again however, the Paris sections of the novel are marked by Farou’s often noisy invasions of the apartment and its peace and quiet. Ironically, Farou thinks of the apartment as his house and of Fanny and Jane as his women. (It should be noted that the French word foyer means “fireplace,” and it approximates the English word “home” in its multiple emotionally resonant senses. Thus the fireplace truly symbolizes the home in French culture.)

During the Paris sections of the novel, the season is winter, in direct contrast to the summer atmosphere of the villa in Franche-Comté. In a stunning scene, Fanny sees Farou passionately kiss Jane in the apartment bathroom. Fanny decides to have it out with her concerning her affair with Farou. This confrontation does not at all flatter Jane physically. Fanny sees her in the apartment salon, as Jane stands in the December sunlight that comes through a window glass–and seems to turn Jane’s ash-colored hair green while also exaggerating the flaws in her face.

One of Farou’s noisy entrances puts an abrupt end to Fanny’s angry argument with Jane. Oddly, Fanny then takes refuge in her home within her home: She draws the curtains, lights lamps, and seems to nearly embrace the fireplace, beside which the novel’s moving finale takes place. When Fanny discovers that she and Jane actually have much in common as friends and mutual comforters, she realizes that she needs Jane so that the two of them can stand against Farou’s regular depredations. The novel’s last image is of Fanny and Jane seated by the fireplace, secure in their solidarity as women–while their men, like all men, enter and exit but seldom stay.

BibliographyCottrell, Robert. Colette. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1974. Discusses the theme of feminine adaptability and endurance in The Other One. Compares Farou to Colette’s first husband, Willy, and refers to Willy’s affair with Charlotte Kinceler, whom Colette befriended. Includes chronology, biographical information, and discussion of major novels.Flieger, Jerry. Colette and the Fantom Subject of Autobiography. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992. Points out that the resolution between female rivals is a common theme for Colette.McCarty, Mari. “Possessing Female Space: The Tender Shoot.” Women’s Studies 8 (1981): 367-374. Special issue devoted exclusively to Colette’s works. McCarty claims that Fanny and Jane escape from male shallowness by cultivating their own inner resources.Spencer, Sharon. “The Lady of the Beasts: Eros and Transformation in Colette.” Women’s Studies 8 (1981): 299-312. Discusses Colette’s fascination with the impact of chronic adultery on a marriage.Stewart, Joan Hinde. Colette. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Points out that victory and revenge, typical themes in stories of triangles, are not the issues in The Other One. Colette chose instead to focus on the role and meaning of female friendships.Wescott, Glenway. Introduction to Short Novels of Colette. New York: Dial Press, 1951. Claims that Colette wrote The Other One because she was dissatisfied with an earlier novel, The Indulgent Husband, which dealt with a similar theme.
Categories: Places