First published: La Vagabonde, 1911 (English translation, 1954)
Plot: Psychological realism
Time: Six months during the early 1900's
Renée Néré (reh-NAY nay-RAY), the narrator, a French mime and a dancer. Intelligent and largely self-aware, she divorced her husband after eight years of his adulteries and cruelties and has been struggling to support herself as a music hall performer in Paris for the past three years. She also was a writer but rationalizes that she can no longer afford the time for writing. She is still an attractive woman at thirty-three years of age but worries that she is losing her good looks. Her bitter marriage has made her determined to keep her independence, despite her sense of loneliness and thwarted sensuality, but when she is devotedly pursued by an admirer, Maxime, she succumbs to his lovemaking and agrees to become his mistress and even wife, after completing an already planned six-week tour of the provinces. She discovers, however, that her free identity and a desire to create with words mean more to her than attachment to any man and breaks with him to remain a vagabond and pursue a career.
Maxime Dufferein-Chautel (mak-SEEM dew-feh-REHNshoh-TEHL), Renée's black-haired, long-lashed admirer, with tawny brown eyes and full red lips under his mustache. He is a wealthy, idle man-about-town whose mother runs the family estate in the Ardennes, leaving her youngest son free to pursue his pleasures. Handsome and thirty-three years old, like Renée, he is much more conventional in his notions and far less quick-witted. He wants to marry Renée, settle down, and have children. Although he tolerates her tour, he disapproves of it. He would prefer to load her with luxuries and cannot understand why she wants to work.
Brague (brahg), Renée's mentor, partner, and comrade in vaudeville theater. Brague is a skilled and ambitious pantomimist, swarthy but with a clean-shaven Catalan face. Although authoritative and sometimes brusque in manner, he is genuinely fond of Renée and provides her with emotional support as well as professional guidance. He arranged for the French tour and, to Renée's delight, for a South American one to follow it.
Hamond (ah-MOHN), Renée's old friend, a painter. A tall, thin, and sickly man, he also has been disappointed by marriage but is not so cynical about love as is Renée. He acts as the go-between who formally introduces Maxime to Renée and encourages her to form a relationship.
Margot Taillandy (mahr-GOH ti-yahn-DEE), Renée's friend, the sister of her former husband. A warmhearted woman with bobbed hair turning gray, Margot collects ailing Brabançon terriers to nurse them back to health and helps to support Renée with a monthly allowance to supplement her meager pay. Skeptical of Renée's determination to avoid love, she predicts that Renée must fall in love again because one cannot deny one's senses.
Jadin (zhah-DAN), an empty-headed, unkempt eighteen-year-old singer, with light brown hair. Jadin has left the streets for the vaudeville theater and has become a success with her artless contralto. She impulsively runs off with a lover, but just as casually, she returns to resume her stage career.
Bouty (bew-TEE), a slender vaudeville comic with beautiful, tender eyes. He is suffering from chronic enteritis and is gradually dying from the strain of performing while ill. He loves Jadin with silent devotion.