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Eclosion/forclusion : l’adolescence dans Le Ble en herbe de Colette Di Cecco, Daniela Pamela


The aim of this study is to examine the portrayal of adolescence in Colette's novel Le Blé en herbe (1923) which depicts the changing relationship between two childhood friends, Philippe Audebert, age sixteen and Vinca Ferret, age fifteen. By referring to contemporary psychological and sociological studies of adolescence, we can see to what extent Colette's observation of the difficult transition between childhood and adulthood conforms to our modern conception of this period of development. Colette analyses how a once "neutral" relationship between two "equals" is disrupted by their growing physical desire and their new role as young adults. Each individual must adopt his/her role within the couple, creating an imbalance of "power". John Coleman's analysis of the main changes of adolescence establishes two categories: interior elements (physical changes and the psychological influence of this transformation on the individual) and exterior elements (society's expectations of the young adult). Colette illustrates how these two categories are inseparable but often in conflict with each other, provoking the many paradoxes associated with this transitional period of development. Both Philippe and Vinca vacillate between a desire to return to childhood and a desire to become adults immediately. Colette's depiction of their socialization draws close attention to the double standard which views a man's coming of age differently from a woman's. Well before Simone de Beauvoir's Le Deuxième Sexe (1949), Colette illustrates the "mascarade" or artificiality of femininity and the complex relationship between a mother and daughter. In Le Blé en herbe the parents plan their children's entire future, and although the adolescents' egocentrism leads them to believe that any adult is nothing more that a "shadow" of his/her former self, neither Phil nor Vinca has the courage or the desire to make their own choices. Their egocentrism not only creates a generation gap, but leads them to believe that their feelings and experiences are unique, to the point that they take the credit for having "invented" love. The double standard is most apparent in attitudes towards adolescent sexuality. Vinca is portrayed as caught between a traditional model and the "liberation" of the 1920s. The difference between innate and learned characteristics becomes a central issue for the modern reader. In her representation of adolescence, Colette reverses traditional "masculine" and "feminine" characteristics and behaviour in her characters. Adolescence is an ambiguous stage in development when both nature and society hesitate before attributing a specific gender role to each individual. Phil is often portrayed as feminine, especially when faced with a dominating, virile older woman who becomes his "mistress/master." It is through her evocation of role reversal that Colette presents a new kind of woman who is both physically and emotionally strong. Adolescence, for both sexes, conveys the tension between "éclosion" - a free flowering of infinite possibilities - and "foreclusion": the painful acceptance of predetermined, socially defined limits.

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