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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

The Woman and the Puppet

by
Pierre Louÿs


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Woman and the Puppet



Title: The Woman and the Puppet
Author: Pierre Louÿs
Genre: Novel
Written: 1898 (Eng. 1999)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Woman and the Puppet - US
The Woman and the Puppet - UK
The Woman and the Puppet - Canada
La femme et le pantin - Canada
La femme et le pantin - France
Dieses obskure Objekt der Begierde/Aphrodite - Deutschland
La donna e il burattino - Italia
La mujer y el pelele - España
DVD: The Devil is a Woman - US
The Devil is a Woman - UK
That Obscure Object of Desire - US
That Obscure Object of Desire - UK
  • French title: La femme et le pantin
  • Translated by Jeremy Moore
  • Previously translated as Woman and Puppet by G.F.Monkshood (1908) and in an unattributed 1930 translation, and as The Woman and the Puppet by Arthur Symons (1935)
  • La femme et le pantin has been filmed numerous times, most notably as The Devil is a Woman (1935), directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich, and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), directed by Luis Buñuel

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Our Assessment:

A- : almost ridiculously over the top, but expertly handled

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Contemporary Review A 12/1898 Edmund Gosse
FAZ . 27/7/2002 .
Sunday Times . 16/5/1999 Phil Baker
TLS . 9/7/1999 Brendan King
Die Welt A 19/10/2002 Gert Ueding


  From the Reviews:
  • "All this is described with a delicious lightness, all the warmth and colour of Southern Spain concentrated in a few perfectly skilful sentences. (...) (T)his type of Concepcion herself is what mainly interests and exasperates the reader; she is unique, a variety of the she-devil never before revealed to science; at all events, in so magnificently consistent a specimen. Unfortunately, it is not possible here to illustrate the working out of this novel, which I must confine myself to denominating magnificent, bluntly, without further proof offered." - Edmund Gosse, The Contemporary Review

  • "Bei Louys ist alles tiefer Ernst, unterlegt freilich vom unfreiwilligen Unernst der Schmierentragödie. Man faßt es kaum, daß Proust dasselbe Thema bearbeitete in Gestalt seiner treulosen Albertine, denn die beiden Bücher scheinen in vollkommen verschiedenen Zeiten geschrieben -- Prousts in einer unbestimmbaren Gegenwart, Louys' in einer tief versunkenen Vergangenheit." - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(T)his elegantly simple story has lost none of its charm. (...) What an insanely infuriating character she is." - Phil Baker, Sunday Times

  • "Jeremy Moore's translation is a faithful rendering of the text -- though it doesn't quite have the stylish grace of the original -- but it inevitably suffers from the lack of any kind of contextualization." - Brendan King, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Er ist ein Meisterwerk, von einer literarischen und psychologischen Raffinesse, die die Lesergenerationen seither entzückt -- etwas von jener Verfallenheit und selbstvergessenen Hingabe, von jener verbotenen, verrückten amour passion, in der der Himmel nur die andere Seite der Hölle ist, wünschte man jeder Liebesgeschichte." - Gert Ueding, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Woman and the Puppet begins in Seville, during the excesses of the Spanish Carnival in 1896, with a visitor, André Stévenol annoyed that, as it winds down: "this essentially amorous week had not provided him with any new love affair". But things look up when he catches sight of a stunning young Andalusian woman -- "Every inch of her long, supple body was expressive". He manages to convey his interest but quickly loses sight of her -- only to see his hopes raised when she passes by him again in her carriage and returns his message, seemingly encouragingly. (The unusual form the back and forth takes is already suggested in the chapter's title, typical of Louÿs' rather over-elaborate ones in this novel: 'How one word written on an eggshell served as two successive notes'.)
       André gives chase, discovers the name of the bewitching young woman -- Doña Concepción Pérez -- and that her husband is agreeably far away, and presses his case; again, it is she who responds after his more direct frontal forays had been parried. She suggests a place and time where their paths might cross the next day .....
       The title of the next chapter already gives away that things do not proceed as quickly as André initially had hoped for -- though apparently he is the one who has second thoughts: 'How, and for what reasons, André did not go to Concha Pérez's rendezvous'. As it happens, a few hours before the appointed time, he runs into an old acquaintance, a forty year old Spaniard, Don Mateo Díaz. André can't but help eventually bringing Mateo into his confidence, but he gets more than he bargained for: Mateo not only knows the woman in question, he knows her oh so well -- and warns André off: "flee her as you would death itself, and let me save you from her !" And here the story switches to Mateo's lengthy account of his experiences with the now eighteen-year-old girl, the heart of the novel.
       Mateo had first encountered her some three years earlier, on a train trip; she made an impression on him, but only incidentally -- "It's no opening to a novel: more space is devoted to the setting than to the heroine", he observes about his account of those events -- and hardly bewitched him. He next comes across her when he visits a local tobacco factory -- for want of anything better to do -- and finds her among the thousands of women there rolling cigars and cigarettes. Having given up school, she works there, on and off, to earn a bit of money, supporting her mother. And when she sees Mateo she flirts with him, and when he tosses a coin her way, more out of sympathy and charity than anything else, she follows him out, and begins her cruel tease of seduction, as wily as a woman who has toyed with dozens of lovers yet always with a convincing innocence to her too.
       Concha is the ultimate tease -- often audaciously forward, beginning with sitting down on his lap and kissing him ("she forestalled my gesture, and eagerly pressed her lips to mine, while giving me a searching look"), but then pushing him away. She is always the one in control (and prepared to be, down to her underwear), and she lures him with her suggestive promises -- only to never follow through. She makes clear that it is her way or no way -- and has the willpower to turn away, completely, at the drop of a hat. And the one thing she won't sacrifice, not before she is certain of Mateo's complete devotion, is the virginity she professes to still have.
       A flummoxed Mateo falls completely under her spell, even as he finds only (physical) frustration (and gets taken for a good bit of money along the way):

Thus every night I held in my arms the naked body of a fifteen-year-old girl who may have been brought up by nuns, but whose social status and moral disposition ruled out any idea of physical purity on her part. And yet this girl, in other respects as ardent and passionate as one could wish, behaved towards me as if nature itself somehow prevented her from ever being able to satisfy her desires.
       Their relationship seems always on knife's edge -- and Concha's willingness to simply walk (or run) away adds to the sense of high stakes for Mateo. But even when she has left him, he can not free himself of his obsession -- or, as it turns out, of her. But he realizes his options are limited -- and that he has little choice in the matter: he truly has lost his head:
     After what happened, there were only three courses of action open to me: to leave her, to force her, or to kill her.
     I chose the fourth, which was to submit to her.
       Mateo's warning-tale does reach its culmination, and he notes:
     This would make a good ending to a novel, and with such a conclusion all would be well that ended well ! Alas ! That I could but stop there !
       Because Concha is a creature who is, through and through, the way she is, and can't stop being that. André appreciates the warning -- but can he heed it ? And Mateo, poor Mateo, did he finally learn his lesson ?
       It's hard to bring a tale like this to a conclusion, but Louÿs' is, true to Concha, satisfying enough, the strength of her character and the weakness of men hammered home one last time. A woman and her puppets, indeed .....
       It is an odd but striking tale, remarkable for the seductive heat Louÿs generates around his minx (though, yes, her age here make the story, for contemporary readers, a bit harder not to feel even more squeamish about). Louÿs' light, almost mocking touch help in making the story work: it can't be taken entirely seriously -- indeed borders on the ridiculous in parts -- but the depths of feeling here, especially of lust and longing, are convincing. And Concha is, in her own teasing way, a delightful invention, all languor -- "I could ever induce her to occupy herself with anything whatsoever. She hadn't so much touched a book, a game, or her needlework, ever since the day on which, because of me, she'd left the Fábrica" --, heat, and the most expert of teases.
       A discomfiting mix of Lolitan nymphet and mature seductress, Concha is an exceptionally well-captured and strong character; it's no surprise that the novel has been the basis of numerous films. And for all how ridiculous and bizarre The Woman and the Puppet is -- in story and presentation -- it is a memorable and expertly executed entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 December 2019

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Links:

The Woman and the Puppet: Reviews: La femme et le pantin - the films: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pierre Louÿs lived 1870 to 1925.

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© 2019 the complete review

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