I’m falling behind my Irène Némirovsky year-long project. I’ve been crazy busy these days (more about it later), and I couldn’t read Jezebel which was supposed to be my June read. Hopefully, I’ll have time to read another Némirovsky this month, so I can be back on track with my project!
In Jezebel, we see Gladys Eysenach, an extremely beautiful socialite who values youth and beauty above everything. Gladys is used to having men entranced by her beauty, and following her around like puppies. The hold she has over men is the only power she knows, so she does appalling things to appear youthful as she ages. I found Gladys’ behavior to be repugnant, but through this slim novel Irène Némirovsky delivers a fascinating psychological study of a woman who measures her self-worth by the way the society looks at her. Gladys’ polished facade masks her insecurities well, but I pitied her for not being able to face her reality with grace.
Gladys is clearly inspired by Irène Némirovsky’s own mother, Fanny. In Jezebel, Gladys dresses Marie-Therese, her eighteen-year-old daughter in children’s clothes to hide her true age, and it is a mirror image of Irène’s own relationship with Fanny. This antagonist relationship between the mother and the daughter have been depicted in Irène’s previous works, however, Jezebel is entirely devoted to that. According to the introduction by Sandra Smith, at the end of the World War II, Fanny refused to open the door to her two granddaughters who were aged fifteen and seven and asked their guardian to take the children to an orphanage instead (both Irène and her husband had died in Auschwitz by then). This shows Irène’s damning portrayal of her mother was not far from reality.
Jezebel is a book that can be easily read in a day. It is well written and it will keep you hooked till the end.