When and where the rooster does not get to rule the roost and the hens run the hen house
SIMENON SIMENON. TROIS SOEURS ET UN PETIT FRERE
Quand et où le coq ne parvient pas à régner sur le perchoir et que les poules dirigent le poulailler
SIMENON SIMENON. TRE SORELLE ED UN FRATELLO PICCOLO
Quando e dove il gallo non arriva a spadroneggiare e quando i polli dirigono il pollaio
The Breton Sisters (Les demoiselles de Concarneau) presents a misogynistic portrait of three sisters who severely constrain their only brother. These middle-aged Guérecs (Céline, Florence, Marthe, and Jules) inhabited a “mixed” residential and business establishment where they had grown up in a Brittany fishing port. The only married sister had escaped—partially—for she returned there every day and came to dinner three times a week. The three “had all been raised by nuns” in a convent and “were true young ladies who made themselves respectable.” The wealthy family owned a market and café, staffed by the sisters, and three fishing boats, managed by the brother, but named after the women, symbolizing their dominance.
The sisters simultaneously babied and bossed their ‘little’ brother from his birth on. Of the three, Céline, who was “more intelligent,” basically ran the house, Francoise, who was “easy to fool,” did the household chores, and Marthe, who “no longer had the least desire for independence,” had recently moved out. Celine functioned as the primary spokeswoman for the three of them in laying out the rules for Jules. For example, when Florence once wondered out loud, “Maybe you should not have contested” something Jules had done, Celine squelched that idea with “It’s a principle. If we let him do something once, he’ll get in the habit.” The gamut of oppressive restrictions was widespread, extending from minor to major: “They obliged him to wear a scarf” when going out. “He didn’t smoke at all because his sisters prohibited it.” With complaints of not “talking to us about it” and not “telling us anything” raining down upon him after the fact, their routine contesting of his decisions and actions frightened, inhibited, and almost paralyzed him.
Most important was the way the sisters interfered with Jules behaving like a man sexually. Neither Céline nor Françoise “had truly been women,” the “proof” being that “no man had courted them” whereas Marthe “had had two fiancés and had found a husband.” Relying on prostitutes for gratification, Jules “was never satisfied with what he encountered” primarily because he had to conceal this activity from his sisters. In his 20s, when Jules impregnated a young woman, Céline took over with a “let me handle it” and bought the girl off. The sisters rubbed his nose in that “lamentable history” ever after. In his 40s, when Jules proposed to a single mother he pitied, Céline blocked that marriage by again buying the intended bride off.
Despite the primary goal of avoiding scandal, several did develop. Their solution was to make a clean break, and so the unmarried trio sold everything and moved away. The sisters abandoned their Breton costumes for dresses and the brother exchanged his Breton cap for a bowler hat, but they had little to do and “no friends” or even “acquaintances.” Outwardly content but internally unhappy, leading “a life of small courtesies and disputes” with their inheritance “melting away,” they vegetated. But “why resent each other since the three of them were condemned to live together?’’ Françoise died, leaving “a strange, jealous and affectionate couple” and, once Céline died, Jules was predictably destined to “return to his last sister.”
David P Simmons
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