When we think of women in literature it is usually in connection with adultery. Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina both leave dull older husbands to find love in younger men’s arms with accompanying social ostracism and eventually tragic deaths. Hester Prynne and Lady Chatterley are some other “adulteresses” in fiction.
It is much more difficult to find a novel that centers on male adultery. I can only think of Yuri Zhivago’s love for Lara. Besides, in men it is called infidelity, does not have tragic consequences and often does not necessitate leaving home.
But there are other kinds of women in literature, strong and loyal women. This story takes place in the early 1930s. Fanny is a young shellfish seller in the sunny Old Port of Marseille. In the background you can see the solid shape of Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica and the silhouette of the Chateau d’If, one time residence of the Count of Monte Cristo. Fanny is very much in love with Marius, son of cafe owner Cesar. They meet in secret in her room. But Marius only dreams of sea adventures. And so one fine morning he runs off to sea in a merchant ship leaving a pregnant Fanny behind. Enter Honore Panisse, a friend of Cesar. Panisse has always loved Fanny. He is quite a bit older. He offers to marry Fanny and raise her child as his own. His boating business is doing well and he dreams of adding “et fils” (and son) to the Panisse sign in his window. After a time, reenter Marius back from his nautical adventures. He has realized his mistake in leaving and wants Fanny to come back to him. Fanny now older and wiser says: No Marius, Panisse has been good to me and offered help when I needed it. I still love you. I always will but I shall never leave Panisse.
Fanny lives in a trilogy and a film in three parts by Marcel Pagnol. (Marius, Fanny, Cesar). As for Panisse he would be surprised to know that a restaurant in Berkeley is named after him.
This story takes place in the 1820s. Tatiana lives on a small estate in the Russian countryside. She is a shy, awkward young girl who spends her time reading sentimental novels and dreaming of love. Lensky lives on a neighboring estate and is engaged to Tatiana’s sister, a frivolous and shallow girl named Olga. One fine day Lensky comes a-courting, He is accompanied by his good friend Eugene Onegin.
It is summer. In the background the serfs are working in the fields and singing. Tatiana imagines herself falling in love with Onegin and writes him a passionate letter which she asks her nanny to deliver. Onegin is a vain and bored young dandy who is in love with himself. He casually dismisses her feelings and departs but not before he has managed to kill his best friend in a duel over a flirtation with Olga.
It is years later. Prince Gremin’s sumptuous palace is the scene of a ball. Prince Gremin is influential at court and an imposing figure. Reenter Onegin back from his aimless wanderings and still bored and listless. He notices Gremin’s elegant and beautiful young wife, recognizes a much changed Tatiana and realizes what a fool he had been in rejecting her love. He pleads with her, entreats her to leave the Prince and run away with him.
Tatiana is now much more worldly and wiser. She replies: No, Onegin. I once loved you. I still do. But the Prince is a good man. He has offered me his love and given me a place in society. I shall be faithful to him. I shall never leave him.
Tatiana lives in a novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin and in an opera by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Renee Fleming is a great Tatiana and sings it beautifully in Russian. She gives an outstanding performance in the final long scene of renunciation.