I was in college when The Sexual Life of Catherine M. came out. That, for me, was the perfect time to indulge in the auto-biographical account of the French critic’s orgies and anonymous sex days. That book and I enjoy a somewhat adversarial relationship now due to its detached, blatantly unerotic nature, but even so, I love that an intelligent, established woman came out about her sexual exploits.
“I reveled in it,” Millet says when she looks back on it. “It’s what I was truly good at–what I was the best at. I loved particularly the anonymity, the abandonment of orgies. The sensation that one was glorying in this unbelievable freedom, this transcendence… My sex life was always very important for me, for the construction of my personality, the definition of myself.”
Millet is back, this time with a book to shock us because of its emotional and psychological honesty. Her new book Jealousy covers three years during her marriage to Jacques Henric, when she discovered he was having infidelities. She had her own lovers, but the discovery still destroyed her. The Guardian elaborates:
“I had no need,” she has written, “to go and build love stories out of sexual relationships.” And: “I had love at home. I sought only pleasure outside.” So this sudden and vicious attack of “the timeless and universal malady”, she explains, was “a real crisis. Physical. I felt like there was no way out; I was living a contradiction. I knew I could never make him understand the pain he was causing me; I could only agree when he said: But how can you possibly reproach me, with the life you’ve led? Morally very difficult to deal with.”
“The Sexual Life of Catherine M took a long time to write,” Millet explains. “But that was mainly just my own technical difficulty in writing. For Jealousy, I had to make a real effort, not so much to describe the crisis itself, but to relate the way I had behaved. Going through his papers, opening up his drawers, reading his letters–it doesn’t exactly cover one in glory, does it? That took me ages. Forever. These are very deep impulses, and they’re much more difficult to write about than mere sex.”
The jealousy is sprung not just at the idea of Henric with others, but also at the notion that sex was no longer what it had been for her.
“It was in the period when I was taking less and less pleasure in orgies,” Millet recounts. “And the discovery that Jacques was having relationships with other women perhaps exacerbated a feeling that I was returning to the state of self-doubt I’d known when I was younger. It’s as if I no longer possessed the sexual excellence that was mine when I was young; Jacques had it now. This was his moment, not mine. I imagined him enjoying a pleasure, a privilege, that I had once enjoyed. I suffered more from that than from any fear that he might leave me.”
Jealousy details the spectrum of her emotions and thoughts as carefully as her previous books does orgies and sexual positions.
When The Guardian‘s Jon Henley asks her whether the experience had changed her perspective in regard to having relationships, Millet doesn’t hesitate:
“I continue to believe that love and sexual desire are feelings you can experience divergently,” she says. “You can be attracted to and love many people at the same time. Of course, there are relationships that are more important, deeper, than others. But there are an infinity of ways in which a person can experience love. We’re fighting against the heritage of romanticism, mon ami. I hate giving advice, but we need to rid ourselves of the notion of l’amour unique. It’s not like that in real life. Romantic love affairs generally end in tears, you know. The point is that even having a relationship like that doesn’t stop you having others. Even from loving others.”
Jealousy is now available in the U.S.
Image from Groove Press. Information from The Guardian.