· In Sophie Fontanel’s novel, “L’envie” ·
Denmark and Sweden, countries which in the second half of the 20th century were paradises of sexual freedom, are now closely re-considering their sense of modesty: an effect of immigrant communities which have increasingly given rise to pools for women only, and public places where it is forbidden to show ones breasts, even for breast-feeding. It is without a doubt a sign that the sexual revolution, which since the 60’s in the West has been considered a utopia that offers happiness to everyone, now finds itself in crisis. And the signs are multiplying.
“For a long while, which I don’t have the heart to situate in time or to estimate in number of years, I lived in that which can be considered the worst insubordination of our age, that is, the absence of a sexual life,” begins the novel, “L’envie” by French writer, Sophie Fontanel. (Robert Laffont, 2011). It is not a great novel and given the desperate nihilism with which it is pervaded, it’s supposed happy ending is especially unexplainable and incomprehensible – the protagonist finds her sexual life again without any apparent change. But it is an interesting document because it shows the increasing realization – at least by women – in the past few years, of the failure of the sexual revolution.
It is an autobiographical novel: the writer, a young and attractive Parisian who is used to living sexual adventures in a carefree and superficial way, realizes that this life disgusts her. She experiences a sort of rebellion of the body, a physical, not moral, disgust.
She thus decides to embark on a period of chastity which her body is demanding. Her friends and people of various kinds who surround her – there is no mention of any type of family amongst those she normally frequents – are shocked and concerned about her decision. They even fear it, in a sense, as if it might be contagious and infect their existence, which they believe to be sexually satisfying.
Without sex, the protagonist has more time to devote to art and culture, and especially to cultivating friendships. She thus discovers that she is not alone in her choice and even develops followers, such as a young and beautiful 19 year-old, already tired of her many sexual exploits.
But this crisis – at heart it is a crisis despite the attempt to minimize it – is lived with great superficiality: she herself wonders when her period of chastity will end, born out of the revolt of her body. In fact, the book ends with the renewal of her sexual life after meeting a man with whom she does not have a love relationship and seems never will.
At some points there are allusions to religion, but only to clearly distance herself from it.
But the book is interesting because it recounts, with surgical precision, daily life in a great European capital after the sexual revolution: sex seems to have become, for everyone, the only real obsession. Within and outside of marriage.
Even her married friends, including those with children, seem to consider their sexual lives as the only thing that counts. Without sex, the relationship no longer exists, and has no other reason to exist. All are desperately searching for a ration of pleasure, considered an indispensable condition for living.
It is women who suffer this situation, and the author is well aware of it: women are the most adverse to adapting to this model of life, even if they think that it is indispensable for living a normal social life.
The promise of happiness for everyone, implicit in the utopia which stirred the sexual revolution, could not find a more clamorous illustration of its failure. The problem, however, is that in this book of denouncement, an awareness that alternatives exist to the politically correct ways of our times, is missing.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 22, 2018
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