Jezebel opens with an account of the trial of Gladys Eysenach, for the murder of Bernard Martin. Gladys does little to defend herself nor does she divulge her motive for the murder.
The remainder of the novel then tells the life of Gladys Burnera leading up to the murder. What follows is a description of a woman whose entire life revolves around her obsession with youth. Gladys is a modern-day Jezebel whose idol is that of youth. To Gladys, youth is the only thing that matters.
"You'll never get old,' said Carmen Gonzales....'because you started looking after yourself when you were still beautiful.'
But that wasn't enough for Gladys: she wanted no part of a kind of beauty that was pathetically vulnerable, threatened by age; she needed the brilliant, arrogant triumph of true youth....
These days she could barely tolerate the presence of Lily Ferrer; she looked at the wrinkles on her friend's face with horror."
Youth and beauty hold power over others, especially men whom she uses one after another to affirm her power. Youth and beauty are to be prized and protected at all cost.
Nemirovsky's Gladys is both a horrifying and yet fascinating character. She lies about everything in her life to protect her age. She pretends her daughter Marie-Therese is younger than she is so that people won't know her age. When Marie-Therese falls in love and wants to marry at age 19, Gladys denies her permission leading to tragic and far-reaching results in many lives. Gladys relationship with her daughter Marie-Therese is a mirror of Nemirovsky's own relationship with her youth-obsessed mother, Fanny. Like Gladys, Fanny also dressed her daughter in children's clothes so that her true age might be hidden.
Sandra Smith who wrote the Introduction for Jezebel states
" Jezebel is a fascinating psychological study that has resonance in our modern culture's celebration of youth and beauty. Dissecting the mind of a woman obsessed with beauty and haunted by the fear of growing old, Nemirovsky delivers a fascinating, tragic study of how such a woman sees herself and is seen by others."
Yet another gem from Nemirovsky.
Jezebel by Irene Nemirovsky
Vintage Books 2010