Mapping the Lovers’ Derive

“I’m your audience, and you’re mine” (Bernstein 96).

In All the King’s Horses, Michele Bernstein portrays an open marriage between Genevieve and Gilles. They meet a young woman, Carole, whom they are both attracted to, and Gilles enters into a relationship with her.

The balance of power shifts when Gilles falls in love with Carole. Genevieve acknowledges this change, and the potential dangers: “For the first time, perhaps, he wasn’t sharing things with me” (43). Genevieve is blocked out of Gilles’ relationship on two levels. This sharing is both of information, and the physical act of sharing Carole.

At the end of the same paragraph, Genevieve makes her first strategic move: “outside of these moments, I only mentioned [Carole] with indifference, not wanting to grant her too much of an existence” (43). In the beginning of their interactions with Carole, Genevieve spends her evenings alone or in solitary derives across the city. Once the stakes become clear with Gilles, she goes to a crowded party, and takes a partner.

Bertrand helps to tip the scales towards more of a balance, and Genevieve is careful to modulate how quickly the balance shifts. It is important that the shift be gradual, and that her attitude towards her partners is one of indifference. If Genevieve were to first take a person like Helene as her partner, then it would appear as an emotional reaction – a jealous wife trying to hurt her husband. Gilles would see through this, and feel more justified in his attentions to Carol.

“That’s what happens, I said, “when the student surpasses the master, who gets old.” (97).

By engaging first with Bertrand – successfully entrancing him so that he cannot stay away and travels to be with her – Genevieve creates a timeline against which Gilles is forced to measure his relationship with Carole. Genevieve moves on, sleeping with Helene before she has broken up with Bertrand, while Gilles becomes static, mired in a relationship with Carole. In the physical derive of lovers’ bodies, Gilles is the one who stays home.

Genevieve flips the expected gender roles – it is Gilles who falls in love, and Genevieve who takes lovers who mean little to her. Genevieve enacts the ideals of SI, and in doing so Gilles is forced to recognize how his preoccupation with Carole has caused him to lose power not only in his relationship with Genevieve, but also within the play space of the SI.

Gilles breaks up with Carole in order to regain power. Helene briefly joins Genevieve and Gilles, and acts as a bridge to a new order. It doesn’t last long, and Helene is sacrificed in the final move of the game.

At the end of the novel, equilibrium appears to be restored. Gilles and Genevieve have dinner together, and then leave to meet another woman. It is implied that this time, the third partner is shared equally between the married couple. But Genevieve has an advantage over Gilles, having proven that she is capable of surviving the worst-case scenario for their relationship. And in a final show of power, Genevieve glosses over key developments at the end of the story, not sharing information with the reader just as Gilles stopped sharing information/ Carole with her.

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