On our pilgrimage to the sites of Stein’s “mystery” novel, the impression of sadness, the all-pervasive dread of French country life deepened at the Hotel Pernollet. (Here, as the center of the world, on a postcard from the 80s.) Situated in the little town Belley, some 4 miles from Bilignin, the five-generation hotel had its heighday around 1930. Gertrude and Alice discovered it in the Guide des Gourmets and took to it. It did not matter that the owner, Mr. Pernollet, at first took Gertrude for a gypsy (with her flowing skirts and naked feet in sandals) and saw Alice as her maid. The gypsy and her maid had a good laugh about it. The Hotel Pernollet became their pied-à-terre in the country until they found their country house. Afterwards, their friends took over when there happened to be no room at the house.
Nothing in the old hotel seemed to have changed in 50 years. There it was, the infamous cement courtyard with the window out of which in 1933, Mme Pernollet fell or, perhaps, was made to fall. “In a hotel one cooks and the other looks at everything. That makes a man and wife,” Stein writes. “She was very gracious and smiled sweetly and every day everything was taken out and every day everything was put away and sometimes several times during every day and sometimes very often during every day everything was taken out and everything was put away.”
Maybe here we behold a feminist description of a house-wife’s life that is enough to jump out of a window.
But Ms.Detective Stein had second thoughts. Maybe someone wanted to get rid of her: how about Mr. Pernollet? The husband, it turned out, had what Stein calls “a night beside” — a mysterious and apparently unspeakable affair. “…one day she tried to find the night beside and when she tried to find the night beside, she cried. But she did not care to die. Of course not, and somebody knew but everybody did not know then.”