‘Mimi didn’t care about secrecy. She led a proclaimed life, and once she got talking she held back nothing.’
So, as we’re all aware, I have fallen head over heels with the women in Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. They are written with such sympathy, such character, and such warmth that it was inevitable. I have already detailed my love for Eleanor Klein, the flamboyant homebody with witchy tendencies and a warm heart, and my next love is Mimi Villars. Mimi is a waitress who shares a boarding house with Augie when he’s in his book thief phase, constantly having arguments with men on the lobby telephone and swanning in and out of his room in her nightgown to chat. Her boyfriend is an emotionally unavailable academic, who she constantly fights with on the telephone. Augie becomes her confidante, and despite his brother’s suspicions, the relationship remains entirely platonic. Mimi as a character is inherently likeable. Temperamental, and full of fixed ideas about what the love in her life should be like, she doesn’t let herself be pushed around or taken advantage of by men, and is tough and steely even with the shady abortion doctor she eventually has to face.
Augie is aware of Mimi’s vulnerable centre, but never takes advantage of his knowledge. Mimi breezes in and out of his bedroom in her nightgown, talking about how the worst thing in life is to be a wife, a fixed point for a man to direct himself from, who expects him home all the time rather than out doing whatever. The last thing she wants is to entirely sedate and fix the men she loves, even as she wants to be loved by them in a way they don’t provide. it’s almost heartbreaking; she falls in love with men who are unavailable and wild because she likes them that way, and it’s this that eventually hurts her each time. But she has her own satisfactions in the process: ‘To rip off a piece of lover’s temper was pleasure in her deepest vein of enjoyment’. I saw her as a sassy little character not unlike Patricia Arquette’s character in True Romance. Kittenish, but willing to bite and scratch whenever somebody steps over the boundaries she has erected.
She has plenty of impulsive moments of badassness. In the early twentieth century women were still supposed to be ladylike and placid, and part of Mimi’s backstory is that upon being held at gunpoint for her purse one night, she grabbed the gun and shot the guy in the leg, then in court pleaded insanity. The kicker is that she then felt so guilty she wrote to the guy the whole time he was in jail. She also steals most of her clothes from expensive department stores, like a toxic Holly Golightly, simply stating that she likes to dress well. And in a later incident in the novel, beautifully comic in its display of Mimi’s fiery temper, a woman’s dog pisses on her ankle, so she swipes her hat to clean her leg, throws it back at her, and then coolly sits bare legged at a drugstore talking to Augie about the abortion she is going to have. Fierce.
‘But Mimi -her tenderness didn’t have an easy visibility. You wondered what it would be, and after what terrific manifestations it would appear.’
There is something beautiful and forward-thinking in Bellow’s writing of Augie and Mimi’s friendship. Despite her being a highly sexualized character, it is non-sexual to the last. Augie supports her through her abortion, sees her vulnerability but doesn’t take advantage of it or hold it against her. her fierce determination is allowed to remain intact even when she eventually gets involved with Arthur Einhorn, a pompous academic and pseudo-poet (she seems drawn to men with lofty ideas about themselves, and I could certainly relate to that). She continues to have a fierce and steely determination to do things her way to the very end of the novel.