January 28, 2010

Colette's Birthday - January 28, 1873



Back when I was working as a page in the library my father used to run, I noticed while reshelving, that the works of two authors never seemed to be borrowed. Cloete and Colette. Nearly side by side, the old rebound editions sat untouched. I figured they were fusty and twee and I never cracked them open.


Years later I dragged my sorry single self to a branch of the library in Toronto’s North Beaches. On the “New and Interesting” shelf was an annotated biography of Colette. I was curious enough to pick it up. Along with that I also picked up some of Colette’s Claudine novels. I remember that they were small and a brilliant blue, but like the books that were never borrowed in the Parry Sound library, virtually untouched.


These old novels had me hooked. It was an epiphany for me. I read everything by and about Colette I could lay my hands on.


Her descriptions of her life and surroundings were astonishing without being cloying. She was sort of the anti-Hemingway. She was a true romantic, but not in the way of today’s contemporary writers. She could wax poetic about a fiddlehead emerging from the earth, or the scent of pine, or the languidness of her cat or her love for her mother.


In “Duo” here is the description made by a cuckolded husband of his wife’s housedress. “This tall blue woman, her blue so soft and washed out, as blue as the moist patch of sky between two clouds, where the first star rises after a shower.” I’ve worn a blue kimono ever since.


Colette made me realize that in the Victorian and Edwardian age (if one can apply those terms to the French…) sex was available and enjoyed by the married and non-married alike. She made me realize that there were strong, independent women. Smart, witty women; vagabonds living at the same time as my Great Grandmother who never let her husband see her naked.


All of Colette’s characters had an insouciance, a nonchalance. A wordliness that I’ve never been able to achieve.While Gigi and Chérie were interesting, I never really loved them. Their demi-mondaine subjects threw me. But they did come in handy while reading Sarah Bernhardt’s biographies – her mother was a courtesan.


Some of my favourite Colettes are the Claudines, Retreat from Love, La Vagabonde and her other book Musical Hall Side-Lights, detailing the time she ran away from home and joined the theatre. Her memoirs are immensely enjoyable. Duo and Le Toutounier I loved – can you imagine a couch so big that you and your 2 sisters can sleep on it? I began reading her Ripening Seed the day after G and I moved in together. I remember sitting on the pebbly cement balustrade of our new rental reading it while waiting for him to come home.


So happy Birthday Colette. You made my world a nicer place.



15 comments:

Moira said...

Awww! What a lovely discovery for you.

studioJudith said...

A beautiful tribute to one who so influenced my early concepts on who a woman could be. ... .
Jjj

studioJudith said...

... . and
that's the BEST Birthday Cake
photo ever!!!

Giulia said...

Here, here. My youngest sister is still peeved (upon occasions like today) that my mother was talked out of naming her Colette. (By my father, wouldn't you know?) "Talked out" is the nicer way of putting it. Since I was 11 going on 30 I heard it all...oof. (Love that photograph!)

Leslie Patterson said...

Thank you for the lovely evocation of Colette. I was lucky enough to discover her Claudine novels when I was a teenager and decided there and then that I wished to be alive to every sensation like the delightful Claudine. Often I don't achieve this heightened state of existence, but Colette's works always give me something to strive for.

Ima Wizer said...

Wonderful information, Hazel. I already love her and that photograph! Description of blue is just terrific. Thanks for letting me know about her.

Bee said...

So many birthdays this week! (My husband's was yesterday, but he didn't get such a wonderfully flaming cake.)

I read Colette (Cheri) for the first time this fall, and although I didn't like the characters much I did appreciate her gift for detail. I will have to check out your suggestions.

Kate Hanley said...

Funny as a French major, I've read a lot of French authors but never Collette, but I will now!

Bernadette Joolen, Beautiful Dreamer... said...

Okay, clever pup... I'm completely sold. On Colette, on the Claudines, on the vague hazy vaguely familiar notion of reading...(Which I remember from so long ago.) I have had The Little Prince on a jumbled table near my bed for awhile. Maybe I will add a copy of some Colette.=)~~cheers from seattle, bernadette...

Einbildungskraft said...

greetings to you H! Lovely post, and also lovely photo, looks to me like the cemetary in Paris, wow, what a relevant photo, you must have been thrilled. I hope you topped off such a nice excursion with a cafe au lait!

lettuce said...

woooah to the birthday cake!

this has spurred me on to read more Colette. I guess if I buy some and put it on my physical pile rather than my mental list....

Poetikat said...

I have something in common with her then; I wrote a poem called "Lament of the Fiddleheads" a couple of years ago. It's on my blog if you're keen to read it.
http://hyggedigter.blogspot.com/2007/07/tuesdays-poem.html

I'm always amazed at the books that get left behind on the shelf--and the ones that get scooped up with regularity.

Monica said...

Oh fab. Thanks so much, I'm going to look her up now. I loved that quote (description) you included - simple yet poetic, my favourite type really.

Giulia said...

Love the new background!

Poetikat said...

I love the photo by the way. I'm trying to figure out who you do look like. I know it's someone!

Nice to see the robin's egg blue - hope for spring.

Kat