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
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.