Monday, April 22, 2013

Reading Colette

The title should be "Re-Reading Colette." I bought a collection of her novellas back in the 1980's and still own the same book; the store where I purchased the thick volume is long gone. I probably wore Big Hair and Cavarichis into the store to get it. We can only hope I didn't have the fingerless lace gloves on that day.

Colette is pure mashed potatoes for me. Her subjects are uncomfortable - my favorite story, Julie de Carneilhan, describes a beautiful woman who is always on the edge of bankruptcy. And when she does get a little cash, does she stash some in the bank? Not at all. She's off to get a new "tailor-made."

But the atmosphere of Paris at the turn of the century is so soothing. There's the food, for one thing, cassoulet and licorice pastilles, with champagne and wild raspberries packed in a cabbage leaf. There are long days spent in a flat with the sounds of the city outside and cats, always cats, in the window. 

She's known for Gigi, of course, and it is a fun story to read. The descriptions of Gigi herself are so unexpected, and the girl blooms to life - lovely, impatient, a bit of a tomboy, and so incredibly young. Leslie Caron portrays her beautifully in the film of the musical, but the writer herself saw Audrey Hepburn crossing a hotel lobby and said, "There's my Gigi." She's credited with discovering Hepburn, who starred in the stage version.

Colette's life shocked the demi-monde at the time. She flaunted her affairs with both men and women, including a fellow dancer and actress (their onstage kiss caused a riot) as well as her stepson, who was perhaps the model for the Cheri novels. She was patriotic, as well, and she was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for converting her husband's estate into a hospital for the wounded during World War I.

The pictures of the young writer and actress are charming, with a clearcut profile and a head of dark hair. She told her last husband that she had a wonderful life, and I love catching the echoes of it in her books (and there are nearly a hundred of them!)

Here are some of my favorite Colette quotes:

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

“Time spent with a cat is never wasted.” 

“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” 

“When she raises her eyelids, it's as if she were taking off all her clothes.” 

“...beautiful December grapes, blue as plums, every grape a little skinful of sweet, tasteless water...” 

"It's so curious: one can resist tears and 'behave' very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... and everything collapses."


Connie J Jasperson said...

What an awesome woman! I never read any of her work, but now I believe I will look for it!

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Alison DeLuca said...

Isn't she lovely? And her writing is delicious, like fresh bread.

Unknown said...

This is why I love reading blogs. I am thrilled to read about this fabulous woman and can't wait to indulge in some of her books.
But, BTW, where did you get that picture of me meditating?
~Just Jill

Johanna Garth said...

oooh! I love Colette. have you read the Claudine series? If not you should! Right away if not sooner!!