Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday Salon - June 1; Cheri by Colette

The Sunday
I recently started reading the combined story Chéri and The Last of Chéri by Colette. It did not take very long to finish the first novella, Chéri. Colette writes in exemplary prose, and I regret that it has taken me this long to read one of her books.

In Chéri, we meet Léa, a middle-aged courtesan whose lover for the last six years is Chéri, the twenty-five year old son of one of her contemporaries. Chéri is childish, spoiled, and petulant. They live in pre-World War I Paris, a time and place when the arts flourished alongside pleasures of the flesh. Both characters have an eye for the finer things in life: June strawberries with rich cream, dry champagne, a gold rose-embroidered cloak, antique furniture upholstered in modern silks. The vivid observations of both characters highlight Colette's own keen eye. The divine Colette was a sensualist, and her attention and devotion to the details of love and life make her scenes tantalizing but not tawdry. 

Léa and Chéri separate after Chéri is arranged to marry Edmée, a young, innocent girl with a large inheritance. Both have constructed such a large defense around their heart, that neither at first recognizes the love that they feel for each other. 

The book has a fabulous setting in the demi-monde of Parisian society, which has brought it a fair amount of controversy, and I'm really looking forward to delving in to The Last of Chéri to see where the two lovers go from here.

A few of my favorite passages:
The hand of the sleeper relaxed and the tapering fingers, tipped with cruel nails, drooped like wilting flowers: a hand not strictly feminine, yet a trifle prettier than one could have wished; a hand she had kissed a hundred times--not in slavish devotion--but kissed for the pleasure of it, for its scent. (p.28)
She sank into a chair and fanned herself. A sphinx-moth and a number of long-legged mosquitoes hovered round the lamps; scents of the countryside drifted in from the garden, now that night had fallen. A sudden waft from an acacia burst in upon them, so distinct, so active, that they both turned round, half expecting to see it advancing toward them. (p.36)
At a loss for an answer, he stood uncertain for a moment, shifting from one slender foot to the other, poised with winged grace like a young Mercury. (p.41)
 A liaison of six years is like following your husband out to the colonies: when you get back again nobody recognizes you and you've forgotten how to dress. (p.112)
You might not be able to tell from my recent reading selections, but I love novels set or written during the late 18th and early twentieth century, particularly the time period of 1890-1920. I always seem to prefer those set in Europe, but have a few American favorites as well. A few I've read include The Awakening by Kate Chopin, O Pioneers by Willa Cather, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (those with links go to my review). 

As always, there are more books set or written in this time period on my TBR list than I have actually read: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield, Three Lives by Gertrude Stein, A Room With a View by E.M. Forster, In Search of Lost Time by Proust, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, and the Growth trilogy by Booth Tarkington. Of course, further reading recommendations are always welcome!


Seachanges said...

I love the passages you quote, they are fabulous writing with every single word thought about and just fitting perfectly. I wish.... And you remind me that I must put Colette somewhere on my to read list and make some space on my bookshelf.

Fay Sheco said..., the group that posts audio files of public domain books read by volunteers, has The Garden Party available for downloading. I listened to it on my MP3 player while out walking and really enjoyed it, even though it's not read by a professional.

Also I just finished reading a book you might like, based on the books you name here: The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West. If you have time to stop by, I wrote about it yesterday on my blog.

The Colette passages you quote sound luscious.

Dewey said...

That's a time period I really enjoy, too. And I've always been interested in Colette, but while I've read about her, I haven't yet read more than short piece here or there by her.

tanabata said...

I read my first Colette last year, Gigi and The Cat, and do want to read more. I have a set of In Search of Lost Time too but there they sit. Someday..

gautami tripathy said...

I have not read Colette. Next I go I book shopping, I buy her books!

Thanks for your wishes. I did have a good trip.


smallworld reads said...

Fabulous review. I've not read Colette, but I may now!