Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Colette - Claudine in Paris

Claudine lives in Montigny and is planning to appear for her higher certificate in school when her father decides to move to Paris.  You see, he is in the middle of writing a book and needs to communicate frequently with his Publishers.  He cannot abide the slow postal system and declares that moving to Paris was the only solution.  Claudine is initially excited by the idea of moving

She declares slyly to her friends that they will not be able to bore her for long as she is moving away.  Her best friend, Luce is distraught.  Just before the actual moving takes place, Claudette has misgivings about leaving her beloved Montigny with its beautiful woods and flowers. There is nothing to be done now, the things are packed, their home let to a tenant, quarters taken up at Paris.  So Claudette packs her cat, Fanchette and sets off to Paris.

She hates the dark, shabby flat in Rue Jacob on sight. She takes ill on arrival and has to spend a long time in bed.  She is bedridden for months and her lovely long hair is cut off as it had matted and could not be combed.  She recovers her health gradually and takes stock of her surrounding.  

Her father takes her to visit his sister, Madame Coeur.  It is there that she meet Marcel, her Aunt's grandson.  Marcel is just a little bit older than Claudette and delighted to find a playmate.  Claudette is also delighted to have a companion at last.  

She also meets Renaud, Marcel's father.  He is a merry widower and does not really get along with his son.  However, he tries to be friends with him and takes him and Claudette to dinners and concerts and plays.

Claudette is settling down in Paris now, having discovered friends and dressmakers.

On the face of it, the book is a simple tale of a young girl, rather in the style of a diary.  Yet, Colette paints a charming and an intimate picture of all things around her.  She describes the doings of her father, her cat, her housekeeper Melie, her Aunt Coeur, Renaud, and Marcel.  We are drawn into her little world, and it is engaging. 

Here is what she says when she meets Marcel for the first time, "I gave him my hand without saying a word, I was staring at him so much. I'd never seen anything so charming! But he was a girl! A slip of a girl in breeches! Fair hair, rather long, parted on the right, a complexion like Luce's, blue eyes like a little English girl's and no more moustache than I had." 

It is Colette's uninhibited and a lyrical style of writing that is the best part of this book.  The book contains references to homosexual preferences of Marcel, who is involved with a schoolfellow of his, called Charlie.  Luce also makes many sexual advances towards Claudette, which are firmly repulsed.  The novel was published in 1901 and at that time these may be shocking revelations.  In the preface, Colette talks about her husband asking her to put more 'naughty' stuff into her writing.

We have come a long way, and whatever Colette writes is pretty tame by current standards.  What is still extraordinary is her beautiful descriptions of everyday things.

Published: Vintage
Bought @kindle_store amazon.in


Anonymous said...

Ava, I am so impressed by your speed! You read so much.

This book sounds intriguing. And Amelie-ish, somehow, though of course a younger version?

Ava Suri said...

I was already reading Colette and was sidelined by Du Maurier for a day.

Yes, you can call it Amelie-ish. That is a good comparison.

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