Claudine in Paris •
Colette’s writing bursts with life, blossoming like a garden on the page. She savors every aspect of the physical world, whether she’s inhaling a friend’s perfume, bathing in a wooden wine vat, or noting the quivering of a mustache.
Nowhere is her delight in the sensual more evident than in the Claudine books. These four autobiographical novels tell the story of Colette’s unconventional childhood, courtship, and marriage in easy, zestful language.
Claudine embodies the idealized picture every young girl has of herself: deeply romantic yet stubbornly independent. Raised by an absent-minded father, Claudine defies teachers, rejects suitors, prefers chocolates to jewels and forests to drawing rooms. In Paris, where she has been transplanted from her native Montigny, she befriends a foppish nephew of her own age. “We are a complicated family,” remarks her uncle Renaud. That’s putting it mildly, since he himself winds up married to Claudine—who would have much preferred to be his mistress.
The Claudine series came into being when Colette’s first husband (the original Renaud) shut her in a room and ordered her to write—then published her books under his own name. When she was finally acknowledged as their author, Colette took her place as one of the brightest stars in France’s literary sky.
Somerset Maugham says in The Summing Up, “I think no one in France now writes more admirably than Colette, and such is the ease of her expression that you cannot bring yourself to believe that she takes any trouble over it.” Colette dispelled that illusion by telling Maugham she often spent an entire morning struggling with a single page.
But what pages they are.