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The Complete Claudine: Claudine at School; Claudine in Paris; Claudine Married; Claudine and Annie Paperback – September 5, 2001
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“The paradoxes of great literature are those of human nature, and Colette is nothing if not human . . . Accessible and elusive; greedy and austere; courageous and timid; subversive and complacent; scorchingly honest and sublimely mendacious; an inspired consoler and an existential pessimist--these are the qualities of the artist and the woman. Its is time to rediscover them.” ―From the Introduction
“Delighted and quivering with life . . . Imbued with the most characteristic elements of the personality we have come to call simply Colette.” ―Robert Phelps, The New York Times
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
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I read the novelette *Cheri* and enjoyed it, but found that the Claudine stories are more appealing to me. It is often said that Colette's Claudine series is autobiographical. If so, that could explain the truth and believability of the emotions in her writing, which transcend time (they were written around the turn of the 20th century) and translation from French.
Claudine, as portrayed in *Claudine at School* and throughout the series, is a girl/young woman whose intelligence and sensitivity are matched by a strength of personality which was not (and still may not be!) considered feminine. She observes and comments on many aspects of the world around her - the French countryside with its plants, birds, animals, towns; her school with girls of differing looks and temperaments; and her teachers and the headmistress, plus more. Details are abundant, and I was able to picture the clothing and hair, as well as the complexions and eyes (Colette carefully describes the eyes)of all the characters, all interacting in French surroundings which, though they are over 100 years old and far away, I could visualize.
These books make a tome of thousands of pages, so I will try to generalize. As the stories go on, Claudine discovers herself (and others) to be bisexual, but somehow, because of her generally wholesome -- even delicate and earnest -- outlook, this proclivity doesn't make her quite as tawdry or perverse as one might expect, though her books have been thought quite shocking by some.
Claudine's personality is shown as varying between strength/dominant tendencies and clinging/submissive tendencies, which may very well explain her bisexuality. Biographies of Colette show that she indeed favored both men and women, so she was well-qualified to explain the various feelings and moods which swept through young Claudine.
The charm of her writing, at least to this reader, resides in the immense attention that Colette expended on the attraction, seduction, and emotional foreplay aspects of relationships relative to physical acts, which are not really described at all, except for kisses, hand-touching, etc. The stories are not really about sexual acts, they are about emotions and relationships. Anyone who has ever been attracted to anyone else should be able to relate to the feelings which Colette described with such clarity and richness, especially feelings as experienced by the young. (At my stage of life, I found this quite nostalgic.) I would go so far as to say that Colette had an amazing ability to capture the emotions of attraction (notice I am not saying *love*; sometimes love didn't enter into it much in these stories).
I did find some of the relationships and personalities troubling and/or annoying, especially in the later stories (Claudine Married, Claudine and Annie). However, they were believable and from that standpoint, sound. Even characters I heartily disliked had hats, dresses or suits, mannerisms, expressions, and complete personalities in which I could believe.
This quote comes from one of those unclassifiable writers who flout all convention and blaze their own trail through life. I am referring to Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), better known simply as Colette. After completing the last of four of the Claudine novels, I'm trying to put words to an experience I have some difficulty describing.
Colette is one of those writers who is so feminine and even feline that, as both a man and a person allergic to cats, I almost have to disqualify myself from the effort. But, being game, I'll give it a try.
The first four novels Colette wrote were a fictionalization of her life in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye in the Burgundy region of France and in Paris. In COLETTE IN SCHOOL (1900), we see our heroine Claudine as a 15 year old in a provincial girls' school which is a hotbed of mischief and lesbianism. The headmistress is openly carrying on a relationship with one of her teachers at the school where they share a bedroom. Claudine is a rebellious teen who is a natural born leader and troublemaker. When her father decides to move to Paris, Claudine must go with him. In CLAUDINE IN PARIS (1901), we see Claudine getting used to the metropolis and finding love in her friend Marcel's father, Renaud. CLAUDINE MARRIED (1902) sees Claudine marrying Renaud. She falls under the sway of an Austrian woman named Rézi with whom she carries on a lesbian relationship with Renaud's amused approval. When she discovers that Rézi is serving both of them, Claudine leaves for her home town, called Montigny in the book. Finally, CLAUDINE AND ANNIE (1903) sees Claudine reunited with Renaud through the eyes of another young married woman, Annie, who is married to an absent, yet controlling, husband.
These four novels are published together in one Penguin paperback called THE COMPLETE CLAUDINE, which is something of a misnomer, as there are other Claudine books, though none quite so famous as these four.
Colette was a controversial and somewhat contradictory figure during her long life. She conducted both lesbian and heterosexual affairs and was married three times. Although she collaborated with the Vichy government during the war, she also helped Jews escape capture. She wrote over forty books and lived a very public life. In the end, she was honored by the Belgian Royal Academy, the Académie Goncourt, and the Legion of Honor.
She is probably best known to most Americans as the creator of GIGI, which went on to become an acclaimed American musical directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Leslie Caron.
Most recent customer reviews
she was the most beloved author in France for half a century. her bio is awesome.Read more
* Claudine at School
* Claudine in Paris
* Claudine Married...Read more