Sunday, October 31, 2021

My last two Colette books - hotels and apartments - What remains to be said about a passionate love affair?

Just two Colette books left.  Lots written, a book a year as usual, in the 1930s and 1940s, but I have only read a couple of them.

Bella-Vista (1937).  Just as I say that Colette writes thematically, conscious of the book, even when it is a collection of short pieces, here we have a book that looks like a miscellany.  One story looks back to the music hall days, another is a little melodrama about young couples on vacation, and a third is about the sexual misadventures of Colette’s half-brother, a piece that would fit in La Maison de Caludine – Sido is keeping track of her unacknowledged grandchildren.  And the fourth piece is one of Colette’s many Saint-Tropez stories, although I have not read any of the earlier ones.

Perhaps that is the theme, a collection of previous themes, perhaps with a little more sex in them.

The title story has a famous opening:

It is absurd to suppose that periods empty of love are blank pages in a woman’s life.  The truth is just the reverse.  What remains to be said about a passionate love affair? It can be told in three lines.  He loved me, I loved Him.  His presence obliterated all other presences.  We were happy.  Then He stopped loving me and I suffered. (tr. Antonia White)

I don’t know what story this suggests to you, but the He in this case turns out to be the title pension, not quite seaside, where Colette and her personable dog stay during the off-season because she is renovating her new house.  Or not, since a running joke is that whenever she drops by the workman are playing boules, grilling sausages, and drinking rosé – “’they offered me a glass.’”  Colette falls in love with Bella-Vista, where she eats well even if she gets no writing done, then things take a turn and she falls out of love.

I do not want to say much about it, but “Bella-Vista” includes a transsexual theme that might make the story of interest to people interested in such things.  Which I doubt.  Who, among the devotees of the new, wants to read this old stuff?

If I ever go to Saint-Tropez, I will eat at Colette's namesake restaurant, next to her house.

Three… Six… Nine… (1944).  Nine different apartments in Paris over the course of a life, culminating in the final, permanent one, where a decade later Colette would die.  Charming, light, and suspiciously missing something.  The war, the Nazi occupation, that is what is missing, although the book is presumably some kind of celebration of the liberation of Paris – it was published in December, 1944.  The last page, a description of the nearby Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, by a writer not normally particularly religious, is surely an oblique gesture in this direction.

The book is probably best read by someone who knows Paris at least a bit.  It sure made me want to go back, but what does not do that?

The first edition featured a number of illustrations by André Dignimont.  I used one of them, Colette at her writing desk in the last apartment, for the first post in this series; the one above is also from this book.

I am sure I will read more Colette soon enough.  For example, the famous Gigi, which appears the next year (1944).  Colette’s most famous works appeared in 1900, 1920, and 1944 – how many writers have a record like that?  Please let me know which Colette books you have especially enjoyed.

No comments:

Post a Comment