Saturday, October 13, 2012

Colette's Break of Day & Bookmarks

Colette's short novel, Break of Day, is  exquisite, witty, and bold. My favorite of her books is The Vagabond, an autobiographical novel about her career as a music-hall artist in the early 20th century,  but Break of Day, a lyrical account of her retirement from sexual love in middle age, is also charming, though less dramatic.  In one way it is bolder:  who wants to admit to getting older?  Colette was in her fifties when she wrote this.  In The Vagabond the narrator is her thinly disguised alter ego,  Renee, but in Break of Day the narrator is Colette.   Published in 1928, Break of Day perfectly traces the resolve of Colette to set aside sexual love for solitude.

Where do you retreat to ruminate about your life? Colette bought a house at Saint-Tropez on the Cote d'Azur.  She describes living in a hypnotically gorgeous Paradise with her cats. She gardens and contemplates nature.

Colette also reflects on her late mother, Sidonie, and sifts through old letters.  She begins the novel with a letter from her mother refusing an invitation.    "...I'm not going to accept your kind invitation for the time being at any rate.  The reason is that my pink cactus is finally going to flower."

Colette is amused by Sidonie in her seventies, and loves her needing to see the flower. The blooming cactus is a metaphor for Sidonie's independence, strength, and beauty in old age.

Colette writes:
"Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing its strength, a desire its power or a pain the keen edge of its bit, I can still hold up my head and say to myself:  'I am the daughter of the woman who wrote that letter--that letter and so many others I have kept."

In middle age Colette is happiest alone, watching the colors of the sky and the sea and marveling at the faery-like cats who consent to spend time with her. But she is not alone: she has an active social life. Painters and their mistresses gather at her house; they  go on night picnics and dancing.  

The most faithful guest is her neighbor, 35-year-old Dial, an antique dealer and decorator. He doesn't talk much, but he has fallen in love with her.  Age matters to him, but it doesn't matter to Colette:  she just doesn't feel strongly about him, and  treats him casually. But after an encounter with a jealous young woman, she must gently rebuff his love.  Although she doesn't want Vial as a lover, we feel her chagrin when she knows she is letting love go.

This reminds me slightly of Doris Lessing's Love, Again, in which the heroine attracts three younger men in her sixties.  But she knows love cannot last in old age, and she rages.  And, indeed, we see her aged at the end of the book.

Colette laughs about the independence of her heroines.  In real life she didn't let love go so easily.

"And I said to myself that... I should be thenceforward like the woman I have described many a time....  while I was painting this lonely creature, I would go to show my lie, page by page, to a man, asking him, 'Have I lied well?'"

That's how we all felt at times.  Don't you remember reading Colette when you were an aspiring artist, or a world traveler, or a Buddhist, or something?  Love would never get in your way.  Well...

A few years later after Break of Day was published, Colette knew love again:   she married a younger man who stayed with her till the end of life.  

You can read more about Colette's mother, Sidonie,  in My Mother's House and Sido.


We have a big selection of crumpled bookmarks from Alibris, B&N, paperback booksmith, Prairie Lights, The New Yorker, Talking Leaves, Half Price Books, The Bookworm, Kramerbooks, Borders, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, and The World's Smallest Bookstore.  

But we don't have enough. 

Each book on the coffee table and nightstand has a bookmark.  (The books on the floor make do without.)  At night I dip into genre books, and read bits and pieces to see if they "make the cut":  in other words, if I will finish or blog about them.  I recently yanked a Book Depository bookmark out of a long science fiction novel I've been reading for two years, realizing I would not finish it.

I decided we need more bookmarks, and recently pushed my cart through Target in a daze looking for craftsy stuff so I could make my own.  Cardboard covered with fabric, or cut-up tarot cards. No, they had nothing.

Maybe my bookmarks will look like this:

I doubt it, though.

I'll photograph one of them and you will admit that I am not a craftswoman.


Anonymous said...

The only book of Colette's that I've read is, predictably enough, 'Gigi', which cropped up on one of my book group lists. I did enjoy it though and promised myself I would read more. However, we all know what happens to promises like that if the book isn't immediately to hand, don't we? This sounds interesting though and I really will see if I can find a copy of it.

Frisbee said...

It's very short!

But, yes, it is difficult to keep up with book lists. My TBR is endless.