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Reviewed by:
Nicole Ward Jouve. Colette. Key Women Writers Series. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. 248 pp. $25.00 cloth; pb. $6,95.

Very readable, impressionistic interpretations relating to autobiographical aspects in Colette's writings make this study replete with highly perceptive and sensitive observations about "Colette's work [that] takes place inside the domestic circle: and the domestic circle assumes mythical dimensions, becomes as large as the world." The author is at her best when she compares Colette's early with her later works, elucidating the differences by references to Colette's intervening years of experience, for example, the difference between Claudine's first kiss and Renée's kiss with Maxime explained in terms of Colette's music-hall episode and her life with Missy. Although avowedly not a feminist reading, part of this study traces [End Page 359] the evolution in Colette's life and work from lesbianism to strong sisterly love between women as a "refuge against the hard world of men." It concludes that Colette, far removed from any feminist aspirations, wrote "two-sexed" texts, in a spectrum where "all the positions of love actually and imaginatively" are represented but where, in Colette's words, "il n'y a pas d'unisexuelles."

The author appears well acquainted not only with contemporary studies on Colette but also with her writings. It thus seems to this reader all the more regrettable that she feels obligated to include and elaborate on Freud's story of Dora. The relationship between Dora's and Colette's lives and the latter's fiction consists merely of fortuitous coincidences, and these references are finally but an exercise in comparison. The insightful observations made with respect to Colette's evolution could very well stand alone and are in no need of being contrasted to or compared with Dora's story. The author herself remarks that Colette "was no more aware of (Freud) than he was of her."

An important aspect of the study centers on the choice of Colette's name and identity, but some of the significance attributed to names and diminutives may be a trifle overdone. (As a diminutive French wife/lover will think nothing of calling her six-foot husband/lover "mon petit," it makes little sense to ascribe to Colette and her mother/clan a practice so thoroughly French: and the abundant use of dimunitives as terms of endearment ultimately signifies incest only in the eyes of the—Anglo—Saxon?—beholder . . . or one who has read too much Freud.) Some of the semiotics, also, seem overblown, as in the section entitled "Mother tongue" that essentially equates Colette's life to another fiction in an attempt to establish a fashionably matriarchal lineage. This seems especially contrived in the light of Colette's choice of her father's patronym as pen name, yet, it is eventually adroitly linked to Dante's hymn to the Queen of Heaven at the end of his Paradiso.

In a discussion of Chéri, the first work that, according to the author, cannot be easily rooted in autobiography, she elaborates on its foreshadowing of Colette's affair with her stepson Bertrand—life imitating fiction—in an interesting and sensitive if not exhaustive manner.

The quotations are in English. The bibliography lists the titles in alphabetical order as to the French, but there is no alphabetical listing of the English titles although these are the ones given in the text. The index is limited to proper names. [End Page 360]

Hela Michot-Dietrich
SUNY at Binghamton


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