Colette – Claudine at School

Posted on | July 7, 2011 | 14 Comments

Claudine At SchoolWritten at the turn of the century (i.e. first published in 1900), this delightful and entertaining novel is an intimate diary of fifteen year old Claudine who attends school in Montigny in France. It’s scandalous, it’s humorous, and it’s feel-good.

Largely autobiographical (and the first book of a four-part series), this book covers the last year of Claudine’s (Colette’s) school life, in an all-girls school. Claudine is precocious – flirtatious even – but charming; so full of life, but a bully; accustomed to getting her own way, but still being at odds with the dreaded Headmistress.

It was so long since I had hit one of my companions that people were beginning to believe that I had become rational. (In the old days, I had the annoying habit of settling my quarrels on my own, with kicks and blows, without thinking it necessary to tell tales like the others).

The frank unabashed narrative was quite endearing. Despite some exceedingly scandalising bits, the innocence was a breath of fresh air (specially if you compare it to the school series of today…). You had Claudine involved in a homosexual love triangle, where the other two involved were the Headmistress and her assistant, and I did wonder… when this book was first published, just how controversial was it?

The mannerisms, the way the girls spoke, the freedom, the mannerisms and the ambience – it was all very French (referring to the teachers as Mademoiselle obviously added to it) – and the protagonist did remind me of the title character in Claudine at St. Clares at some points. The way she was used to getting her own way, how people couldn’t help being amused by her pranks, her  impulsiveness, how she easily befriended and influenced people, and how she was naturally gifted, with an incredible lust for life.

I am immediately curious to read the rest of the books in this series (published between 1900-1904), and I suspect they will find their way to my shelf before the month is out. The edition of the book I have is age-old though, first published in 1979, and the price at the back of the book is all of £1.25.

Paris In JulyI’ve been saving this book for Paris in July hosted by Karen at BookBath and Tamara at ThymeForTea. Do pop over and have a look. So many French authors, so little time… I have another Colette and Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Francaise on my shelf, both of which I’ll hopefully read before the month is out.

Which other French authors would you recommend? Or, thoroughly captivating school stories? There’s something about a good school story, which takes you back in time, and makes you recall, with much nostalgia, the stationery shopping, the smell of new exercise books, the exam stress, the good times.

Comments

14 Responses to “Colette – Claudine at School”

  1. Stephanie
    July 7th, 2011 @ 1:48 am

    I really want to read Collette’s books!

  2. Alex (The Sleepless Reader)
    July 7th, 2011 @ 11:01 am

    I’ve read Gigi last early and it immediately entered my favorite books list. I’m determined to read all by Colette. I think she and I would get along really well.

  3. Her Royal Orangeness
    July 7th, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

    What a well-written review! I’ve heard so many good things about Colette from so many people…I can’t wait to read her. I have “The Vagabond” on my list for Pairs in July.

  4. Ellie
    July 7th, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    I’ve never heard of these before but I’ll definitely look out for them even if I don’t get to them in July. I have a feeling I’ll be reading more French literature in future.

  5. JoAnn
    July 7th, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    I loved Cheri and The Last of Cheri… must read more Colette!

  6. Anbolyn
    July 8th, 2011 @ 1:32 am

    I’ve never read Colette before, though she’s been on my radar for a while. The Claudine series sounds really intriguing – and I love that cover!
    One of my favorite school stories is Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.

  7. Joan HunterDunn
    July 10th, 2011 @ 9:40 am

    I’ve just finished reading Ripening Seed by Colette. A summer coming of age book. I did enjoy it and reading your review has made me want to read this series.

  8. Kelly
    July 10th, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

    I’ve never read this one, but I really love Colette’s Cheri :) As for other French authors..if you are interested in the “coming of age” theme, I’d highly recommend Andre Gide’s Les Faux-Monnayeurs (The Counterfeiters I think is the usual English translation). It’s one of my favorite books ever.

  9. carolinareads
    July 10th, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

    I’ve never heard of this series before but it seems great.
    I would love to see the reactions this book cause in the French society of the beginning of the 20th century.

  10. Bellezza
    July 10th, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

    Several people have mentioned Colette to me for the Paris In July II Challenge, but I’ve not read anything by her yet. This was an interesting review, though, and now I want to find something by her. Thanks!

  11. anothercookiecrumbles
    July 11th, 2011 @ 12:01 am

    @Stephanie : You really should. :)

    @Alex : Haha, I think I might end up reading everything by her as well. If nothing else, I definitely want to read all of Claudine!!

    @Her Royal Orangeness : I hope you enjoy it – I haven’t read it, so look forward to your review. Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time as well.

    @Ellie : Enjoy! I really hope you read these.

    @JoAnn : Not read Cheri. Must read Cheri. :D

    @Anbolyn : I’ve not read Prep but I’ll add it to the list. I love a good school story. Total Enid Blyton sucker as well.

    @Joan HunterDunn : I really must read more Colette. Hope you do read this series… well, this book, at least. Very very good.

    @Kelly : Thanks for the recommendation. I do like ‘coming of age’ fiction, so that’ll definitely go on the list. And Cheri.

    @carolinareads : You and me both!! I really must look it up… maybe once I finish reading all of Claudine, just to see how… controversial… the others are?

    @Bellezza : Just based on this one read, I would recommend her, and I hope you do read something by her. Look forward to your thoughts on Colette if/when you do get to her.

  12. FleurFisher
    July 12th, 2011 @ 12:29 am

    I read the Claudine books years ago and fell in love with Colette’s writing. It’s lovely to see so many people reading her – I must do some rereading soon – and that there are lovely modern editions of her books.

  13. Sarah
    July 12th, 2011 @ 11:46 pm

    All the reasons you give for liking schools stories would be the reasons I wouldn’t like them! But that aside you do a great job of selling Claudine at School, and I have always fancied reading Colette.

    I like the parallel with Blyton. I did like school stories when I was at school and they were a lot better than the real thing! Blyton’s Claudine was a definite favourite.

  14. Posts Distilled: Paris in July | Books Distilled
    July 31st, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    […] Claudine at School by Colette, at Another Cookie Crumbles. […]

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