Posted on | July 7, 2011 | 14 Comments
Written 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.
I’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.