Discussion Post: Chéri
It’s French literature time! Next week we’ll return to England (where presumably I will have more intelligent things to say, as I am often at a loss when it comes to France) with A.S. Byatt’s Booker Prize-winning Possession. But until then, we have Chéri by Colette to parse.
Remember that all participants in discussion will be entered in a drawing to win a Penguin Clothbound Classic and that these questions are merely starters. If there is something I failed to mention about the book that you are dying to bring up, definitely do so! I wasn’t terribly inspired by Chéri so undoubtedly there are more interesting things to be said about it.
With that sorry little introduction, away we go!
Obviously, the book deals heavily with issues of youth, beauty, love, and their relative importance in relation to each other. What does it say about the lifestyle of Léa (who personifies love) that Chéri (beauty) ultimately scorns her to be a good husband to Edmée (youth)?
I’m not entirely sure that Chéri was really judging Léa’s lifestyle when he chooses to leave her. In fact, I’m not sure of his motives at all and am quite puzzled. Since he was such a self-centered character throughout the book, it makes no sense for him to suddenly deny himself his true love even if she is older than he is. He never seemed to have a problem with that before.
I guess the ending could be boiled down to a judgment of the courtesan lifestyle (à la Gigi) or it could be that Beauty will always choose its natural companion, Youth, over Love or Old Age, but I’m not sure either of those arguments hold water. But I can’t explain Chéri’s suddenly high-minded desire to be a good husband any other way so I’m at a total loss!
Anyone else have a theory? Bueller?
And what does it say about Chéri that he only wants Léa when she feigns indifference towards him? When true love is revealed on both sides, he loses interest and returns to his wife who he does not love at all. In a story full of immorality, why does Chéri suddenly turn to domesticity?
If this were a British book, I would have the answer: DUTY! However, we’re in France where characters don’t seem to care about duty quite so often or with such a British vehemence, so…
The fact that he was only interested in being with Léa when she claimed to be just putting up with him until his marriage could illustrate that he does not want any meaningful connections in his life. When he gets married and has to live with his wife and mother in one house, he basically freaks out and leaves for three months. When Léa finally tells him how much he means to her, he does the same thing. He’s a very selfish character.
His choice to deny his own love for Léa and return to his wife (and possible child) is the ultimate expression of his selfishness: he does not want to be beholden to any person or any emotion. He’s a free agent. This means that cannot let himself be with the person he loves or mutual dependency will result. So he denies himself love and abandons Léa to return to the loveless marriage that asks nothing of him but his presence. Plausible?
Favorite Part: That brief moment at the end where it appeared that Chéri had returned for good. He’s a gadabout, but Léa certainly seemed happy to see him and I liked her well enough to wish her happiness.
Least Favorite Part: Probably a tie between almost any scene involving Chéri (who just seems like a horrible human) and Léa being left alone at the very end and seeing an old woman in the mirror. Sadness.
So what did you make of the book? Tell on below!