Colette's celebrated novels about an older courtesan and her young lover, now in a new translation and published in one volume.
Colette’s Chéri (1920) and its sequel, The End of Chéri (1926), are widely considered her masterpieces. In sensuous, elegant prose, the two novels explore the evolving inner lives and the intimate relationship of an unlikely couple: Léa de Lonval, a middle-aged former courtesan, and Fred Peloux, twenty-five years her junior, known as Chéri. The two have been involved for years, and it is time for Chéri to get on with life, to make something of himself, but he, the personification of male beauty and vanity, doesn’t know how to go about it. It is time, too, for Léa to let go ofChéri and the sensual life that has been hers, and yet this is more easily resolved than done. Chéri marries, but once married he is restless and is inevitably drawn back to his mistress, as she is to him. And yet to reprise their relationship is only to realize even more the inevitability of its end. That end will come when Chéri, back from World War I, encounters a world that the war has changed through and through. Lost in his memories of time past, he is irremediably lost to the busy present. Paul Eprile’s new translation of these two celebrated novels brings out a vivid sensuality and acute intelligence that past translations have failed to capture.
About the Author
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954) was born in the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, where she led an idyllic childhood. At the age of twenty, she married Henri Gauthier-Villars, known as Willy, a Parisian man of letters under whose name she published the Claudine novels. Separated from Willy in 1905, Colette supported herself as an actress before establishing her own reputation as a writer. She was celebrated in later years as one of the great figures of twentieth-century French life and letters, and was the first woman to be accorded a state funeral by the French Republic. Her novel, The Pure and the Impure, is available as an NYRB Classic.
Paul Eprile is a publisher, poet, and translator. He has previously translated Jean Giono’s Hill, The Open Road, and Melville, for which he was a co-winner of the 2018 Annual Translation Prize of the French-American Foundation (all available as NYRB Classics). He lives on the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, Canada.
Judith Thurman is a biographer and critic. A staff writer at The New Yorker, she is also the author Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, which won the 1983 National Book Award for nonfiction, and Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette, the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Biography and the Salon Book Award for biography.
"These portraits of an aging grande horizontale and her beautiful toyboy are the most convincing arguments I know of against political correctness in fiction. Colette never wrote a bad sentence but countless good ones. Paul Eprile has miraculously recreated her in English for our times." —Edmund White
"Paul Eprile’s vivid new translation of Chéri and The End of Chéri brings all the savage tenderness of Colette’s two-part masterpiece to life. These great novels of the erosion time wreaks upon desire and the inevitably tragic fate of civilization’s discontents beautifully reflect their moment—from the conclusion of the Belle Époque to the aftermath of the first World War. Yet English language readers today will recognize much of their own world, with its irrevocable chasm between past and present, in these subtle, crystalline, pages." —Susan Stewart
"The two Chéri novellas probably form Colette’s masterpiece. . . They are her masterpieces because they transcend the notion of the battle between the sexes by concentrating on an exceptionally rigorous analysis of the rules of war. . . . The Chéri novels are about the power-politics of love, and Léa and Chéri could be almost any permutation of ages or of sexes. . . . They could both as well be men; or both women." —Angela Carter, The London Review of Books
"Colette was not false, not even when she lied. Once a lie was transformed into fiction it stood as a truth, and survived." —Mavis Gallant
"We call her great, for her gift to us is not limited to the art of writing: it is the gift of a culture." —Rosemary Tonks, The New York Review of Books