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Colette: Claudine novels

Colette wrote five novels with Claudine’s name in the title, though Claudine also appears in La retraite sentimentale (Retreat From Love). The novels are basically Colette’s account of her own life, but somewhat spiced up, to sell, which they did, not least because of the controversy they caused. The first novel tells the story of the fifteen-year old Claudine and her account of the various sexual activities that go on in her school, from lesbian relationships between the headmistress and one of the teachers to the same headmistress being caught in bed with the local (male) doctor. The real achievement is the character of Claudine, a free spirit, but someone who can be cruel and kind. In the next three books, Claudine and her father move to Paris, where she continues her amorous adventures, marries Renaud, while having a lesbian affair with Rézi (which her husband, to her surprise, encourages) and then moves to the country. In Claudine s’en va (UK: Claudine and Annie; US: The Innocent Wife), Claudine starts to fade away as it is her friend, Annie, who becomes the narrator. Annie has a dominating husband, Alain, and the main story is Annie’s liberation from Alain. La maison du Claudine (My Mother’s House) is not really a Claudine novel but merely an attempt to cash in on the name. It tells the story of Colette/Claudine before the events of the four other Claudine novels.

The Claudine novels might not be great literature but they are very well written, create a fascinating character in Claudine/Colette and deserve their reputation as a fascinating slice of French literature. Many have hailed Colette as the foremost French woman writer and, despite the fact that she wrote better works, it is for these that she is ultimately going to be remembered.

Publishing history

Claudine à l’école
First published in French 1900 by Ollendorff
First published in English 1930 by Gollancz

Claudine à Paris
First published in French 1901 by Ollendorff
First published in English 1931 by Gollancz

Claudine en ménage
First published in French 1902 by Mercure de France
First published in English 1935 by Farrar & Rinehart

Claudine s’en va
First published in French 1903 by Ollendorff
First published in English 1935 by Farrar & Rinehart

La Maison de Claudine
First published in French 1922 by Ferenczi
First published in English 1953 by Secker & Warburg