That was the case with one of the books in Short Novels of Colette, a 1951 omnibus including Cheri, The Last of Cheri, The Other One, Duo, The Cat, and The Indulgent Husband.
I bought the anthology for The Other One, which IS new to me, but I was also unfamiliar with The Indulgent Husband. Turns out it is just the third Claudine book (Claudine Married), under a different name–my least favorite Claudine. It’s the one where Claudine has an affair with a seductive young woman who turns out to be her husband’s lover—ewwww!
Colette wrote the (slightly) risqué Claudine books for Willi, her first husband, who employed and exploited dozens of ghostwriters. (He spent so much time commissioning work that he could easily have written it.) The Claudine books were fantastically popular and adapted for the stage.
Oh, well, it is worth having the anthology for The Other One, and for Glenway Westcott’s 57-page introduction He loves every word Colette wrote, good or bad. Proust and Gide wrote letters to Colette about their great admiration of her work. Westcott writes,” …now that the inditers are both dead and gone, Colette is the greatest living French fiction-writer.”
Westcott’s introduction is a mix of biography, separate sections with incisive criticism, and personal comments about his love of Colette. He gushes about her looks and the artistry of photographs of her.
“I wish we could have illustrated this volume with photographs of Colette; there are plenty, entrancing, at all ages. The first written description of her that I ever read was an entry in Jules Renard’s Journal, November 1894: her appearance at the first night of Maeterlinck’s translation of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, bright-eyed, laughing, ‘with a braid of hair long enough to let the bucket down a well with”; Melisande-like.”
The Other One was a first read for me, and if the translation by Viola Gerard Garvin is stilted, it still captures Colette’s originality. It is rather stagy, which is appropriate, because the heroine, Fanny, is a playwright’s wife accustomed to the intrigues of the theater. She is happy except for one problem: Farou has affairs.
Fanny lives with Farou and her stepson, Little Farou. It is summer, and there is much emphasis on her laziness, the heat, and her Oriental eyes. Contrasted with the dark Fanny is their cool ash-blond housemate, the efficient Jane, Farou’s smart secretary, who helps Fanny with the housekeeping. The lives of Fanny and Jane revolve around Farou. When he is away, they wait for word from him.
The novel begins:
The postman brought nothing at eleven o’clock. If Farou did not write last night before going to bed, it’s certain he had a late rehearsal.”
“You think so, Fanny?”
“I’m sure. ‘The House Without Women’ is not difficult to stage, but little Asselin isn’t at at all the type of woman to play Suzanne.”
“She’s very pretty, though,” said Jane.
Fanny shrugged her shoulders.
“My poor Jane, how does it help her to be pretty? No one ever wanted a pretty woman to play Suzanne. It’s a part for a Cinderella like Doriyls. Didn’t you see the play when it was first produced?”
Jane’s comment about Suzanne’s prettiness is the first clue to her jealousy. Jane is having an affair with Farou. It is Little Farou, who has a crush on Jane, who tips off Fanny. And when Fanny sees her husband embracing Jane, and then a minute later Jane mimics Fanny and her habit of saying “oo-la-la,” we see the ugliness of an otherwise pretty woman. Fanny realizes that her friend of four years is far from a friend. But she hides her knowledge while she figures out what to do.
The ending is abrupt, and not altogether believable to me, but in the world of Colette–who know? And in a way it is the shock of the sophistication of the women that makes it true.
I so much love reading Colette, even if it’s not the best Colette