Colette Week: Day 7 – The Last of Cheri (1926)

I thought it would be apt to finish Colette Week with a novel concerned with endings: The Last of Cheri (La Fin de Cheri). Here’s a reminder of my decidedly kitsch edition because it’s just so bad:

Thankfully I’m not quite so shallow as to let a hideous cover affect my enjoyment of Colette’s glorious writing (almost shallow enough, but not quite). The Last of Cheri is set 6 years later than Cheri, just after the end of World War I. He is no longer quite the callow youth he was: his affair with Lea and his experience of fighting in the trenches have left him cynical and damaged.

“he had come to scorn the truth ever since the day when, years ago, it had suddenly fallen from his mouth like a belch, to spatter and wound one whom he had loved.”

But, as the French wisely say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Cheri is still directionless, still without anything to live for beyond himself. Meanwhile his mother and wife have found purpose in war. Edmee is a nurse and consumed by her work at the hospital and extra-marital affairs, which Cheri agrees to.

“Cheri pulled out the small flat key on the end of its thin gold chain. ‘Here we go. In for another carefully measured dose of love. …’”

Cheri’s old friend Desmond is here too, still reprehensible, but like the women in Cheri’s life, having found purpose, setting up a popular nightclub where people try and forget what they and France have been through:

“They danced at Desmond’s, night and day, as people dance after war: the men, young and old, free from the burden of thinking and being frightened — empty-minded, innocent; the women, given over to a pleasure far greater than any more definite sensual delight, to the company of men: that is to say, to physical contact with them, their smell, their tonic sweat, the certain proof of which tingled in every inch of their bodies — the certainty of being the prey of a man wholly alive and vital, and of succumbing in his arms to rhythms as personal, as intimate, as those of sleep.”

If Cheri was told primarily from Lea’s perspective, The Last of Cheri is from Cheri’s perspective and Colette captures this wonderfully. Given that Cheri is so lost and directionless, the novella never appears so. The writing is insightful without being heavy-handedly psychological, and although set in town, Colette’s feel for the natural world remains:

“He noticed that the rosy tints of the sky were wonderfully reflected in the rain-filled gutters and on the blue backs of the low- skimming swallows. And now, because the evening was fresh, and because all the impressions he was bringing away with him were slipping back perfidiously into the recesses of his mind – there to assume their final shape and intensity — he came to believe that he had forgotten all about them, and he felt happy.”

This feeling of happiness is brief though, and occurs after a distressing meeting with Lea, so the reader knows Cheri is deluding himself. Like everyone else, Lea has moved on and is in a very different place, happy and fulfilled.

Poor Cheri. He is utterly lost and ricochets around without any idea as to how to remedy his emptiness. The crisis of meaning of a rich, good-looking playboy could test the reader’s patience, but Colette’s writing meant I had real sympathy for him. His life from the start meant he didn’t stand much of a chance:

“His childhood as a bastard, his long adolescence as a ward, had taught him that his world, though people thought of it as reckless, was governed by a code almost as narrow-minded as middle-class prejudice. In it, Cheri had learned that love is a question of money, infidelity, betrayals, and cowardly resignation. But now he was well on the way to forgetting the rules he had been taught, and to be repelled by acts of silent condescension.”

So, that’s the end of Colette week on the blog. I’ve really enjoyed submerging myself in her writing this week and I hope I’ve managed to convey just a tiny bit of how good she is. She has a deep understanding of people and a wonderful sympathy with the natural world. I find her evocative and capable of great artistry but with a real lightness of touch. Plus she wrote a lot of novellas, which always gets my vote 😊 She was a prolific writer so there’s plenty more to explore, which I’m really looking forward to.

Image from here

20 thoughts on “Colette Week: Day 7 – The Last of Cheri (1926)

  1. Fabulous week, thank you! I have ordered Cheri – both the book and the film from the library (I had forgotten they do DVDs which is a mega bonus!). Have you seen the recent Kiera Knightley Colette film and if so is it any good?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These have been really wonderful posts Madame B, and an apt end to the week. Colette really is a marvellous writer, one of my favourites, and it’s been a joy to revisit her through your posts. My collection will definitely be coming off the shelves soon to preen itself and have its picture taken… 🤣🤣🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For some reason, I never got around to reading this book as a follow-on to Cheri. Something to remedy in the future, no doubt – even if it means to succumbing to that rather kitsch edition!

    Thank you for a lovely week of all things Colette. It’s been a joy – just like reading the writer herself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How I’ve enjoyed your Colette week – I’m now tempted to revisit my small Colette collection (only about 7 -8 books, which is very little given her output). I was smitten with her in my teens and still think she is a great role model for young girls who are keen on writing. In addition to Claudine and Cheri and Ble en Herbe, my other favourites are Sido, plus The Vagabond and The Cat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed it Marina Sofia. It would be lovely if you do find time to revisit her & see what you gain from her now that you missed as a teen, but so many books, so little time… I never seem to make time for re-reads these days! I really want to read more of her so I’ll definitely look out for the favourites you mention.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That was awesome! I too have been full of lurgy, a sinus infection that made it hard to wear glasses and read anything, so I’ve come to your posts in a Netflix-binge-watching style, so full Collete immersion 🙂 And that cover! So wrong it’s almost right.

    Liked by 1 person

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