Cheri and The Last of Cheri

( 2 )

Overview

Cheri, together with The Last of Cheri, is a classic story of a love affair between a very young man and a charming older woman. In describing the relationship between Fred Peloux, the beautiful gigolo known as Cheri, and the courtesan Lea de Lonval, Colette tenderly depicts the devotion that stems from desire and provides an honest account of the most human preoccupations of youth and middle age. With compassionate insight she paints a full-length double portrait, using an impressionistic style all her own. In ...
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Overview

Cheri, together with The Last of Cheri, is a classic story of a love affair between a very young man and a charming older woman. In describing the relationship between Fred Peloux, the beautiful gigolo known as Cheri, and the courtesan Lea de Lonval, Colette tenderly depicts the devotion that stems from desire and provides an honest account of the most human preoccupations of youth and middle age. With compassionate insight she paints a full-length double portrait, using an impressionistic style all her own. In Cheri, Colette achieved a peak in her earthy, sensuous, and utterly individual art.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Dramatic and moving . . . [Chéri] endears itself to the reader partly because of its subject, but more because of the manner of its telling.
The Times (London)
Everything that Colette touched became human . . . She was a complete sensualist; but she gave herself up to her senses with such delicacy of perception, with such exquisiteness of physical pain as well as physical ecstasy, that she ennobled sensualism to grandeur.
Booknews
Reprint of the 1951 original, cited in with a new, 16 p. introduction by Judith Thurman. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
“Chéri is [Colette’s] masterpiece.”—Michael Straight, The New Republic

“A wonderful subject [treated with] intelligence, mastery, and understanding of the least-admitted secrets of the flesh.”—André Gide

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374528010
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/10/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 702,382
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Colette (1873–1954) published some eighty volumes of fiction and nonfiction. She also had careers as a newspaper reporter, screenwriter, and musichall star. Acknowledged in her lifetime as a master of modern French prose, she was the first woman admitted into the Académie Goncourt.

Judith Thurman is the author of Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette, which was awarded both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Salon Book Award for biography. She is a regular contributor to The New Yorker.

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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. What did you discover about Colette's life by reading Judith Thurman's introduction? Why might Colette have opposed suffragettes while applauding women who were financially independent? How did the knowledge of Colette's later affair with her stepson affect your reading of Chéri?

2. Discuss the novel's theme of physical beauty. Does a woman's power lie in her appearance? When it comes to aging and the laws of attraction, do equal standards exist between men and women?

3. In the novel, power is also derived by showing no desire: both Léa and Chéri are careful not to reveal their feelings for each other. Do you think this is the way most couples experience a relationship? Would Léa and Chéri have stayed together if they had talked of love sooner, or did uncertainty keep their relationship alive?

4. Do Madame Peloux and Madame Marie-Laure (Edmée's mother) have similar approaches to parenting? Are they good mothers?

5. What did Patron, the boxer, try to teach Chéri about being a man? What does Chéri seem to believe about the differences between men and women? Why does his femininity vex Léa?

6. To what extent does Léa act as a surrogate mother for Chéri? Is it good for wives and girlfriends to behave maternally toward their men?

7. What are the other effects of the age difference between Chéri and Léa? How does age give Léa an advantage over Edmée?

8. How does Desmond's club reflect France's cultural history during this time period? What was symbolic about the sale of Léa's home (to Americans, no less)?

9. What does Chéri mean when, on page 263, he says that he is chaste while the rest of the world is mired in deception? Is he right?

10. In terms of mood, tone, and storytelling, what shifts did you notice between Chéri and The Last of Chéri? How did your impressions of Chéri change between the opening scenes of Chéri and the closing scenes of The Last of Chéri?

11. Does Léa's life appeal to you? Who is her twenty-first-century equivalent?

12. Would Léa have married Chéri, given the chance? Would their marriage have been happier than his marriage to Edmée? What is the difference between Léa's financial power and Edmée's?

13. What pain is Chéri trying to relieve in the closing scene of The Last of Chéri? Do his actions mean that Léa "won"?

14. What distinctions did you notice between Chéri and the film? What might Colette have said about the production? What made Michelle Pfeiffer ideal for the role of Léa?

15. Which of Colette's novels had you read previously? How does Chéri echo Colette's other portrayals of men as lovers?
Reading Group Guide written by Amy Root / Amy Root's Wordshop, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 4, 2009

    TRAGIC POIGNANCY

    The great Colette's "Cheri" is an exquisite work, both linguistically and psychologically. The descriptive language is breathtaking, and the writer's fine-tuned sensitivity to nuances of emotion is truly extraordinary. I read the book after having seen the new film starring Michelle Pfeiffer, "Cheri", a magnificent masterpiece, rich in nuance and opulent detail, set in gorgeous Belle Epoque France. The film leaves us in a romantic mist, however, by omitting "The Last of Cheri", the companion piece, although arriving at the same denouement. The book glosses over nothing, however, and part two is a very brutal portrait indeed. Of course it is all about real love, sketched in chiaroscuro relief with all its imitations, social conventions, and the ultimate high cost and lethal effects of choices made not with the heart. After finishing the book, I felt quite shattered by this tragic tale so beautifully and relentlessly told by that ever precise anatomist of the heart, the ever-astounding Colette, who never removes her gaze nor dissembles. Her gorgeous language is not mere filigree but embodies the truth she tells in an even more profound fashion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2009

    A charming yet sad book

    If you loved the movie you will love the book. The second gives one more of look into Cheri's depression which seems to be epic level gloominess. Poor Cheri!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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