It is not, of course, a genre Colette invented. Prosper Mérimée probably suggested it to her, as much as anyone, in stories like “Carmen” and “The Venus of Ille.” But it is certainly a genre which Colette perfected. In “Bella-Vista,” for instance, she tells us about a middle-aged couple—both women—who keep a small offbeat hotel in the South of France. As a guest, Colette studies their relationship, its frailties, vulnerableness, risks; judges and revises her judgments; and then discovers the truth: which I shall not reveal here except to say that their secret is quite other than it seems. It is a strange, even beautiful story, but the character who is telling it, reconstructing it from day to day, is its greatest center of interest. It is the progression of
reactions that—in the best sense—instructs us in the morality of being a neighbor. And it is the qualitative greatness of her example that makes it just and unfulsome, exact and prescient, to think of her, as Glenway Wescott once did, as “a kind of female Montaigne,” who wrote stories as well as essays.
A Note on the Text
The Colette canon includes at least four categories of “short story” which overlap and mix genres:
: 1,800- to 3,500-word texts which include personal reportage, portraits of people, animals, flowers, theater reviews, etc.
- autobiographical sketches, as
My Mother’s House
- lyrical meditations whose mode is not narrative, such as “Gray Days” and “The Last Fire”
- short stories proper, with characters, dialogue, a plot, conflict, and resolution.
In Colette’s work, these texts tend to metamorphose into one another. An autobiographical sketch, such as “The Seamstress,” is also a short story and a lyric monologue. “The Sémiramis Bar” is at once a letter, a self-portrait, and a cheerful aside on the Sapphic underground in Paris, 1910. “The Watchman” is part diary, part animal portraiture, part autobiography. The story called “Green Sealing Wax” might have been included in
My Mother’s House
Therefore, in choosing one hundred texts to comprise
Complete) Short Stories of Colette
, I have tried to include all the stories that are patently fiction yet that have never before appeared in one volume (e.g., the early fable “The Tendrils of the Vine” and Colette’s last story, “The Sick Child”); texts that have not been heretofore available in English (e.g., the early Chéri stories; the witty, sardonic “Dialogues for One Voice”); and to exclude the animal dialogues, which constitute a genre unto themselves, the purely autobiographical sketches such as appear in
My Mother’s House
, and the reportage in which Colette deals with public rather than private matters.
Of the one hundred stories gathered here, it should perhaps be specified that the following appear in English for the first time: “The Other Table,” “The Screen,” “Clouk Alone,” “Clouk’s Fling,” “Chéri,” “The Return,” “The Pearls,” “Literature,” “My Goddaughter,” “A Hairdresser,” “A Masseuse,” “My Corset Maker,” “The Saleswoman,” “An Interview,” “The ‘Master,’ “Morning Glories,” “What Must We Look Like?,” “The Cure,” “Gray Days,” “The Last Fire,” “The Quick-Change Artist,” “The Tenor,” “Florie,” “Monsieur Maurice,” “The Advice,” “The Half-Crazy,” “Alix’s Refusal,” “The Respite,” “The Bitch,” “Bygone Spring,” and “April”; also the Preface to “Bella-Vista.”
The remainder have appeared in American periodical or book form over the past fifty years, beginning with “The Fox” in
in May 1933. The following are newly translated for this edition: “A Letter,” “The Sémiramis Bar,” “‘If I Had a Daughter,’” “Rites,” “Newly Shorn,” “Grape Harvest,” “In the Boudoir,” “The Victim,” “The Hidden Woman,” “Dawn,” “One Evening,” “The Hand,” “A Dead End,” “The Fox,” “The Judge,” “The Omelette,” “The Other Wife,” “The Burglar,” “The Murderer,” “The Portrait,” “The Landscape,” “Secrets,” “Châ,” “The Bracelet,” “The Find,” “Mirror Games,” “Habit,” “In the Flower of Age,” and “The Rivals.”
Since my translations of Colette’s stories appear here for the first time, I would like to thank Richard Howard for having brought Nancy Miller, Robert Phelps, Colette, and me together. My thanks also to Irene Ilton, Jean Audet, Jean-Jacques Sicard, Annie Gandon, and Ivan Kovacovic, all of whom helped bring me closer to Colette. My most special gratitude goes to Jean Alice Jacobson, who did far more than help me bring a faint reflection of Colette’s genius into English.