New York : Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1961. First American Edition. Hardcover. 143 pages ; 21 cm. $3.75 dust jacket. Very good copy; no underlines or markings within the pages. Satisfaction guaranteed!
COLETTE of the Academy Goncourt
BREAK OF DAY
translated by Enid McLeod with an introduction by Glenway Wescott
To many this (La Naissance du Jour) is Colette's most famous book: it is certainly one of her most poetic, most revelatory, most rewarding. She began writing it in her early fifties, at Saint-Tropez on the Cöte d'Azur, where she had bought a small property after the break-up of her second marriage. "In this climate," she wrote, "the wonderful weather replaces everything and can take the place of emotional happiness (le bonheur sentimental) as well as of conversation. . . . and there it was that she wrote her renunciation of love, for that is the book's whole theme.
In BREAK OF DAY Colette studies her self in the mirror of her inheritance. The thought of her mother, Sido, was a challenge, and she measures herself against her mother's stature. Sido had been right when she wrote "you only die from the first man," and by successfully placing her footsteps in past imprints, Colette, who appears under her own name throughout this novel, tells what she knows about herself, what she tried to hide, what invent, what guess, with perfect fidelity to herself.
And yet the book is not a self-portrait. "Are you imagining, as you read me, that I am Portraying myself? Have patience: this is merely my model," Colette says in an epigraph which appears on the title page of this volume, thus disarming critics who may find difficulty in recognizing the book as a novel, when not only the central figure but most of her neighbors are referred to by their real names. The wheel had come full circle: another marriage was over, another life must begin. She sat on the terrace of her house, La Treille Muscate, where DIV noyer de Segonzac loved to draw her at work, capable of writing eight hours at a stretch. "Whether she liked it or not, she was not far from a trance-like state,' wrote Maurice Goudeket in Close to Colette of this period of Colette's life, "and one had the impression that she was really giving of her substance, as a bee gives its honey."
It is this quality that caused the Times Literary Supplement to write: "What delights and endears in BREAK OF DAY is, as always, Colette's precise, tender, enchanted description of sensuous pleasure: the love she feels for a shrub cosily settled in the moist earth, the sour scent of peaches, her hand on the young man's beautiful brown chest: this is incomparable writing, even in translation.
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