FREADMAN, AnneThe Livres-Souvenirs of Colette Genre and the Telling of Time Oxford: Legenda, August 2012200 pp., £40.00, ISBN: 978-1-906540-93-7

Hélène Stafford

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Full text: The title of the book gives us a major clue on the innovative approach developed by Anne Freadman in her analysis of a particular Colette corpus, the one devoted to auto-biographical writing: Les Vrilles de la vigne, Mes apprentissages, La Maison de Claudine, Sido ,L’E ́toile Vesper and Le Fanal bleu. Freadman follows the powerful lure of Rimbaldianvieilles vieilleries and its echoes with Colette’s fondness for collecting objects, people and memories. To this must be added a technical aspect, that of the study of the genre of Colette’s writing. Freadman argues that, by largely avoiding the autobiographical form, the writer achieves a new way of ‘telling time’, collecting anecdotes and detail taken from the quotidian and setting them within an all-encompassing preoccupation with time. This provides the second part of the title.The sonata form directs the sequence of the book, orchestrated into five parts,from ‘exposition’ to ‘first subject’ to‘bridge’ to ‘second subject’ to ‘recapitulation’. This has the advantage of enabling Freadman to move and progress between distinct themes—autobiography first,then alternative forms—with grace,whilst preserving within her own writing what she sees as the essence of Colette’s relationship to time in her ‘Livres-Souvenirs’, the telling of time. This‘telling of time’ is itself therefore cleverly subjected to the time constraints and freedoms of musical composition. Freadman’s ‘Exposition’ takes us through a discussion of the autobiographical genre, analysing the texts against anumber of theorists, from Lejeune to Benjamin and Ricoeur, before launching into ‘Colette and Autobiography’. It argues pertinently that Colette did not write a ‘sustained’ autobiography, even inthe most autobiographical of her writings, Mes apprentissages. Measured against Goodwin’s three sources for autobiography, confession, apologia and memoirs, Colette’s autobiographical writings appear to be at odds with all of them. Freadman then goes on in Part II of her argument, to persuasively uncover a project that rejects self-scrutiny and with no autobiographical strategy. In ‘Collecting Time’, despite claims of continuity, narrative logic and causality areabandoned in favour of a collection offragments, family stories that are built up generation after generation into familylegends. A close and fruitful analysis of Sidoleads us to a study of ‘The Art of Ending’, concentrating on L’E ́toile Vesperandle Fanal Bleu. The closing chapter gives a fascinating reading of La Naissance du jouras an exemplar of the way in which the two subjects developed in Freadman’s volume are cast together:Colette’s own working through the autobiographical genre, and her refusal to write memoirs, in favour of collecting memories, and the strategies she uses for her purpose. In ‘Recapitulation’, her concluding chapter, Freadman adroitlyen capsulates her analysis in a fetching title: ‘Fables of Time’. Indeed, the wholepremise of her book is to move away from autobiographical genre, having acknowledged the links and debt the corpus owes to it, and into a study of the multiple and fruitful ways in which Colette tells time.The rich and varied readings of thematerial, competently informed by theoretical input, together with acute sensitivity to the corpus, mark out this study as incontournable for Colette scholars.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-408
Number of pages2
JournalModern and Contemporary France
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2014


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