Critical Context

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Colette’s main characters are usually female, with the men in subordinate roles. Three remarkable exceptions are the eponymous hero of Cheri (1920; English translation, 1929) and La Fin de Cheri (1926; The Last of Cheri, 1932), Phil in The Ripening Seed, and Alain in The Cat. Although these male characters have very different personalities, they are all pampered, highly sensitive, and emotionally immature young men, exemplifying Colette’s consistent rejection of gender stereotypes.

Colette’s personal experiences and preoccupations are readily traceable in The Cat: her devotion to animals, her yearning for the trees and flowers of her childhood, her experience with the destructive force of jealousy, and her two broken marriages.

The novel was given a mixed reception when it was first published. “A fine talent demeaned by a ludicrous theme,” wrote a reviewer in La Gazette de Paris. Even in 1953, a review in The Times Literary Supplement of a then-new translation called it “a brilliant piece of writing, but a vile story.” Edmond Jaloux, the distinguished Paris critic, however, recognized its qualities at once and called it “a masterpiece of art of classic perfection, told with the maximum of truth, of intelligence, and of poetry,” an evaluation which has since become widely accepted.

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