Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Paris. France’s capital city is an essential ingredient in the story of Chéri. In this novel, Colette creates a portrait of Paris in the early twentieth century. During that era, France enjoyed a time of prosperity, progress, and brilliant cultural achievements. Pleasure reigned, and the city was filled with cafés, cabarets, and music halls, as well as the famous Folies Bergère. The construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889 seemed to inaugurate this period of peace and prosperity, becoming a symbol of Parisian accomplishment. In this atmosphere of gaiety, frivolity, and creativity, the different classes of Paris mixed together freely and amused themselves with a variety of entertainments. This free-spirited and imaginative period helped create the legend of the French as a race who loved life and knew how to enjoy it. Glamorous Parisian women piled their hair under huge, decorative hats and met with friends and lovers at fine restaurants for gourmet meals, gossip, and intrigue. A general atmosphere of liberality and leisure permitted largesse to be grandly lavished on expensive cocottes and handsome gigolos. Much of the appeal of this novel comes from its evocation of this elegant and hedonistic era. This era in France is remembered by Colette as a shimmering golden time before the onset of the problems of modernity, as demonstrated by World War I and its aftermath. It is in this period that Colette herself was a young woman, enjoying success as a writer and actress. Her novel is based on memories of the era that are both bitterly...

(The entire section is 640 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Like most of Colette’s novels, Chéri and The Last of Chéri tell an unusual love story from the woman’s point of view. The novel begins on the eve of Chéri’s engagement when his affair with the courtesan Léa is about to end. In a long flashback composed of as much dialogue as narrative, Colette recounts the history of their liaison.

Charlotte Peloux was an inconsistent and self-indulgent woman who alternated between smothering and neglecting her son. Appalled by Chéri’s lack of discipline, idleness, and gauche social behavior, Léa volunteered to teach him how to live properly in her world. With Charlotte’s encouragement, Léa took Chéri to a summer retreat to resculpt his body, restructure his attitudes, and remold his personality. Midway through Chéri’s metamorphosis, a friendly kiss inflamed their desire and began an affair which never lost its maternal overtones. After Chéri’s wedding, each of the former lovers leaves Paris to confront life without the other.

Although his new wife, Edmée, almost worships Chéri, he is dissatisfied with their marriage. When he learns of Léa’s return to Paris, he rushes to her, and the former lovers briefly recapture their rapture until the harsh morning light accentuates Léa’s age lines and shocks them into the realization that they have no future together. Léa sends Chéri back to Edmée, and Chéri ends with Léa staring into her mirror and seeing...

(The entire section is 545 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Colette’s fiction is often characterized as a link between an older form of French literature, which depicted women primarily as mothers or objects of lust, and new feminist literature, which celebrates the essence of womanhood. While Colette also celebrates the female principle, she admires a number of the traits that women have developed as a result of patriarchal oppression as much as those that come from their rejection of it. Chéri and The Last of Chéri, like all of her novels, glorify what she considered to be woman’s essential being—what author Gertrude Stein called the “bottom nature” of people.

For Colette, women embody that life force in their strength, endurance, adaptability, and ability to face life’s problems squarely because she believes that women are more in harmony with nature than men. All of her heroines and most of her female characters embody these qualities, but none of her male characters exhibits them.

Although the three major female characters in the Chéri novels are different types of women, all of them are depicted positively. Edmée represents Colette’s idea of the so-called New Woman who takes advantage of the opportunities afforded her by World War I. While Colette obviously admires Edmée’s choices, however, she is nevertheless depicted as humorless, somewhat insensitive, and lacking human warmth.

Léa de Lonval and Charlotte Peloux are parallel...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Indicative of the author's aesthetic distance in Cheri and The Last of Cheri is the point of view, third person, with much...

(The entire section is 467 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The best precedent for most of Colette's fiction is the work that she had already done. As Janet Planner has observed, more than any other...

(The entire section is 141 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Colette reverses the ages of her lovers in Gigi (1944), but addresses some of the same themes of love and age.

(The entire section is 20 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Cheri was adapted for the stage in 1921 by Colette and Leopold Marchand. She wrote that what she had to teach her collaborator — as...

(The entire section is 133 words.)


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Dormann, Geneviève. Colette: A Passion for Life. Translated by David Macey and Jane Brenton. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. An excellent collection of photos and pictures from Colette’s life. Useful for an author whose work is as autobiographical as hers. Contains some illustrations for an edition of Chéri by artist Marcel Vertès.

Lottman, Herbert. Colette: A Life. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991. Biography accounting for all Colette’s major works. Provides a summary of the autobiographical content of Chéri and the conditions of its creation.

Marks, Elaine. Colette. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1960. Critical biography has remained authoritative over the years. Provides excellent close readings of Chéri and its sequels which Marks terms “parables of experience.”

Sarde, Michèle. Colette: Free and Fettered. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: William Morrow, 1980. A definitive biography. Provides a strong feminist perspective on Colette’s life and work.

Stewart, Joan Hinde. Colette. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A good introduction to Colette’s work. Analyzes Chéri together with three works which continue its themes and use some of the same characters: The Ripening Seed (1923), The Last of Chéri (1926), and The Break of Day (1928). Contains a selected bibliography.

Ward Jouve, Nicole. Colette. Brighton, England: Harvester Press, 1987. A feminist analysis which addresses the question of “women’s writing” in Colette’s major works. Chéri illustrates an aspect of the power relationship between men and women.