Now that I am more Léa’s age than Chéri’s, I wonder what I would have made of this love story as a younger reader.
Surely I would have taken note of passages like this: “Léa, rocking herself gently to and fro, glanced occasionally at Chéri, who lay sprawled on a cool cane settee, coat unbuttoned, a cigarette dying between his lips, a lock of hair over one eyebrow.”
He sounds like the quintessential bad boy, like someone out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. And I probably would have overlooked the cigarette, the image of consumption and wizening; I probably would have focussed on the lock of hair.
And I probably would have taken the ill-effects that Edmée suffers in response to Chéri as no reason to question his desirability: “Intoxicated by the scent which Chéri used too much of, she began to droop like a rose in an overheated room.”
This kind of observation could have served as evidence of Léa and Chéri being destined for one another instead, of Edmée’s weakness and unsuitability. Let her droop while Léa thrives. (Note: These imaginings, these assumptions assigned to my younger reading-self, have little to do with Colette’s plot.)
I wonder, would I even have taken note of the question one of these women asks Chéri: “What you call love…isn’t it possible that it may be, really, a … kind… of alibi?” Even without all the hesitancy expressed in the ellipses, it seems like an unformed challenge that I would have dismissed before I properly understood what she was saying.