20th Discussion: Colette’s Cheri and Last of Cheri (19 May 2011)

Everyone was excited to kick-start this discussion. Timmy exclaimed this is the straightest book we’ve done. Raj loved the book as he believed it was very “French.” Nicole observed that the characters are very well flashed out, especially when Colette writes on women’s psyches. However, Nicole thought that the book has no direction while Timmy found that second part draggy, saved only by the character development of Edmee. Raj argued that the draggy-ness reflects the lift that Cheri leads.

1. Themes

a. War: Aaron noted the prominence of the theme in so many of the books we have done and questioned if a writer could only be considered as “serious” when s/he has written a war novel. He also noted this novel is about post-war trauma, relevant to soldiers today. Nicole suggested that the War is too big an event to ignore. Raj further said that the specificity of the war makes the novel realistic and that war affects the GLBTQ community very much (we thought of the Pink Triangle used to mark out gay people in Nazi concentration camps in WWII). Moreover, Raj claims that the war makes Cheri an outcast, like a gay person.

b. Relationship Between Women:

i. We were all fascinated by the complex relationship between Lea and Charlotte: rivalry, respect, jealousy, cunningness, trying to get the upper hand of each other – and perhaps a different kind of love?

ii. Nicole suspected that the relationship between Lea and the Princess is more than friends from the obsessive descriptions of the women’s bodies and clothing.

c. Race: Aaron suggested that Cheri is described as an African and Chinese because he’s as unformed as an animal. Raj said it may be due to his exoticness. Timmy said Cheri is as flexible as a Chinese acrobat and has big ding dong like an African.

d. Nostalgia: The Pal is a queer character and both Raj and Timmy suggested that she’s a drag queen. Timmy noted the obsession of the Pal with Lea, collecting Lea’s old photos. Nicole suggested that the Pal’s apartment, which Cheri visits often, acts as a space of escape from his mother and wife. Timmy pushed the point further to say the apartment represents to Cheri what life could have been for him and Lea. Raj said that the scene suggests a nostalgia for the past; Cheri even wants to die in the past.

2. Characters:

a. Cheri: Raj claimed that Cheri is not a man but a lesbian. Aaron wasn’t convinced because there are scenes that explicitly point out his manhood; Cheri is, Aaron thinks, effeminate but not definitely not emasculated. Aaron was also amused by the inversion of roles, that Lea, a prostitute, pays for Cheri’s decadent lifestyle. Timmy noted the gay scene between Cheri and Desmond and he also observed that Cheri never grows up as long as he is with Lea. Nicole suggested that Cheri is finding a purpose in life – but fails.

b. Edmee: Timmy’s brilliant analogy: “Edmee reminds me of Jeanette Aw’s in Little Nonya.” Aaron said that Edmee should be a very sympathetic character. She behaves with utmost propriety, defending her husband when she doesn’t love him – but, Aaron asked, why is she demonized in the book? Raj suggested that it may be because she couldn’t manipulate Cheri.

3. Scene Analysis: We questioned but couldn’t find out the reason of Cheri’s vacillation after he spends the night with Lea, betraying his wife. Raj claimed that they are using their heads and not their hearts. Nicole and Timmy both said that Lea handles the situation much better than Cheri.

4. Aaron concluded that although there aren’t any explicit lesbian scenes, the value of this book lies in its normalization of sexuality, such as intergenerational love, relationship between women, and prostitution. These relationships are usually treated with scorn but here, Colette normalizes them. If these relationships are normal, then naturally gay relationship is normal too.

Thanks to Raj and his champagne, figs, cheese and strawberries with freshly-whipped vanilla cream!

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Filed under Bisexuality, Classics, Colette, Coming of Age, Family, France, Lesbian, Love, Race, Transgender, Transvestism, War

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