Colette's Advice Column

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Translated by Zack Rogow and Renée Morel

The French write Colette (1873–1954) wrote many books, including the novels Gigi and Cheri, made into popular movies. Colette also had an advice column in the women’s magazine Marie Claire during the years 1939 and 1940. These translations are from Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Previously Untranslated Gems by Colette published by State University of New York Press. The translations copyright 2014 by Zack Rogow and Renée Morel. The translators wish to thank Anne de Jouvenel, Foulques de Jouvenel, and Hugues de Jouvenel for their cooperation in making these texts available to English-speaking readers.

This is the last of three excerpts. Read the first, second.

From A Tormented Heart:

I hope you can enlighten me and restore to my soul my peace of mind and my joy in life. I’m twenty years old, I’ve been engaged now for six months to a man who is twenty-seven and who, I can assure you, adores me. Before meeting him, I went out several times with another young man whom I liked a lot, but then, when I left the city where he lives, I forgot about him a little bit. Now I’m back, but tied to my fiancé. I’ve seen that young man again and my love has rekindled. I feel I love him more than my fiancé, or rather, not in the same way: I feel for him a violent love, passionate, reckless; for my fiancé, my love is calm, considered, as if asleep. I agreed to go out with him again, confessing to him I was engaged. He tells me he loves me but I know I can’t have any hope for a future with him. But my reason does me no good, my love is stronger than my reason. I’m abandoning my fiancé little by little, I suffer from the thought that he will suffer if he finds out about this and still I’m leaning more and more to the other man. I can’t see clearly any more, I’m all nerves, help me, will you? I’m confident that your response can bring me peace.

Colette’s response:

On the one hand, you love; on the other, you’re loved. In the first place, you want to keep what’s lavished on you; in the second, you want to give all.

Tormented Heart, I’m not going to suggest bigamy to you. Besides, what is it that really torments you? When you’re twenty years old, do you listen to a love that is “calm, pondered, as if asleep”? Your age is not made for well-motivated decisions, and it seems to me you are looking more for excuses than advice. You admit that absence was enough to make you forget “a little bit” the man who, once you found him again, set you on fire. Couldn’t you try, using such efficient means, to forget him “a lot”? And at the same time—honesty invites you—find the courage not to marry the fiancé who only inspires in you lukewarm feelings. As far as I can see, he is lacking in insight and shrewdness. How can he not sense around you, around him, a presence, and thoughts, that are against him? Leave him be, the angel; and leave the tempter. Does my response not bring you the “peace” you crave? Excuse my frankness, but I can’t help remembering that you are twenty years old. And I’ve never been able to believe that peace is a good present to give a young woman. 

Colette (1873–1954) wrote many novels, including Gigi and Cheri, made into popular movies. She was also a prolific journalist and authored regular features for newspapers, magazines, and broadcast media, including this advice column for women.

Zack Rogow’s translations from French include work by André Breton, George Sand, and Marcel Pagnol. He received the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Award, and teaches in the low-residency MFA in writing program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Rogow is the author, editor, or translator of twenty books or plays.

Renée Morel is a translator and adjunct professor of French at City College of San Francisco. She lectures throughout the Bay Area on French culture, art, and civilization, from the Gauls to de Gaulle.