Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"The Semiramis Bar" by Colette

"The Semiramis Bar" by Colette  (1935, 5 pages)

A Reading Life Project
The Collected Stories of Colette

The Collected Stories of Colette edited and selected by Robert Phelps (1989, 606 pages)

"It's absurd to divide people into good or bad,  people are either charming or tedious"  from Lady Windemere's Fan
It was just a question of time until Colette (1873-to 1954, Paris, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) became part of my reading life.      I would have read her sooner but I do not read French and  translations of her work are not in the public domain.   I now own a copy of  The Collected Stories of Colette edited and selected by Robert Phelps which contains 100 of her short stories.  

I appreciate the work in assembling and translating 100 short stories.    The Collected Stories of Colette is a physically a beautiful book with a generous size type face.   I do not like the way the book is organized.   Phelps  has divided it up into sections based on what the stories are about.   I think  readers would be better served if the stories were in publication order, with the date of original publication in a note on page one of the story.   There are no dates of publication given on most of these stories.   The introduction tells us little or nothing of value about Colette, it does not even tell us when she was born or died.    I see myself doing at least 15 posts on Colette over the next few months and I will post  a bit on her life, art and cultural important in subsequent posts.    In addition to her huge literary output she heroically sheltered Jews from the Nazis in Paris during WWII, received a state funeral upon her death and is an iconic GLBT figure.  

"The Semiramis Bar" is a fascinating look at what would now be called a Gay bar in Paris in the 1930s.  It is really a work of  great talent.   Colette brilliantly starts the story by telling us of the owner, a strange woman who gives away food too those in need and charges absurdly high prizes to richer customers.   Colette's depiction of the clientele of the bar is just totally wonderful.  Maybe it is wrong or projecting the 21th century into this story to say it is about a Gay bar.  Maybe we should fall back on an older word and see it as a bar for those in the demimonde world of Parisian night life.   Almost by definition this included gay men and women but there are many other creatures of the Parisian night world that fall in this category.  I see Hart Crane and Ruffington Bousweau as clients when in Paris and I can visualize Jean Rhys there as well.  Prince Felix Youssovpov is often seen there after midnight.

"I know where I will go next time I
am in Paris"  -Carmilla
"The Semiramis Bar" is a very sophisticated story, a flawless work of art.  

No comments: