Colette Confusion: The Pure and the Impure

I have been trying to read Colette’s The Pure and the Impure. By try, I mean stare at the same page for about 10 minutes thinking, “Huh?”

I should have started with something easier than this book. I really want to like Colette.  I believe French sophistication will rub off on me by reading her books. I think I’m in over my head with The Pure and the Impure.

While reading it, I feel like I’m missing whole phrases. It’s like having a conversation with someone who trails off at the end of sentences or communicates by a series of eyebrow raises and elbow nudges.

The Pure and the Impure is a collection of conversations Colette has with people she knows about their sex lives. For a book about sex, no one seems to be having any fun doing it. It’s all, “Sex is a bore, but oh well, got to do it. Pass the opium.” It’s a bummer.

I thought maybe I just wasn’t getting it or I’m not French enough to get it, but then I read the Introduction from Judith Thurman and this set off a light bulb:
“…The Pure and the Impure show in the baroque syntax and the ubiquity of suspension  points, of obscure references, and of contradictions that make the text, in places, an exasperating experience for the casual reader…” 
Yes, exasperating. That is the feeling that I have.

The intro also gave me an idea of its place in time. Colette was almost seventy and quite sick when she published Pure and Impure during the Occupation. (It might also explain why it’s so vague. The Nazis would have a hard time figuring out what the hell she was talking about.) So, it was a bummer time all around.

It’s not that there weren’t parts I enjoyed. One misogynistic friend of Colette’s gets annoyed when two of his mistresses start discussing him behind his back. The men’s stories I read so far arouse no sympathy in me. They are a bunch of baby jerks.

At the moment, I don’t have the patience for The Pure and the Impure. I’m only about halfway through it.  I would like to read something a little peppier from Colette. I’m going to put this back on the shelf for now.

Have you read any other Colette you would recommend? Have you read The Pure and the Impure? What did you think?


  1. I haven't read any Collette, but I'm under the impression that her Claudine books are pretty accessible. That's where I plan to start.

    1. I should have started there but the NYRB edition of this one tempted me.

  2. I'd recommend Cheri—I haven't read it but I did see the movie!

    1. I didn't know there was a movie! I hope I can find a copy of the book somewhere.


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