Claudine at School by Colette

Originally published 1900. This edition: 2001.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 206 pages.

Translated by Antonia White.

From: the public library

Recommendation from: I think it was Eva of a Striped Armchair.

In a nutshell:

15-year-old Claudine is in her last year at the village school. Her father could have afforded to send her to a boarding school, but Claudine prefers the countryside of her youth. She also quite likes being the queen bee at her school. Claudine at School is a tale of Claudine’s mischief at school among her classmates and the teachers.

Review:

Claudine is a vain, willful brat that I would hope never to meet in person, but she is absolutely delightful as a character and narrator. She is full of life and observes her fellows and elders with sharpness and humor. She likes to come off as worldly-wise to men, but in Claudine at School, her affections are directed mostly at the sly and pretty Aimee, the assistant teacher. Aimee’s head gets turned by the headmistress, however, and Claudine must settle for being amused at the pair’s indiscretion and sometimes neglectful management of the school.

Claudine is admired by the younger set – particularly Aimee’s little sister, Luce – and has varying levels of companionship with her own class. She likes to insult the “lanky” Anais, but Anais is probably the classmate almost Claudine’s equal in cleverness and perception.

I think I really love stories set in small schools in the past. Last year, I loved all the scenes set at the Montana one-room schoolhouse in Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season. I like seeing the push and pull between the schoolchildren who are stuck together year after year. My favorite parts in Claudine at School were when the classmates were thrown even closer together due to shared experiences, such as the Certificate exams in Claudine at School or preparing for a French official’s visit to town. I think I liked these parts because I liked seeing Claudine get caught up with the communal effort. She’s usually looking to be the individual at all times, but then there are these times where she clearly enjoys the place she has made for herself in her small community.

I also enjoyed reading a book about a teenager where her schoolwork is actually something noted and discussed alongside the interpersonal shenanigans. Take this wonderful little passage:

Only a fortnight till the Certificate! June oppresses us. We bake, half asleep, in the classrooms; we’re silent from listlessness: I’m too languid to keep my diary. And in this furnace heat, we still have to criticize the conduct of Louis XV, explain the role of the gastric juices in the process of digestion, sketch acanthus leaves and divide the auditory apparatus into the inner ear, the middle ear and the outer ear. There’s no justice on the earth! Louis XV did what he wanted to do, it’s nothing to do with me!

p. 112

I had thought I might read the complete Claudine (which in this anthology also includes Claudine in Paris, Claudine Married, and Claudine and Annie). However, after some pages into Claudine in Paris, I realized that I preferred her in the school setting.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair – ” . . . reading this book was like drinking champagne-all light and bubbly, but at the same time quite memorable.”

The Friande – “Descriptions of everything around her are so French, and full of Claudine’s sheer love of life that I was quite sad to leave the late 1800′s town.”

The Zen Leaf – “Claudine at School is a very flippant, naive, childish sort of book where absolutely nothing happens . . . Claudine is an obnoxious character, ridiculous and silly in the worst kind of way, and all the girls seem to act like stereotypes.”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Claudine at School by Colette

  1. Eva

    I just read the third one, Claudine Married and will be reading the fourth and final one soon (had to ILL the collection since *gasp* my new library doesn’t have it)! I’m glad you enjoyed the first one: I love school settings too. 🙂 It took me a bit longer to get into the rhythm of Claudine in Paris so I can understand why you decided to stop at one!

  2. i love the excerpt you included about her lessons. by june, i feel that way myself–and i’m the teacher! 🙂 sounds like a bubbly read that i would appreciate.

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