These Claudines, then…they want to know because they believe they already do know, the way one who loves fruit knows, when offered a mango from the moon, what to expect; and they expect the loyal tender teasing affection of the schoolgirl crush to continue: the close and confiding companionship, the pleasure of the undemanding caress, the cuddle which consummates only closeness; yet in addition they want motherly putting right, fatherly forgiveness and almost papal indulgence; they expect that the sights and sounds, the glorious affairs of the world which their husbands will now bring before them gleaming like bolts of silk, will belong to the same happy activities as catching toads, peeling back tree bark, or powdering the cheeks with dandelions and oranging the nose; that music will ravish the ear the way the trill of the blackbird does; that literature will hold the mind in sweet suspense the way fairy tales once did; that paintings will crowd the eye with the delights of a colorful garden, and the city streets will be filled with the same cool dew-moist country morning air they fed on as children. But they shall not receive what they expect; the tongue will be about other business; one will hear in masterpieces only pride and bitter contention; buildings will have grandeur but no flowerpots or chickens; and these Claudines will exchange the flushed cheek for the swollen vein, and instead of companionship, they will get sex and absurd games composed of pinch, leer, and giggle—that’s what will happen to “let’s pretend.”
'The great male will disappear into the jungle like the back of an elusive ape, and Claudine shall see little of his strength again, his intelligence or industry, his heroics on the Bourse like Horatio at the bridge (didn’t Colette see Henri de Jouvenel, editor and diplomat and duelist and hero of the war, away to work each day, and didn’t he often bring his mistress home with him, as Willy had when he was husband number one?); the great affairs of the world will turn into tawdry liaisons, important meetings into assignations, deals into vulgar dealings, and the en famille hero will be weary and whining and weak, reminding her of all those dumb boys she knew as a child, selfish, full of fat and vanity like patrons waiting to be served and humored, admired and not observed.
'Is the occasional orgasm sufficient compensation? Is it the prize of pure surrender, what’s gained from all that giving up? There’ll be silk stockings and velvet sofas maybe, the customary caviar, tasting at first of frog water but later of money and the secretions of sex, then divine champagne, the supreme soda, and rubber-tired rides through the Bois de Boulogne; perhaps there’ll be rich ugly friends, ritzy at homes, a few young men with whom one may flirt, a homosexual confidant with long fingers, soft skin, and a beautiful cravat, perfumes and powders of an unimaginable subtlety with which to dust and wet the body, many deep baths, bonbons filled with sweet liqueurs, a procession of mildly salacious and sentimental books by Paul de Kock and company—good heavens, what’s the problem?—new uses for the limbs, a tantalizing glimpse of the abyss, the latest sins, envy certainly, a little spite, jealousy like a vaginal itch, and perfect boredom.
'And the mirror, like justice, is your aid but never your friend.' -- From "Three Photos of Colette," The World Within the Word, reprinted from NYRB April 1977
William H. Gass (The World Within the Word)