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NONFICTION : FLOWERS AND FRUIT by Colette; edited by Robert Phelps, translated by Matthew Ward (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $14.95).

March 30, 1986|BARBARA SALTZMAN

Colette's odes to flora burst with the urgency of a ripe seed pod. If they seem to be the products of another, more romantic age, perhaps they are. Few today would compose such--there is no other way to say it--flowery prose. Praising Redoute, the renowned 17th-Century giant of botanical artworks who "manifests a love for flowers that has no fear of exhausting its subject," the author of "Gigi" evokes a similar richness of style and eye for detail.

This collection of essays, drawn mostly from the last years of Colette's life, when crippling arthritis kept her virtually bedridden, reflects the hold that nature, past, present, or even future, can exert.

Her reflections on the rose and iris are particularly compelling. "Now, as it so happens, I no longer have a garden," she writes poignantly. "It isn't so terrible not to have a garden. It would be serious if the future garden, whose reality matters little, were beyond my grasp. It is not." Therein lies the power of the flower, and of Colette herself.

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