The Rainy Moon (La Lune de Pluie) by Colette, 1940

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THE RAINY MOON (La Lune de pluie)
by Colette, 1940

Colette's "The Rainy Moon" ("La Lune de pluie") was printed in 1940 along with "Hotel Room" ("Chambre du hôtel"), the title story of the collection. By then Colette was in her late 60s, but the story has many of the psychological and literary qualities that have made her famous. "The Rainy Moon" is a first-person narration told with a passionate involvement that makes no secret of inviting the reader to identify the author and the narrator. In both the detailed and affectionate depiction of the Parisian scene and the deeply empathetic portrayal of women's lot, there is much that is vintage Colette, especially in the way past and present are linked as a single, continuous whole. In fact, the tale is little more than a situation, but there is a verbal brilliance in the presentation of the three female characters, the creation of atmosphere, and the setting up of a most unusual situation, which is resolved in the laconic manner of classic short stories.

Set in Paris in the earlier part of the twentieth century like many of Colette's richest tales, "The Rainy Moon" begins with the first encounter between the narrator, a woman of some experience who has been a relatively successful fiction writer, and Mademoiselle Rosita Barberet, who is younger and makes a meager living by typing literary manuscripts. Oddly, Rosita currently occupies the apartment where the narrator spent her adolescence. The evocation of this strange, even slightly unsettling circumstance is masterly. We are told that the narrator responds to everything around her, whether in the street outside or inside the apartment. Her hand, without thinking about it, closes around a doorknob, and her feet somehow seem to know their way down the stairs. Everything seems so familiar, yet she knows that much has changed. She feels locked out of part of what used to be hers and scarcely knows how to react. The narrator herself remarks that for her, as for writers such as Marcel Proust, "the past is a far more violent temptation than the craving to know the future." This leads her to look forward to future opportunities of calling on Rosita, and she sometimes does not hesitate to invent occasions for doing so. The desire grows within her to explore further her former home. In particular she wants to go into what used be to her bedroom, although Rosita seems most uneasy about permitting her to do so.

At last the narrator manages to have her way. What she discovers is that her old bedroom is currently being used by Rosita's sister, a pretty girl named Adèle who prefers, however, to be called by the more romantic name of Délia. She is ill, upset, and something of a recluse, and it is only little by little that the cause of her distress is explained. She is, in fact, married, but her husband has left her. Though the story moves slowly at this point, tension grows as we realize that, just as the narrator had responded emotionally to the fact that the apartment was her old home, so, too, she becomes aware of the similarities between Délia's emotional predicament and the heartbreaking stresses and strains of her own experiences of love. In this tale of three lonely women the lack of any appearances of men is a significant factor. Although the narrator tries to cut herself off from the Barberet sisters, there is something that impels her to keep up the uneasy relationship.

The final phase of "The Rainy Moon" takes an unexpected direction. Rosita goes to see the narrator in her apartment. She is persuaded to have a drink, and she talks of notions of witchcraft, of occult practices by which a rejected wife tries to wreak her revenge on an errant husband. The narrator, who is not unfamiliar with the séances that attracted interest in the France of the Third Republic, is surprised if not shocked. The crisp conclusion of the tale, however, is arresting.

"The Rainy Moon" takes its title from a strange effect caused by the play of light that produces a strange pattern on the wall when it streams in through the coarse glass in one of the windowpanes. Fascinating in its psychological insight, the story is no less notable for the richness of Colette's verbal texture, which is, of course, here given a certain plausibility since the narrator is presented as being herself a writer. The basis of the story is the close observation of remembered reality, but to this is added a poetic delight in the evocative power of words that invests everything that is described with extraordinary life and vitality.

—Christopher Smith