Chéri, first published in 1920, is a semi-autobiographical work by the author who was always known as Colette, though her full name was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Colette was also a mime, actress, and journalist, and is best remembered for her 1944 novella Gigi.
A year or so after this book was published, Colette, then in her late forties, started an affair with her much younger stepson, Bertrand, and in many ways the novel uncannily predicts the author’s own experiences. In Chéri, Léa de Lonval, who is forty-nine and a former courtesan, is living with Chéri, whose real name is Fred Peloux. Chéri is a spoiled and lazy twenty-five year old and the son of Charlotte, an old friend of Léa and also a former courtesan. Léa has been with Chéri for six years; she realises that this might be her last affair, and has tried to make a man of him, both physically and mentally. However, Chéri is about to marry Edmée in an arranged marriage. Léa accepts this, but is unsure of what it will mean to her. However, Edmée is only eighteen, and Chéri finds her too young for him. The marriage does not work out well, and, eventually Chéri returns to Léa, though as she sadly finds out not for good and with little improvement.
Vertès and Colette knew each other fairly well, and collaborated in this privately-published illustrated edition of Chéri, produced when both were at the height of their renown. The artist’s spare drawings are the perfect complement to Colette’s keenly-observed narrative.
The Vertès-illustrated Chéri was published ‘Pour l’artiste et ses amis’ (for the artist and his friends) in a limited numbered edition of 50 copies.