In her short story “The Bracelet” Colette presents Madame Augelier, a woman of fifty whose desperate wish to re-experience the wonders of childhood becomes intensely poignant.
We come upon Madame Augelier as she is “mechanically” (297) counting the twenty-nine diamonds in the bracelet her husband, away in Algeria, has sent her for their twenty-ninth wedding anniversary. While she tells herself that she is “pleased” (297) with the diamonds, she must finally admit that the bracelet bores her. Her black onyx ring and her sapphires also fail to satisfy. She then recalls a blue bangle she possessed as a child, how, when she held the bangle to the light, “objects” (298) grew “distorted” (298) and the bracelet “held in it a new universe, shapes not the inventions of dreams, slow, serpentine animals moving in pairs, rays of light congealed in an atmosphere of indescribable blue” (298). Peering through the blue glass, she saw wonders. Awaking after this brief “vision” to “reality”, Madame Augelier feels “bruised” (298).
Colette sculpts the story out of Madame Augelier’s urgent, hopeless desire to see the world as she saw it that day through the blue glass that she held up to the light. Such a bracelet will provide her with the “nameless pleasure” (298) she hungers for. Madame Augelier madly searches, visiting shop after shop, entering disreputable areas of town, parking her car on unfamiliar streets. When she does locate a similar blue bracelet, such is her delirium and excitement that she “stammer[s]” (298) as she buys it.
At home, though, peering at the bracelet under the lamp, Madame Augelier realizes that the bracelet she has bought is “a trinket of a child” (299). It was not the blue glass, then, that allowed Madame Augelier to see wonders, but her young mind, “the sensual genius who creates and nourishes the marvels of childhood” (299). There will be no marvels now because the “genius”, she sees, “dies mysteriously within us” (299). Madame Augelier grieves the fact that she is “old” (299) and that the girl within is “beyond her reach” (299). Colette allows her grief to sharpen in the final moment: Madame Augelier sees “ a being detached from her forever, a stranger, turned away from her, rebellious and free even from the bidding of memory: a little ten-year-old girl wearing on her wrist a bracelet of blue glass”. (299)
Colette adds facets to the story by establishing Madame Augelier’s emotional impoverishment. She is obsessive, alone, and idle; she fears she does not love her husband, and her hair is prematurely white. In this way, Colette hints at the desiccated terrain that Madame Augelier’s wish for the “sensuous genius” of childhood grows from. Collette also details Madame Augelier’s various sensations; the smell of apples makes her “sick” (298); she feels “restless” and “hungry” (298). We cannot misunderstand that her sense of lack is so acute, it becomes physical, an ongoing torment.
I cannot say that I have ever felt how Madame Augelier feels- that my ability to see wonders is gone and that my adult life is desolate. But I know I have had the occasional moment, recalling swimming in the lake when I was young, when I do see the widening “plain” (299) between childhood and adulthood. The long days at the lake, when I felt the water push and pull me, seem so long ago, so irretrievable. I can remember once floating on my back, and tricking myself that all that existed was water and body and sky; I am not sure I could believe such a thing now, even for a brief moment; and if I could, I am not sure I would not be frightened, as I was not as a child.
I wonder if, as we get older, we might miss the presence of the “being” (299)or self that could see not a rigid, fixed world, but one capable of wonderful, somehow necessary illusions.
Colette. The Collected Stories of Colette. Trans. Mathew Ward et al. U.S.A.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 1983.
Translation copyright 1957, 1966, 1983 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Translation copyright 1958 by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd.