I adore Colette, and when I spotted this unknown-to-me tome on the Open Library, I borrowed it immediately. It is a relatively short tome, translated from its original French by Roger Senhouse, and first published in the United Kingdom in 1959. Here, Colette presents love letters to flowers – and a couple of interesting essay-length pieces written from the perspective of them – from the rose to the narcissi, and from the orchid to the hellebore.
Each prose piece is typically around three pages long, and several of the entries are accompanied by beautiful watercolours painted by Manet. For any fans of her fiction, and any lovers of the outdoor world, For a Flower Album is a real treat. It also makes a lovely seasonal read for the summer months; I can well imagine sitting in a beautiful park or meadow, surrounded by flowers, and dipping in and out of its pages.
What Colette says is, unsurprisingly, intelligent and thoughtful. Her musings are also rather original for the most part, particularly when we consider those pieces from the imagined perspectives of several flowers. ‘The Gardenia’s Perspective’ is the strongest of these, and is really rather lovely. Such inclusions remind one just how strong Colette’s fiction is, and that she is first and foremost a prose writer. She, of course, discusses the aesthetics of her chosen flowers, and sometimes alludes to their perfect growing conditions too. Sometimes we are privy to such details as to when one can expect the flowers to emerge, and her favourite varieties. Memories of Colette’s past have also been included throughout, in which she talks about her love of nature as a child, and the places which she has been in order to see the best floral specimens.
For a Flower Album is sensual in its descriptions, and many themes are touched upon, from art to gastronomy. It is, as well as a manual in how to love, admire, and sometimes care for flowers, a celebration of France and its nature. There is not a great deal of consistency to the piece, but it is the perfect choice to accompany a heavier book with.