Colette was the pen name of the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (January 28, 1873 – August 3, 1954).
Early life, marriage[edit | edit source]
Colette was born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne, in the Burgundy Region of France, the daughter of Jules-Joseph Colette and Adèle Eugénie Sidonie Landoy ('Sido'). In 1893 she married Henri Gauthier-Villars, a famous wit known as 'Willy', who was 15 years her senior.
Her first books, the Claudine series, were published under the pen name of her husband, 'Willy', writer, music critic, "literary charlatan and degenerate", who locked Colette in her room until she wrote the required number of pages. Claudine still has the power to charm; in belle epoque France it was downright shocking, much to Willy's satisfaction and profit.
Music hall career, affairs with women[edit | edit source]
In 1906 she left the unfaithful Gauthier-Villars, living for a time at the home of the American writer and salonist Natalie Barney. The two had a short affair, and remained friends until Colette's death.
Colette took up work in the music halls of Paris, under the wing of Mathilde de Morny, the Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy, with whom she became romantically involved. In 1907, the two performed together in a pantomime entitled Rêve d'Égypte at the Moulin Rouge. Their onstage kiss nearly caused a riot, which the police were called in to suppress. As a result of this scandal, further performances of Rêve d'Égypte were banned and Colette and de Morny were no longer able to openly live together, though their relationship continued a total of five years.
She also was involved in a heterosexual relationship during this time, with the Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio.
Second marriage, affair with stepson[edit | edit source]
In 1912 Colette married Henri de Jouvenel, the editor of the newspaper Le Matin. The couple had one daughter, Colette de Jouvenel, known to the family as Bel-Gazou. Colette de Jouvenel later stated that her mother did not want a child and left her daughter in the care of an English nanny, only rarely coming to visit her. In 1914, during World War I, Colette was approached to write a ballet for the Opéra de Paris which she outlined under the title "Divertissements pour ma fille".
After Colette herself chose Maurice Ravel to write the music, he reimagined the work as an opera, to which Colette agreed. Ravel received the libretto to L'Enfant et les sortilèges in 1918, and it was first performed March 21, 1925.  During the war she converted her husband's St. Malo estate into a hospital for the wounded, and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1920). She divorced Henri de Jouvenel in 1924 after a much talked about affair with her stepson, Bertrand de Jouvenel.
Third marriage[edit | edit source]
Colette married Maurice Goudeket in 1935. After 1935 her legal name was simply Sidonie Goudeket. Maurice Goudeket published a book about his wife, Close to Colette: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman of Genius. An English translation was published in 1957 by Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, New York.
Continued writings[edit | edit source]
Post-war, her writing career bloomed following the publication of Chéri (1920). Chéri tells a story of the end of a six-year affair between an aging retired courtesan, Léa, and a pampered young man, Chéri. Turning stereotypes upside-down, it is Chéri who wears silk pyjamas and Léa's pearls, and who is the object of gaze. And in the end Léa demonstrates all the survival skills which Colette associates with feminity. (The story continued in The Last of Chéri (1926), which contrasts Léa's strength and Chéri's fragility, culminating in his suicide).
After Cheri Colette entered the world of modern poetry and paintings centered around Jean Cocteau, who was later her neighbor in Jardins du Palais-Royal. The relationship and life is vividly depicted in their books. By 1927 she was frequently acclaimed as France's greatest woman writer. "It ... has no plot, and yet tells of three lives all that should be known", wrote Janet Flanner of Sido on its publication in 1930. "Once again, and at greater length than usual, she has been hailed for her genius, humanities and perfect prose by those literary journals which years ago ... lifted nothing at all in her direction except the finger of scorn."
She published around fifty novels in total, many with autobiographical elements. Her themes can be roughly divided into idyllic natural tales or dark struggles in relationships and love. All her novels were marked by clever observation and dialogue with an intimate, explicit style. Her most popular novel, Gigi, was made into a Broadway play as well as a highly successful Hollywood motion picture with the title Gigi starring Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, and Leslie Caron.
Legacy[edit | edit source]
A controversial figure throughout her life, Colette flaunted her lesbian affairs, and collaborated with the Vichy regime during World War II - while at the same time aiding her Jewish friends. She was a member of the Belgian Royal Academy (1935), president of the Académie Goncourt (1949) (and the first woman to be admitted into it, in 1945), and a Chevalier (1920) and a Grand Officier (1953) of the Légion d'honneur.
When she died in Paris on August 3, 1954, she was given a state funeral, although she was refused Roman Catholic rites because of her divorce. Colette is interred in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Notable works[edit | edit source]
- Claudine à l'école (1900)
- Claudine à Paris (1901)
- Claudine en ménage (1902)
- Claudine s'en va (1903)
- Dialogues de Bêtes (1904)
- La Vagabonde (1910)
- L'Envers du music hall (1913)
- La Paix Chez les Bêtes (1916)
- L'Enfant et les sortilèges (1917, Ravel opera libretto)
- Mitsou (1919)
- Chéri (1920)
- La Maison de Claudine (1922)
- Le Blé en Herbe (1923)
- La Fin de Chéri (1926)
- La Naissance du Jour (1928)
- Sido (1929)
- Le Pur et L'Impur (1932)
- La Chatte (1933)
- Duo (1934)
- Le Képi (1943)
- Gigi (1945)
- L'Étoile Vesper (1947)
- Le Fanal Bleu (1949)
- Paradis terrestre, with photographs by Izis Bidermanas (1953)
References[edit | edit source]
- Rodriguez, Suzanne (2002). Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris. New York: HarperCollins, 131. ISBN 0-06-093780-7.
- Benstock, Shari (1986). Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900–1940. Texas: University of Texas Press, 48–49. ISBN 0-292-79040-6.
[edit | edit source]
- Template:Fr icon Centre d'études Colette
- Template:Gutenberg author
- Source for some material used in this article
- Image of Colette
- Template:En icon Short Profile of Colette
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