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Colette (1873-1954) - in full Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette


French novelist, whose career spanned from her early 20s to her mid-70s. Colette's main themes were joys and pains of love, and female sexuality in the male-dominated world. All her works are more or less autobiographical but Colette intentionally blurred the boundaries between fiction and fact. She wrote over 50 novels and scores of short stories.

"By means of an image we are often able to hold on to our lost belongings. But it is the desperateness of losing which picks the flowers of memory, binds the bouquet." (Mes Apprentissages, 1936)

Sidonie-Cabrielle Colette was born in the Burgundian village of Saint-Sauveur-en Puisaye. She was the daughter of a retired army captain, Jules-Joseph Colette. He had lost a leg in the Italian campaign and worked as a taxcollector with local political aspirations. Colette's mother, Adele Eugenie Sidonie Landoy, known as 'Sidonie' or 'Sido', was an unconventional character, a down-to-earth personality, devoted to her pets, books, and garden.

Colette spent a happy childhood in rural surrounding, the scene of her many novels. While still a schoolgirl, she decided she would be known by her surname, as the boys were. At the age of 20 Colette married the writer and music critic Henri Gauthier-Villars, ('Monsieur Willy'); he was 15 years her senior. Biographers have labelled her first husband as a literary charlatan and degenerate, but he saw at once that she was the better writer. Moreover, he gave her at least one dose of gonorrhoea.

Encouraged to start a career as a writer Colette published in short period four Claudine novels (1900-03) under her husband's pen name Willy; he kept the copyright to these early works. According to a famous story, he locked Colette in her room until she had written enough pages. The series novels, which depicted adventures of a teenage girl, was a huge success. It inspired all kinds of side products – a musical stage play, Claudine uniform, Claudine soap, cigars, and perfume. However, Colette's own cosmetics shop went bankrupt. Tired of her husbands unfaithfulness, Colette broke free of him in 1905.

After divorcing in 1906 Colette earned her living as a music-hall performer at such places as La Chatte Amoureuse and L'Oiseau de Nuit. On stage she bared one breast. A talk of the town, Colette once mimed copulation in a sketch, which a riot at the Moulin Rouge. Colette's protector and manager, a woman known as "Missy", was the niece of Napoleon III, the Marquise de Belboeuf. At performances of Rêve d'Egypte they bared their breasts and kissed. Missy bought Colette a house in Brittany. She committed suicide in 1944 – ruined and desperate. Among Colette's other friends and probably lovers were Natalie Clifford Barney, an American lesbian woman, and the Italian writer Gabriele d'Annunzzio.

In 1912 Colette married Henri de Jouvenel des Ursins, the editor of the newspaper Le Matin, for which she contributed theatre chronicles and short stories. Henri was just as unfaithful as Willy. Their daughter, Colette de Jouvenel, later told that she was neglected by her parents – her mother never wanted a child and she referred to her as "a rat". Colette's relationship with her young stepson, Bertrand de Jouvenel, was a source of gossips. In the novel Chéri (1920) she returned to the affair but depicted it from a point of view of a sexually unexperienced young man. Colette hired to prostitutes to take Bertrand's virginity, but when tey failed, she seduced him. He later described his stepmother as "demanding, voracious, expert and rewarding".

In 1910 Colette published La Vagabonde, a story about an actress who rejects a man she loves in order to live in an independent way. During World War I Colette converted her husband's St. Malo estate into a hospital for the wounded. After the war she was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1920).

Colette had achieved prominence in the beginning of the century but the 1920s brought her enormous fame. Her status in a culture dominated by men was exceptional. She entered the world of modern poetry and paintings, which centered around Jean Cocteau, later her neighbor in Palais Royale. By 1927 Colette was frequently acclaimed as France's greatest woman writer. Especially Colette's insights into the behavior of women in love gained a sympathetic response from the reading public.

"'The great hat principle is that when you meet a woman on the street and her hat allows you to see whether she's a brunette, a blonde, or a redhead, the woman in question is not wearing a chic hat. There! ... Notice I'm not saying anything, I'll let you make up your own mind. Well?'" (from 'The Saleswoman' in Collected Stories)

Two central themes can be identified in Colette's mature works: the nature and the mother-daughter bond. She wrote also with great sensitivity about animals. La Maison de Claudine (1922) mythologized her childhood, La Naissance du Jour (1928) and Sido (1929) celebrated Colette's carefree rural childhood, and the strength of her mother, whom the author rarely saw but wrote her many letters. The letters were destroyed by her brother after Sidonie died. In novels such as La Vagabonde, Le Blé en herbe (1923), La Seconde (1929) and La Chatte (1933) Colette explored the struggle between independent identity and passionate love. Most of Colette's heroes and heroines, cocottes, bisexuals and gigolos, came from the margins of society. Without succumbing to sentimentality, Colette portrayed the moods and whims of her characters with psychological insight and certain shamelessness. Chéri, which is one of her most famous book, tells the story of the end of a six year affair between an aging retired courtesan, Léa, and a pampered young man, Chéri. Turning conventions upside-down it is Chéri who wears silk pyjamas and Léa's pearls, he is the object of gaze. And in the end Léa demonstrates all the survival skills which Colette associated with femininity. The story continued in The Last of Chéri (1951), which contrasts Léa's strength and Chéri's fragility, leading to his suicide.

Colette's attitude toward his art and toward herself unpretentious. In the 1940s Colette portrayed her later years in L'Étoile Vesper (1946) and Le Fanal Bleu (1949), which constantly questioned the relationship between autobiography and fiction. Gigi (1945) was published when the author was 72; the novel was made into a film in 1948. Vincente Minnelli directed a musicalized version of the story in 1958.

Colette worked had as a professional woman of letters. She was made in the 1930s member of the Belgian Royal Academy and she was the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Goncourt Academy. In 1953 Colette became a grand officer of the Legion of Honour. She won also many awards for her work. During the last 20 years of her life Colette suffered from a crippling form of arthritis, which had been set off by the fracture of a fibula in 1931. Her marriage with Henry de Jouvenal ended in 1924. From 1935 she was married to Maurice Goudaket, whose pearl business had been ruined during the Depression. After running out of money he began selling second-hand washing machines and devices to unblock lavatories. Colette supported him because as a Jew he did not find work and had to hide when the Germans occupied France. His infidelities did not trouble her. Colette died on August 3, 1954 in Paris, where her fame was no less legandary than that of the writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) or the singer Edith Piaf (1915-1963). Her last residence was on the Rue de Beaujolais. She had lived in the same building in 1927-28. Colette was accorded a state funeral despite the refusal of Catholic rites on the grounds that she had been divorced. Her funeral was attended by thousands of mourners.

For further reading: Madame Colette by M. Crosland (1953); Prés de Colette (Close to Colette) by Maurice Goudeket (1955); Colette by E. Marks (1960); The Delights of Growing Old by Maurice Goudeket (1966); Colette - The Difficulty of Loving by M. Crosland (1973); Colette by R.D. Cotrell (1974); Colette by Y. Mitchell (1975); Colette Free and Fettered by M. Sarde (1980); Colette, ed. by E.M. Eisinger and M.W.McCarthy (1981); Colette by J.H. Stewart (1983); Colette by J. Richardson (1984); Colette by N. Ward Jouve (1987); Colette: A Life by H. Lottman (1990); Creating Colette: From Ingenue to Libertine 1873-1913 by Claude Francis, Fernande Gontier ( 1998); Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman (1999); Creating Colette: From Baroness to Woman of Letters, 1912-1954 by Claude Francis, Fernande Gontier (1999); Colette by Claude Pichois and Alain Brunet (1999); Colette by Julia Kristeva (2002) - Other writers closely associated with Paris: Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera), Alexandre Dumas (père), Honoré de Balzac, Eugéne Sue, Charles Baudelaire, Guillaume Apollinaire, Émile Zola, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, etc.

Selected works:

  • Claudine à l'école, 1900 (with Henri Gauthier-Villars)
    - Claudine at School (translated by J. Flanner, 1930; H. Mirande, 1930; Antonia White, 1956) / The Complete Claudine (translated from the French by Antonia White; introduction by Judith Thurman, 2001)
    - films: Claudine à l'école, 1917, prod. Celtic Films, starring Maud Loti, Loulou Hégoburu; 1937, prod. Les Films Regent, dir. by Serge de Poligny, starring Blanchette Brunoy; TV film 1978, dir. by Edouard Molinaro, starring Marie-Hélène Breillat as Claudine
  • Claudine à Paris, 1901 (with Henri Gauthier-Villars)
    - Claudine in Paris (tr. 1931) / Young Lady of Paris (translated by James Whitall, 1931) / The Complete Claudine (translated from the French by Antonia White; introduction by Judith Thurman, 2001)
    - films: 1917, prod. Celtic Films, starring
    Maud Loti, Loulou Hégoburu; TV film 1978, dir. by Edouard Molinaro, starring Marie-Hélène Breillat as Claudine
  • Claudine en ménage, 1902 (with Henri Gauthier-Villars)
    - The Indulgent Husband (translated by Frederick A. Blossom, 1935) / Claudine Married (translated by Antonia White, 1960) / The Complete Claudine (translated from the French by Antonia White; introduction by Judith Thurman, 2001)
    - films: Claudine en ménage, 1917, prod. Celtic Films, starring Maud Loti, Loulou Hégoburu; TV film 1978, dir. by Edouard Molinaro, starring Marie-Hélène Breillat as Claudine
  • Claudine s'en va, 1903 (with Henri Gauthier-Villars)
    - The Innocent Wife (translated by F. Blossom, 1934) / Claudine Married (translated by Antonia White, 1962) / The Complete Claudine (translated from the French by Antonia White; introduction by Judith Thurman, 2001)
    - films: Claudine à Paris, 1917, prod. Celtic Films, starring Maud Loti, Loulou Hégoburu; TV film 1978, dir. by Edouard Molinaro, starring Marie-Hélène Breillat as Claudine
  • Dialogues de Bêtes, 1904
    - Creatures Great and Small (translated by Enid McLeod, 1951)
  • Minne, 1904
  • Les égarements de Minne, 1905
  • Sept dialogues des bêtes, 1905
    - Barks and Purrs (translated by Marie Kelly, 1913)
  • La Retraite Sentimentale, 1907
    - The Retreat from Love (translated by M. Crosland, 1974)
  • Les Vrilles de la vigne, 1908
    - A Fable: The Tendrils of the Vine (in The collected stories of Colette, ed. by Robert G. Phelps, translated by Matthew Ward, et al., 1983)
  • En Camarades, 1909 (play, in Oeuvres complètes 15, 1950)
  • L'Ingénue libertine, 1909
    - The Gentle Libertine (translated by R.C. Benet, 1931)
  • Claudine, 1910 (play, music by Rodolphe Berger)
  • La Vagabonde, 1910
    - The Vagrant (tr. 1912) / Renee la vagabonde (translated by Charlotte Remfry-Kidd, 1931) / The Vagabond (translated by Enid McLeod, 1954; Stanley Appelbaum, 2010)
    - film: La Vagabonda, 1918, prod. Film d'Arte Italiana, dir. by Musidora, Eugenio Perego, starring Musidora
  • L'Entrave, 1913
    - Recaptured (translated by Viola Gerard Garvin, 1931) / The Shackle (translated by Antonia White, 1963)
  • L'Envers du music hall, 1913
    - Music-Hall Sidelights (translated by Anne-Marie Callimachi, 1957)
    - film: Divine, 1935, dir. by Max Ophuls, starring Simone Berriau, Gina Manès and Catherine Fonteney 
  • Prrou, Poucette et quelques autres, 1913 (rev. ed. La Paix chez les bêtes, 1916)
    - Creatures Great and Small (translated by Enid McLeod, 1951)
  • La Paix Chez les Bêtes, 1916
  • Les heures longues: 1914-1917, 1917
  • Les enfants dans les ruines, 1917
  • La Vagabonde, 1917 (screenplay, remake 1931)
  • Dans la foule, 1918
  • Mitsou; ou, comment l'esprit vient aux filles, 1919
    - Mitsou; or, How Girls Grow Wise (translated by Jane Terry, 1931)
    - film: Mitsou ou Comment l'esprit vient aux filles..., 1956, prod. Ardennes General, dir. by Jacqueline Audry, starring Danièle Delorme, Fernand Gravey, François Guérin, Claude Rich, Palau
  • La Femme cachée, 1919 (screenplay)
  • Chéri, 1920
    - Chéri (translated by Janet Flanner, 1929; Roger Senhouse, 1974; Stanley Appelbaum, 2001)
    - Chéri (suom. Eeva Laura, 1946; Marja Haapio, 2000)
    - films: Chéri, 1950, dir. by Pierre Billon, starring Jean Desailly, Marcelle Chantal, Jane Marken; TV film 1962; dir. by François Chatel, starring Jean-Claude Brialy; TV play 1973, prod. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), dir. by Claude Whatham, starring Scott Antony; TV play 1988, prod. Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI), dir. by Enzo Muzii; 2009, dir. by Stephen Frears, starring Rupert Friend, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates
  • Chéri, 1921 (play, with Léopold Marchand)
  • Celle qui en revient: suivi de quelques autres dialogues de bêtes, 1921
  • Le Voyage égoïste, 1922
    - Journey for Myself: Selfish Memoirs (translated in part by David Le Vay, 1971)
  • La Maison de Claudine, 1922
    - The Mother of Claudine (translated by Charles King, 1937) / My Mother's House (translated by E. McLeod and U.V. Troubridge, 1953)
    - Claudinen koti (suom. Maija Lehtonen, 1953)
  • Rêverie de nouvel an, 1923
  • La Vagabonde, 1923 (play, with Léopold Marchand)
  • Le Blé en herbe, 1923
    - The Ripening Corn (translated by Phyllis Megroz, 1921) / The Ripening (translated by Ida Zeitlin, 1932) / Ripening Seed (translated by Roger Senhouse, 1956) / Green Wheat: A Novel (translated by Zack Rogow, 2004)
    - Vilja oraalla (suom. Kyllikki Clément, 1958)
    - films: Le blé en herbe, 1954, prod. Franco London Films, dir. by Claude Autant-Lara, starring Edwige Feuillère, Nicole Berger, Pierre-Michel Beck, Robert Berri, Simone Duhart; TV film 1990, prod. Agepro Cinéma, dir. by Serge Meynard
  • Aventures quotidiennes, 1924
    - Journey for Myself: Selfish Memoirs (translated in part by David Le Vay, 1971)
  • La Femme cachée, 1924
    - The Other Woman (translated by Margaret Crosland, 1971)
  • L'enfant et les sortilèges, 1925 (play, music by Maurice Ravel)
    - The Boy and the Magic (translated by C. Fry, 1964)
  • La Fin de Chéri, 1926
    - The Last of Chérie (translated by Viola Gerard Garvin, 1933; Roger Senhouse, 1951)
    - Chérin loppu (suom. Marja Haapio, 2000)
  • La Naissance du Jour, 1928
    - A Lesson in Love (translated by R.C. Benet, 1932) / Morning Glory (tr. 1932) / Break of Day (translated by Enid McLeod, 1961)
    - La naissance du jour; TV film 1980, dir. by Jacques Demy, starring Danièle Delorme as Colette
  • La Seconde, 1929
    - The Other One (translated by Roger Senhouse and Elizabet Tait, 1931) / Fanny and Jane (translated by Viola Gerard Garvin, 1931)
    - La Seconde, TV film 1990, prod. Agepro Cinéma, dir. by Christopher Frank, starring Anny Duperey, Jean Rochefort, Caroline Sihol, Françoise Seigner
  • Douze dialogues de bêtes, 1930
  • Histoire pour Bel-Gazou, 1930
  • Sido, 1930
    - Sido (translated by E. McLeod, 1953)
  • Renée la vagabonde, 1931
  • La Treille Muscate, 1932
  • Prisons et Paradis, 1932
    - Places (translated in part by David Le Vay, 1970)
  • Ces plaisirs, 1932 (as Le Pur et l'impur, 1941)
    - These Pleasures (tr. 1934) / The Pure and the Impure (translated by Edith Dally, 1934; Herma Briffault, 1968)
  • Jeune filles en uniform, 1932 (French dialogue for the German film Mädchen in Uniform)
  • La Chatte, 1933
    - The Cat (translated by Morris Bentinck, 1936; Antonia White, 1955) / Saha the Cat (tr. 1936)
  • Duo, 1934
    - Duo (translated by Frederick A. Blossom, 1935) / The Married Lover (translated by Marjorie Laurie, 1935)
    - films: Viaggio in Italia, 1954, prod. Italia Film, dir. by Roberto Rossellini, starring Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders, Maria Mauban; Duo, TV film 1990, dir. by Claude Santelli
  • La jumelle noire, 1934-1938 (4 vols.)
  • Lac aux dames, 1934 (dialogue)
    - film: Lac aux dames, 1934, prod. Sopra, dir. by Marc Allégret, starring Rosine Deréan, Simome Simon, Illa Meery, Odette Joyeux, Jean-Pierre Aumont
  • Divine, 1935 (screenplay)
    - film: Divine, 1935, prod. Eden Productions, dir. by Max Ophüls, starring Simone Berriau, Gina Manés, Catherine Fonteney
  • Splendeur des papillons, 1936 (with  Hans Zbinden)
  • Chats, 1936
  • Mes apprentissages, 1936
    - My Apprenticeships (translated by H. Beauclerk, 1957)
  • ''Bella- Vista, 1937
  • Le Toutounier, 1939
    - The Toutounier (translated by Margaret Crosland, with Duo, 1974)
  • Chambre d'hôtel, 1941
    - Chance Acquaintances (translated by P.L. Fermor, 1957)
  • Le Pur et l'Impur, 1941 
    - The Pure and the Impure (translated by Edith Dally, 1934; Herma Briffault, 1968)
  • Journal à rebours, 1941
    - Looking Backwards (translated by D. Le Vay, 1975)
  • Mes cahiers, 1941 (contains the ballet scenario La Décapitée)
  • Julie de Carneilhan, 1941
    - Julie de Carneilhan and, Chance Acquaintances (translated by Patrick Leigh Fermor, 1957)
    - films: Julie de Carneilhan, 1950, dir. by Jacques Manuel, dialogue by Jean-Pierre Grédy, starring Edwige Feuillère, Pierre Brasseur, Jacques Dumesnil, Marcelle Chantal, Michel Lemoine; TV film 1990, dir. by Christopher Frank, starring Caroline Cellier
  • De ma fenêtre, 1942 (as Paris de ma fenêtre, 1944)
    - Looking Backwards (translated by D. Le Vay, 1975)
  • De la patte à l'aile, 1943
  • Le Képi, 1943
  • Flore et Pomone, 1943
    - Flowers and Fruit (translated by Matthew Ward, 1986)
  • Nudité, 1943
  • Broderie ancienne, 1944
  • Paris de ma fenêtre, 1944
  • Gigi et autres nouvelles, 1944
    - Gigi (translated by R. Senhouse, 1952)
    - film versions: Gigi, 1948 dir. by Jacqueline Audry, starring Daniele Delorme, Gaby Morlay, Yvonne de Bray; musical version in 1958 dir. by Vincente Minnelli, starring Leslia Caron, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier (note: Leslie Caron's vocals were dubbed by Betty Wand); Kirmizi karanfiller, 1962, prod. Kurt Film; TV play 1987, dir. by Jeannette Hubert, starring Anne Jacquemin; Mademoiselle Gigi, TV film 2006, dir. by Caroline Huppert, starring Juliette Lamboley
  • Le tendron: nouvelle, 1944
  • La Dame du photographe, 1944
  • Trois…Six…Neuf, 1944
  • Belles Saisons, 1945
    - Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook (edited by Robert Phelps, 1978)
  • Chats, 1945
  • L'Étoile Vesper, 1946
    - The Evening Star: Recollections (translated by D. Le Vay, 1973)
  • Une amitié inattendue: correspondance de Colette & de Francis Jammes, 1946 (edited by Robert Mallet)
  • Pour un herbier, 1948
    - For a Flower Album (translated by R. Senhouse, 1959)
  • Trait pour trait, 1949
  • La fleur de l'âge, 1949
  • Le Fanal bleu, 1949
    - The Blue Lantern (translated by R. Senhouse, 1963)
  • Chats de Colette, 1949
  • Journal intermittent, 1949
  • En pays connu, 1950
  • Gigi, 1951 (play, with Anita Loos)
  • Chéri, 1952 (play)
  • Paradis terrestre, 1953 (photographs by Izis Bidermanas)
  • Six Novels, 1957
  • Paysages et Portraits, 1958
  • Lettres à Hélène Picard, 1958 (edited by Claude Pichois)
  • Lettres à Marguerite Moreno, 1959 (edited by Claude Pichois)
  • Lettres de la Vagabonde, 1961 (edited by Claude Pichois and Roberte Forbin)
  • Lettres au petit corsaire, 1963 (edited by Claude Pichois and Roberte Forbin)
  • Earthly Paradise, 1966 (edited by Robert Phelps,  translated by Helen Beauclerk, et al.)
  • Places, 1970 (translated by David Le Vay)
  • Contes des mille et un matins, 1970
    - The Thousand and One Mornings (translated by Margaret Crosland and David Le Vay, 1973)
  • Journey for Myself: Selfish Memoirs, 1971
  • Lettres à ses pairs, 1973 (edited by Claude Pichois and Roberte Forbin)
  • Oeuvres completes, 1973 (16 vols.)
  • Jeunes filles en uniforme, Lac-aux-Dames, Divine, 1975 (screenplays, in Au Cinéma, 1975)
  • Colette au cinema, 1975 (edited by Alain and Odette Virmaux)
  • Letters from Colette, 1980 (selected and translated by Robert Phelps)
  • The Collected Stories of Colette, 1983 (edited by Robert G. Phelps, translated by Matthew Ward, et al.)
  • The Collected Stories of Colette, 1983 (edited by Robert Phelps, translated by Matthew Ward, et al.)
  • Lettres à sa fille de Sido, 1984
  • Oeuvres, 1984-2001 (4 vols., edited by Claude Pichois)
  • Flowers and Fruit, 1986 (edited by Robert Phelps)
  • Lettres à Moune et au Toutounet, 1985 (edited by Bernard Villaret)
  • Lettres à Hélène Picard, à Marguerite Moreno, au petit corsaire, 1988 (edited by Claude Pichois)
  • Lettres aux petites fermières, 1992 (edited by Marie-Thérèse Colléaux-Chaurang)
  • Au Concert, 1992 (edited by Alain Galliari)
  • Lettres à Annie de Pene et Germaine Beaumont, 1995 (edited by Francine Dugast)
  • Lettres à sa fille, 1916-1953, 2003 (edited by Anne de Jouvenel)
  • Lettres à Missy, 2009 (edited by Samia Bordji et Frédéric Maget)

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