"Colette, whose work is a window wide open on life"
February 8, 2017 3:14 AM   Subscribe

Colette (in full Sidone-Gabrielle Colette 1873–1954) was a popular and critically-acclaimed French novelist whose works included: a homoerotic Girls’ School coming-of-age story (for which her unscrupulous first husband initially claimed sole credit); an account of life as a music-hall performer (drawn from first-hand experience); a recounting of a middle-aged courtesan’s affair with a much younger man (which echoed her own scandalous relationship with her stepson); and the tale of a fifteen-year-old girl being groomed for a life of sex-work by her elderly relatives (later adapted into a Broadway play and a Hollywood musical). Please note that some links will be mildly NSFW.

Among her other writings: the libretto for Ravel’s second opera; and a collection of dialogues between a cat and a dog (Kiki-la-doucette being a Maltese cat and Toby-chien a French bulldog); While famously devoted to her pets; she was notoriously ‘a lamentable mother’. She married three times but also had affairs with women including Josephine Baker, and perhaps most notably, Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf aka Missy. She was the first woman to be admitted to the Academie Goncourt (in 1945) and was nominated for the 1948 Nobel Prize (losing out to T.S. Eliot). A new new Hollywood biopic about her first marriage is apparently in the works: with Keira Knightley apparently taking the lead rôle (she has previously been portrayed on-screen by Mathilda May and Marie Trintignant, among others).
posted by misteraitch (12 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

Anyone conversant with Gawker and the noxious cloaca running down the right-hand side of the Daily Mail’s website would find the popular press of Belle Époque Paris strikingly familiar.

When a blog post begins like this, you can expect something special (from the "Missy" link).

Bravo, Colette!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:56 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anita Loos gives a nice description of their first meeting Colette as she, Loos, was assigned the task of writing the book for Gigi. Off to meet the author, by then bed ridden with arthritis. Colette seemed only marginally interested in Loos' suggestions on how to translate the work for the stage. Loos was getting more and more uncomfortable when, in a brief pause, Colette looked down and asked here "Where did you get those adorable shoes?"

Lifelong friends thereafter.

(The story comes from Loos' Cast of Thousands. Also discusses the then unknown Audrey Hepburn. Fun book. You should read it.)
posted by BWA at 5:12 AM on February 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

And, thanks to BWA, I now know about the existence of Anita Loos. She's like an What a bad ass! Smart as a whip and cute as hell. Shame about the husband.

It's crazy how contemporary some of her photos look.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:19 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Collette is my favourite
posted by PinkMoose at 6:55 AM on February 8, 2017

I read the Claudine books like a hundred times in high school. Reading them in English, and so young, I think I completely missed the levels of irony and satire that were later pointed out to me by French speakers. And of course the irony inherent in the exploitative way they got published-- and the re-working probably heightened some exploitative aspects in the text. But, wow, they are just so lively and the character of Claudine is so wonderful. They actually get better as the series moves along imo, even when they main character shifts to a frightened young married woman who may be more like the actual Colette at the time.
posted by BibiRose at 7:22 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

for an intermediate French language student, reading Claudine a l'ecole is like nothing except reading Plato in Greek for the first time. in that if you can't imagine ever getting to a point where you can just read instead of laboriously translating in your mind the whole time, suddenly you can. not because you got better, but because the book is better. there are probably easier books to start with but none so pure.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:23 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

queenofbithynia, you are making me want to go back and read them in French-- especially since you are so right about Plato in Greek!
posted by BibiRose at 7:27 AM on February 8, 2017

Angela Carter did a marvelous essay on Colette, you can find it in her collection Shaking a Leg.
posted by emjaybee at 8:17 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Je l'adore! Merci bien.
posted by Mr. Fig at 9:35 AM on February 8, 2017

Oh, my heart.
posted by Space Kitty at 3:51 PM on February 8, 2017

Wow. I never quite considered Gigi in that sense. I should have as I have seen it, ohhhhh, about 9 million times. My ex-wife loved her some musicals, and that was her favorite.
posted by Samizdata at 12:16 AM on February 9, 2017

Ah, perfect time to trot out one of my all-time favorite quotes:

"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."
-- Colette

(Thanks for the post, looking forward to checking out the links.)
posted by Bron at 12:42 PM on February 9, 2017

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