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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Born 28 January 1873(1873-01-28)
Yonne, France
Died 3 August 1954 (aged 81)
Paris, France
Pen name Colette
Occupation Novelist
Nationality French
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Colette was the surname of the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (28 January 1873 – 3 August 1954). She is best known for her novel Gigi (upon which the stage and film musical comedies by Lerner & Loewe, of the same title, were based).


Early life, marriage

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 bisexual 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",[1]. 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

Colette in a publicity still for Rêve d'Égypte

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.[2] She was also, according to author Jean-Claude Baker’s book Josephine: The Hungry Heart, involved for some time with actress Josephine Baker. [1]

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.[3] She also was involved in a heterosexual relationship during this time, with the Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio. Another affair during this period was with the automobile-empire scion, Auguste Herriot.

Second marriage, affair with stepson

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 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 on 21 March 1925.[4]

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

Colette, painted ca. 1896 by Jacques Humbert

In 1935, Colette married Maurice Goudeket, an uncle of Juliet Goudeket alias Jetta Goudal[5]. 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

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 pajamas 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 femininity. (The story continued in La Fin de Chéri (1926), which contrasts Léa's strength and Chéri's fragility and decline).

After Chéri, Colette entered the world of modern poetry and paintings revolving around Jean Cocteau, who was later her neighbor in Jardins du Palais-Royal. Their 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 50 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 and a highly successful Hollywood motion picture, Gigi, starring Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron.


A controversial figure throughout her life, Colette flaunted her lesbian affairs.

In the German occupation of France during World War II she aided her Jewish friends, including hiding her husband in her attic all through the war.

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 3 August 1954, she was given a state funeral, although she was refused Roman Catholic rites because of her divorce. Colette is interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash paid tribute to the writer in the song, "The Summer I Read Colette", on Cash's album 10 Song Demo.

Colette's tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Notable works

See also


  • Sylvain Bonmariage, Willy, Colette et moi, with an introduction by Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Anagramme ed., Paris, 2004 (reprint)


  1. ^ Bot generated title -->
  2. ^ Rodriguez, Suzanne (2002). Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 131. ISBN 0-06-093780-7. 
  3. ^ Benstock, Shari (1986). Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900–1940. Texas: University of Texas Press. pp. 48–49. ISBN 0-292-79040-6. 
  4. ^ LA Phil Presents | Piece Detail - Maurice Ravel: L'enfant et les sortilèges
  5. ^ Slide, Anthony. Silent Players:A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. University Press of Kentucky, 2002. ISBN 081312249X. page 148.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I love my past. I love my present. I'm not ashamed of what I've had, and I'm not sad because I have it no longer.

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (28 January 1873 – 3 August 1954) French writer, usually known simply by her pen-name "Colette."



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.
  • When she raises her eyelids it's as if she were taking off all her clothes.
    • Claudine and Annie (1903)
  • There are days when solitude, for someone my age, is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.
    • Freedom (1908)
  • Nothing ages a woman like living in the country.
    • L'Envers du music hall (Music Hall Sidelights), "On Tour" (1913)
  • Her childhood, then her adolescence, had taught her patience, hope, silence and the easy manipulation of the weapons and virtues of all prisoners.
    • ChĂ©ri (1920) pt. 2
  • It is not a bad thing that children should occasionally, and politely, put parents in their place.
    • My Mother’s House, "The Priest on the Wall" (1922)
  • I love my past. I love my present. I'm not ashamed of what I've had, and I'm not sad because I have it no longer.
    • La Fin de ChĂ©ri (The Last of Cheri) (1926)
  • My true friends have always given me that supreme proof of devotion, a spontaneous aversion for the man I loved.
    • Break of Day (1928)
  • Can it be that chance has made me one of those women so immersed in one man that, whether they are barren or not, they carry with them to the grave the shrivelled innocence of an old maid?
    • Sido (1929)
  • We only do well the things we like doing.
    • Prisons and Paradise (1932)
  • 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)
  • You do not notice changes in what is always before you.
    • Mes Apprentissages (1936)
  • But just as delicate fare does not stop you from craving for saveloys, so tried and exquisite friendship does not take away your taste for something new and dubious.
    • Chambre d’HĂ´tel, "The Rainy Moon" (1940)
  • The true traveler is he who goes on foot, and even then, he sits down a lot of the time.
    • Paris From My Window (1944)
  • To a poet, silence is an acceptable response, even a flattering one.
    • Paris From My Window (1944)
  • The day after that wedding night I found that a distance of a thousand miles, abyss and discovery and irremediable metamorphosis, separated me from the day before.
    • Noces (1945)
  • Total absence of humor renders life impossible.
    • Chance Acquaintances (1952)
  • You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.
    • New York World-Telegram and Sun (1961)
  • The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen.
    • Speech on being elected to the Belgian Academy. as quoted in “Lady of Letters” Pt. 4, Earthly Paradise (1966) ed. Robert Phelps
  • Humility has its origin in an awareness of unworthiness, and sometimes too in a dazzled awareness of saintliness.
    • Speech on being elected to the Belgian Academy. as quoted in “Lady of Letters” Pt. 4, Earthly Paradise (1966) ed. Robert Phelps
  • There is no need to waste pity on young girls who are having their moments of disillusionment, for in another moment they will recover their illusion.
    • “Wedding Day”, Earthly Paradise (1966) ed. Robert Phelps
  • What a delight it is to make friends with someone you have despised!
    • “Sido and I”, Earthly Paradise (1966) ed. Robert Phelps
  • It takes time for the absent to assume their true shape in our thoughts. After death they take on a firmer outline and then cease to change.
    • "The Captain", Earthly Paradise (1966) ed. Robert Phelps
  • As for an authentic villain, the real thing, the absolute, the artist, one rarely meets him even once in a lifetime. The ordinary bad hat is always in part a decent fellow.
    • “The South of France”, Earthly Paradise (1966) ed. Robert Phelps
  • It’s nothing to be born ugly. Sensibly, the ugly woman comes to terms with her ugliness and exploits it as a grace of nature. To become ugly means the beginning of a calamity, self-willed most of the time.
    • Journey for Myself (1971) “Beauties,” Quatre Saisons (c. 1928).

Le Pur et l'Impur (The Pure and the Impure) (1932)

  • It is wise to apply the oil of refined politeness to the mechanisms of friendship.
    • Ch. 9
  • Whether you are dealing with an animal or a child, to convince is to weaken.
  • Voluptuaries, consumed by their senses, always begin by flinging themselves with a great display of frenzy into an abyss. But they survive, they come to the surface again. And they develop a routine of the abyss: “It’s four o’clock ... At five I have my abyss.”
  • Perhaps the only misplaced curiosity is that which persists in trying to find out here, on this side of death, what lies beyond the grave.
  • Smokers, male and female, inject and excuse idleness in their lives every time they light a cigarette.

Gigi (1945)

  • In the matter of furnishing, I find a certain absence of ugliness far worse than ugliness.
    • The Photographer’s Wife
  • On this narrow planet, we have only the choice between two unknown worlds. One of them tempts us—ah! what a dream, to live in that!—the other stifles us at the first breath.
    • The Photographer’s Wife
  • Don’t ever wear artistic jewellry; it wrecks a woman’s reputation.
    • Aunt Alicia
  • Boredom helps one to make decisions.
    • Aunt Alicia
  • A pretty little collection of weaknesses and a terror of spiders are our indispensable stock-in-trade with the men... nine men out of ten are superstitious, nineteen out of twenty believe in the evil eye, and ninety-eight out of a hundred are afraid of spiders. They forgive us—oh! for many things, but not for the absence in us of their own feelings.
    • Aunt Alicia

Barks and Purrs

Barks and Purrs as translated by Maire Kelly

  • Toby-Dog: It seems to me that of the two of us it's you they make the most of, and yet you do all the grumbling.
    Kiki-The-Demure: A dog's logic, that! The more one gives the more I demand.
    Toby-Dog: That's wrong. It's indiscreet.
    Kiki-The-Demure: Not at all. I have a right to everything.
    Toby-Dog: To everything? And I?
    Kiki-The-Demure: I don't imagine you lack anything, do you?
    Toby-Dog: Ah, I don't know. Sometimes in my very happiest moments, I feel like crying. My eyes grow dim, my heart seems to choke me. I would like to be sure, in such times of anguish, that everybody loves me; that there is nowhere in the world a sad dog behind a closed door, that no evil will ever come...
    Kiki-The-Demure: And then what dreadful thing happens?
    Toby-Dog: You know very well! Inevitably, at that moment She appears, carrying a bottle with horrible yellow stuff floating in it — Castor Oil!
  • Kiki-The-Demure: Once when I was little She tried to give me castor oil. I scratched and bit her so, she never tried again. Ha! She must have thought she held the devil between her knees. I squirmed, blew fire through my nostrils, multiplied my twenty claws by a hundred, my teeth by one thousand, and finally — disappeared as if by magic.
    Toby-Dog: I wouldn't dare do that. You see, I love her. I love her enough to forgive her even the torture of the bath.


  • If I can't have too many truffles, I'll do without truffles,
    • quoted in Close to Colette by Maurice Goudeket

About Colette

  • I am devoted to those who endured, like Colette. It is easier ... to kiss the world a bitter goodbye than to go on working, writing, changing, enduring the slings & arrows of outrageous aging. Colette endured. And she wrote & wrote & wrote. Whenever I feel really depressed, I think of her & keep going.
    • Erica Jong as quoted in Mountain Moving Day (1973) by Elaine Gill
  • Here lived, here died Colette, whose work is a window wide open on life.
    • Plaque placed by the city of Paris at the home of Colette, as quoted by Maurice Goudeket in Close to Colette (1957)

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun


  1. A female given name, short for Nicolette, feminine diminutive form of Nicolas ( =Nicholas).

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