Colette (January 28, 1873 – August 3, 1954) was a French author whose full original name was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. She was as known for her writing and performing as she was for her scandalous lifestyle. As a child, her mother Sido was her greatest inspiration, and allowed the young Colette to drink deeply from the well of life to gain courage and individuality. She conducted her life with no regrets, and disdained the restraint society had on human, especially female, expression.
Her stories of strong females were often based on her own experiences, and were controversial for their time, being more sexually explicit than most fiction of their time. Colette’s first marriage was to Henry Gauthier-Villars (known as “Willy”), a man much older than herself. The marriage was a disaster — he compelled her to write the Claudine stories, but then published them under his name. Claudine at School (1900) was the first of their efforts to be published, and was an immediate success. More Claudine books followed.
Once she divorced her nefarious husband, Colette published Retreat from Love (1907) her first solo novel.One she broke free of him, her sprit soared.Colette worked as a journalist and moonlighted as a music hall performer all the while continuing to write fiction. It has been said that she was an abominable mother to her only daughter.
Gigi, one of her best-known works (which inspired a popular film), is a story of a French girl training to be a courtesan, but who falls in love with a wealthy gentleman. Its stage adaptation was greeted with critical acclaim with then unknown Audrey Hepburn playing the main character. Colette remains a master for her realistic and fresh descriptions on the ups and downs of love. Her works have been adapted to film and stage.
In her later years, Colette suffered from arthritis and rarely left her Paris apartment. Memoir became a favored literary form as she reflected on her life. Upon her death in 1954, she was given a state funeral, the first for a woman in France.
More about Colette on this site
- Inspiration – “The writer who loses her self-doubt …”
- The Complete Claudine
- Chéri and The Last of Cheri
- My Mother’s House and Sido
- The Vagabond
- The Pure and The Impure
- The Other One (1931)
Biographies about Colette
- Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman
- Colette on Wikipedia
- Colette’s Obituary – The New York Times, 1954
- Reader discussion of Colette’s books on Goodreads
- Colette page on Amazon.com
Articles, News, Etc.
Visit Colette’s Home
- Musée Colette – St.-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Burgundy, France
“Total absence of humor renders life impossible.” (Chance Acquaintances, 1952)
“To a poet, silence is an acceptable response, even a flattering one.” (Paris From My Window, 1944)
“Writing only leads to more writing.”
“We only do well the things we like doing.” (Prisons and Paradise, 1932)
“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
“Hope costs nothing.”
“If we want to be sincere, we must admit that there is a well-nourished love and an ill-nourished love. And the rest is literature.”
“I have found my voice again and the art of using it…” (The Vagabond, 1910)
“Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.”
“I love my past, I love my present. I am not ashamed of what I have had, and I am not sad because I no longer have it.” (The Last of Cheri, 1926)
“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”)
“Boredom helps one to make decisions.” (Gigi, 1945)
“There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, other when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.”
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