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French novelist whose primary themes explored the joys and pains of love as well as female sexuality in the male-dominated world. Colette penned more than 50 novels, many of which are reportedly at least in part autobiographical.

Born in the Burgundy region of France in 1873, she spent a happy childhood in the rural setting that later appeared in many of her novels. At the age of 20 she married Henri Gauthier-Villars, a writer and music critic fifteen years her senior. She wanted to become a writer, so according to rumor, he locked her in her room until she had written enough to form a novel. Between 1900 and 1903, she released four novels in the Claudine series using her husband's pen name. The stories told of a teenage girl's "improper" adventures, and became a great success, inspiring products including a Claudine uniform, Claudine soap, and a musical stage play. Tired of her husband's fooling around, Colette finally obtained a divorce in 1906 and became a nightclub dancer. She bared a breast and mimed intercourse, causing a riot at the Moulin Rouge. She spent a lot of her time with Missy, a lesbian writer who was the niece of Napoleon III, and other lesbian and literary women. In 1912 she married Henri de Jouvenel des Ursins, a newspaper editor, by whom she had a daughter. She also had a relationship with her stepson, Bertrand de Jouvenel, which she detailed in 1920's Chéri from the point of view of a sexually inexperienced young man. In the 1920s she became friends with Jean Cocteau, divorced de Jouvenal in 1924, and by 1927 was often described as France's best female author, becoming a member of the Belgian Royal Academy in 1930. In 1935 she married Maurice Goudaket, a Jewish man, and supported him financially when the Germans occupied France and forced him into hiding. Starting in 1931 she suffered from severely crippling arthritis, then in the 1940s Colette wrote about adventures of her later years in novels that blended autobiography and fiction by starring a narrator character called Colette. Her novel Gigi was published in 1945, when Colette was 72 years old; it became a Broadway play starring Audrey Hepburn and was turned into a musical film by director Vincente Minnelli four years after Colette's death. She died August 3, 1954, in Paris. Because she had been divorced, Catholic rites were not permitted, but she was given a state funeral attended by thousands of mourners.

Information primarily from http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/colette.htm.

 

We knew her but not well,

a dark-haired girl with blue-green eyes,

she went to my school

and my friends and I

all wanted to be Colette;

in typing class

her fingers danced across the keys,

in English class

she recited poems

without looking at the book.

She was beautiful,

and mannered in a way we weren’t,

we envied her,

my friends and I,

but still there was something broken

about Colette.

We envied how she held her head,

the way she spoke and how she dressed,

our lives were only dull gray dreams,

our dreams were all of other lives,

we came from homes where mothers cooked

and ironed shirts our fathers wore.

We did not sleep in winter coats,

we did not lodge a chair

against the bedroom door at night;

we did not know,

my friends and I,

how dark the mirror was.

Bare as born, 

beautiful

in a way we weren’t,

when she lay cold in blood and glass,

we envied her, my friends and I,

we’d be our mothers soon enough

and marry men just like our dads,

we bowed our heads

and never spoke what we all knew,

marble-cold and even then

we wanted to be Colette.

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