Colette in Hawaii
Colette, born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, is one of France’s best-known female novelists and performers. At age 20 she married a famous wit and writer Henry Gauthier-Vi liars, best known by his pen name, Willy. Shortly after the marriage, Colette began writing a series of books focused on a young girl growing up. The Claudine series was originally published under her husband’s name, ostensibly to give the books more marketability, but most scholars credit Colette with the bulk, if not all, of the writing. By turn-of-the-century standards they were quite sensual and provocative. They sold well.
Alas, Willy was a scallywag and unfaithful. Colette left him in 1906 and became romantically involved with a series of women. One of Colette’s paramours, Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy, shared an onstage kiss with Colette at the Moulin Rouge in 1907, causing a near riot in which the police were called. The amorous couple had to ratchet back their rather public relationship. Then Colette took on a male lover then another. Eventually she sort of settled down and married newspaper publisher Henri de Jouvenel, with whom she had a daughter, Colette de Jouvenel. During her marriage to de Jouvenel she continued to write, most notably collaborating on a ballet and then opera with composer Maurice Ravel. Her marriage to de Jouvenel ended in 1924, no doubt exacerbated by Colette’s affair with her stepson Bertrand de Jouvenel. Before Colette’s marriage to de Jouvenel dissolved, she met with tremendous literary success when her novel Cheri was published in 1920. Cheri, which is considered Colette’s masterpiece, was controversial at the time because of its vivid portrayal of a hedonistic and sensual woman.
By 1935 Colette was ready for another marriage and wed Maurice Goudeket, legally becoming Sidonie Goudeket. Colette continued writing, eventually penning 50 novels. The most well known work to Americans is probably Gigi, which was published in 1945. Gigi went onto become a popular Broadway play and movie. Colette’s marriage to Goudeket apparently clicked and they stayed together until her death in 1954. Colette was the first woman to be given a state funeral in France. She was a noted cat lover and her grave is often adorned with cat memorabilia left by her adoring fans. A couple years before her death, she was at a premiere of a documentary film celebrating her life and reportedly turned to her husband and said, What a beautiful life I’ve had. Few would disagree.
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