Colette was born to retired military officer Jules-Joseph Colette and his wife Adèle Eugénie Sidonie "Sido" Colette, (nėe Landoy) in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne, in the Burgundy Region of France. She studied piano as a child and received her primary school diploma with high marks in mathematics and dictation. In 1893, at age 20, she married Henri Gauthier-Villars, a famous bisexual wit known as "Willy" who was 15 years her senior.
Her first books, the
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. She was also, according to author Jean-Claude Baker’s book Josephine: The Hungry Heart, involved for some time with actress Josephine Baker.
In 1889, Henry Gauthier-Villars or Willy, a French fin-de-siecle writer and music critic, met Colette, 14 years younger than he was; they married on May 15, 1893. Willy and Colette had an affair with the same woman, the American socialite Georgie Raoul-Duval, née Urquhart. In 1906, Colette left Gauthier-Villars, living for a time with American writer and salonist Natalie Clifford Barney. After her, Colette became romantically involved with Missy de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf. During this time she also was involved with the Italian writer Gabriele D’Annunzio. Another affair was with the automobile-empire scion Auguste Heriot.
Colette by George Platt-Lynes
Colette went to 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 for five years. 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.
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.
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.
In 1935, Colette married Maurice Goudeket, an uncle of Juliet Goudeket alias Jetta Goudal. 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.
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). Considered nowadays to be Colette's masterpiece, Chéri was originally met with controversy because of its choice of setting - the demimonde of the Parisian courtesans - and also because of its portrayal of the hedonistic Chéri.
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." Upon her death in Paris in 1954, Colette left 50 published 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 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. In 2009, an adaptation of both "Chéri" and "La Fin de Chéri" was made into a film starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend and Kathy Bates.
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.
During 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. When she died in Paris on 3 August 1954, she was the first woman given a state funeral in France, although she was refused Roman Catholic rites because of her divorces..
Burial: Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris, Ile-de-France Region, France, Plot: Division 4, #6, GPS (lat/lon): 48.86073, 2.39115
Henry Gauthier-Villars (8 August 1859 - 12 January 1931) or Willy, his nom-de-plume, was a French fin-de-siecle writer and music critic who is today mostly known as the mentor and bisexual first husband of Colette. Other pseudonyms used by Gauthiers-Villars are: Henry Maugis, Robert Parville, l’Ex-ouvreuse du Cirque d’été, L’Ouvreuse, L’Ouvreuse du Cirque d’été, Jim Smiley, Henry Willy, Boris Zichine. (Picture: Henry Gauthier-Villars by Giovanni Boldini)
Born on 8 August 1859 in Villiers-sur-Orge, Essonne into a bourgeois Catholic family, he attended the Lycee Fontanes and later the Jesuit Collège Stanislas in Paris. He became fluent in Latin and German. In 1885, he obtained a law degree and subsequently started with a job in the family’s publishing firm of Gauthier-Villars.
Willy was a ladies man; Rachilde described him "as a man of the world, a brilliant Parisian rake". In 1889 he met Colette, 14 years younger than he was; they married on 15 May 1893. As a writer and music critic he was an incessant and effective self promoter, under whose directions his "slaves" wrote articles and novels. His ghostwriters may or may not have received recognition but participated because publication under the Willy name secured a high publication rate and good income. With his literary workshops Willy published more than 50 novels. Curnonsky was one of his ghostwriters, as was his fellow gastronomist Marcel Boulestin. His participation varied and included conceptionalizing, editing, and adding sections, plots, and puns. Henry's favourite song which he could often be heard singing on his way to dinner was I am Henery the Eighth.
Colette was initially handling his correspondence, but became soon involved in writing on her own starting with Claudine, her first oeuvre under the Willy label. The success led to more novels in the Claudine series. It is generally acknowledged that these books were written by Colette, but he had his hand in it editing and honing the manuscripts. Willy also went into merchandizing dolls and other items based on the Claudine novels.
Colette soon learned that Willy had other affairs, and she met his mistress Charlotte Kinceler who later became her friend. Later Willy and Colette had an affair unbeknownst to each other with the same woman, the American socialite Georgie Raoul-Duval, née Urquhart. Upon discovery, they made it a threesome and attended the Bayreuth festival together.
The marriage to Colette lasted until 1910, although in the years prior they were already separated. While Willy made a lot of money, he squandered it with ease on women and gambling and was facing bankruptcy. Willy went on to marry Marguerite Maniez, also known as Meg Villars after her marriage. He had no children from his two marriages; his son, Jacques, was the offspring from an affair before. Willy died on 12 January 1931 in Paris. Three thousand mourners followed his casket to the Montparnasse cemetery.
In 1905, Willy was painted by Giovanni Boldini.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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