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Sidonie-Gabriel Colette - Biography

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, was a French Novelist. She was born on January 28, 1873 and died on August 3, 1974. Colette, whose real name was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, was a major French novelist. She was born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye in the Yonne county, situated in the Burgundy region in eastern France on January 28th 1873. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette was the last child of the union of Sidonie Landoy and the “captain Colette” who both lived a modest life. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would get her passion in literature from her father and her sense of freedom from her mother. The child lived a happy childhood in a small village of Burgundy. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette met Henry Gauthier-Villars (1859 - 1931) who would become a writer and music critic under the pen name of “Willy”. Today he is know mostly for having been Sidonie-Gabriel Colette’s mentor and bisexual first husband. They were married on May 15th 1893 in Châtillon-Coligny in northern central France when she was only twenty years of age.

Henry Gauthier-Villars encouraged Sidonie-Gabriel Colette to write and publish her childhood’s memories. It is in this way that the Claudine series of four would come to see the light of day. First we would have Claudine à l’école (Claudine at School) first published in 1900 and initially under Willy’s name. It would be followed by Claudine à Paris (Claudine in Paris), Claudine en ménage (Claudine Married), and finally Claudine s’en va (translated in English as Claudine and Annie even though the French title actually means “Claudine goes away”), all published between 1900 and 1903

After her divorce from Henry Gauthier-Villars in 1906 Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would start signing her own books. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette began preforming in music hall shows, most notably at the Moulin Rouge, with Mathilde de Morny (1863 – 1944), or “Missy” a rich liberated bisexual woman. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette became open about her close relationships with women which was taboo at that time. Mathilde de Morny would buy the manor of Rozven in Britanny, northwest of France, where the two of them could spend time together and where Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would be able to write in peace.

Attention to the precise use of words in Sidonie-Gabriel Colette’s writing would keep increasing, especially so when they were meant to express the outpouring of feelings together with a free sensual development. For Sidonie-Gabriel Colette this was all in order to claim the rights of the flesh which had thus far only been given to the mind. Her prose is refreshingly open, honest, perhaps even a precursor to feminism, and possibly because of this her oeuvre still today gets heat from chauvinist literary critics.

After her divorce, Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would have a brief affair with the wealthy and connected Auguste Olympe Hériot (1886 - 1951) whom she had met in 1909, and for which he is mostly known today. In 1912, however, Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would marry the journalist and politician Henry de Jouvenel (1876 - 1935). A year later they would have a daughter named “Colette” but nicknamed “Bel-Gazou”. They had met at the daily newspaper Le Matin (Morning) where she had started a career in journalism and where he was a news editor. Colette would go as far as being a literary manager for this same newspaper. In 1920 Sidonie-Gabriel Colette published Chéri (Cheri), in 1923 Le Blé en herbe (Ripening Seed), Sido (1929), and La Chatte (The Cat) in 1933.

Chéri is the story of a romance in the Paris of the 1920s between an older woman and a young man. The young man is the son of a wealthy woman and becomes friendly with his mother’s friends who provide romantic education for six years. When he is forced to marry a woman of his age, he does not forget his first love and instead finds refuge in an imaginary world. It is important to note that there are parallels between this story with Sidonie-Gabriel Colette's own life. At the age of forty Colette would play a similar role for Bertrand de Jouvenel, her second husband’s seventeen-year old son. Chéri would become a fantasy that would come true since the book would not be published until 1920 but its design and conception dates back to 1912, a few years before her affair with Bertrand de Jouvenel. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette's divorce from Henry de Jouvenel would be in 1923. In the same way as she would do for her divorce from Willy twenty five years later with Mes apprentissages(1936), Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would with Julie de Carneilhan (1941) take revenge on her ex-husband.

In 1950 a French movie adaptation of Chéri was first released and in 2009 the book would become famous again by becoming the storyline of a major motion picture starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette’s subtle analysis of both the feminine soul and the cruel spells of seduction together with Sidonie-Gabriel Colette’s sometimes somewhat sad humor come through quite successfully in the film rendition of one of her most famous and celebrated works.

In Le Blé en herbe Sidonie-Gabriel Colette manages to put into vivid words the story of Philippe and Venca who have been best friends since childhood and the loss of childhood innocence during the long days of summer on the coast of Brittany.

Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would also be a music lover and she would even get to work with the famous French composer Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) between 1919 and 1925, writing the libretto for his opera entitled L’Enfant et les sortilèges: Fantaisie lyrique en deux parties (The Child and the Spells: A Lyric Fantasy in Two Parts).

Sidonie-Gabriel Colette was friends with numerous famous people including with the American writer expatriate in Paris Natalie Clifford Barney (1876 - 1972) and with the famous music hall performer and one of Paris’ most beautiful upper-class escort of the Belle Époque, Liane de Pougy (1869 - 1950).

In 1941 Sidonie-Gabriel Colette's third husband Maurice Goudeket was a Jew and would be arrested by the Germans but she would succeed in getting him released. Not long after Sidonie-Gabriel Colette began suffering with arthritis and eventually became immobilized. In 1945 she would be unanimously elected member of the prestigious Académie Goncourt, rival of the other famous but more conservative Académie française. In 1949 Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would become its president. In 1948 Colette’s complete works would first appear and some would be made into films. Most notably is Gigi (1944) which would be a triumph in the United States with Audrey Hepburn.

In 1953 Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would be promoted Officer of the Legion of Honor, one of the highest honors in France. At that point Sidonie-Gabriel Colette was at the height of her success. She moved to an apartment at the Palais-Royal, a palace in the 1st arrondissement of Paris across the Louvre and she had the writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889 - 1963) as her neighbor. Maurice Goudeket (1889 - 1977), her third and last husband (from 1935) took care of her and the increasing pain of osteoarthritis. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette had met him when she was 62 and he was 45 years old.

Sidonie-Gabriel Colette would die in Paris on August 3rd 1954 at the age of 81. In spite of the refusal of the Roman Catholic church to give a religious funeral, Sidonie-Gabriel Colette is the only woman in France who would be entitled to a state funeral. She would be buried in the famous cemetery of Père-Lachaise where other famous artists are buried. Her daughter was to be buried by her side. Sidonie-Gabriel Colette’s numerous letters would be published posthumously in several volumes.

Sidionie-Gabriel Colette was a French Novelist.(January 28, 1873 - August 3, 1974)