COLETTE: GENIUS & BI-SEXUAL ADVENTURER
She wrote the novel, Gigi, which later became a movie with the unknown (at that time) Audrey Hepburn. In fact, Colette saw Audrey Hepburn walking across a hotel hobby and said to a friend, “That is my Gigi.”
Rosanne Cash wrote a song, “The Summer I Read Colette” and Truman Capote wrote a short story about her in 1970 called “The White Rose.”
Colette died in 1954 and was the first woman to receive a French state funeral. This speaks to the important contributions of a woman called Colette.
Colette’s Early Life
She was born in 1873 in the Burgundy region of France. She was classified as a bright child studying piano and receiving high marks in primary school in mathematics and dictation.
Colette married at the age of 15 years to a Henry Gauthiers-Villars, twenty years her senior and known by many as a degenerate. Colette wrote a series of sexy books called the Claudine series which delighted her husband.
The Love of Women
Colette left her unfaithful husband and lived for a time with the well-known American writer and salonist, Natalie Clifford Barney. They had a short affair and remained friends for life.
Colette became a successful actress in the music halls of Paris.
She was guided by a powerful lesbian, the Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy. They were romantically involved. In 1907, the two women performed in a pantomine called Rêve d’Égypte at the famous Moulin Rouge. (known for its bawdy can-can dancing). Their onstage kiss caused a riot. The police were called in and further performances were banned.
Missy married the Marquis de Belbeuf in 1881 and she became a much-imitated figure in Paris. She had gym equipment installed in her home where she exercised nude in front of a select female audience
Colette and Missy were denied the rights to live together. They continued the relationship for another five years. Colette secured a Brittany villa after the couple split- up.
Perhaps, it was the money and stature of both women that helped them to escape from the prevailing laws on homosexuality. Lesbians were treated as female prostitutes and if married, they could be locked up in a sanitorium on a husband’s command.
Bi-Sexual Marriages and Affairs
In 1912, Colette age 39, married Henri de Jouvenel, the editor of the newspaper Le Matin. The couple had a daughter whom they named Colette although she was nicknamed Bel-Gazou (beautiful babbler). Colette’s daughter stated later that her mother left her in the care of an English nanny and rarely visited her. Certainly, Colette (senior) was busy writing musicals and composing novels and poems.
State Recognition for Works of Humanity
When World War I broke out in 1914, Colette converted her husband’s Saint-Malo estate into a hospital for the wounded.
Two years after the war ended (1920) she was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. It was also the year that she published “Chéri,’ a story of a six-year affair between an aging retired courtesan and a pampered young man. Colette also chose to reverse the stereotypes. It was the courtesan, Léa that wore the silk pyjamas. Lea, like Colette displays all the survival skills necessary for a woman. Chérie is considered to be Colette’s masterpiece even though it caused an uproar for its hedonistic portrayal of Chérie. By 1927, Colette was declared France’s greatest female writer
Divorce and Re-marriage
Colette and her newspaper editor, Henri de Jouvenel divorced in 1924. It was rumoured that Colette had an affair with her stepson.
Marriage Number Three
In 1935, Colette age 62, married Maurice Goudeket. He published a book about his wife entitled “Close to Colette: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman of Genius. This marriage seems to have worked well for both of them. When confined to a wheelchair, she credited the care from her husband as “saintlike.”
Her Final Years
In 1951, Colette age 78 attended a premiere of a documentary about her life. At the end of the performance, Colette said to her husband, “What a beautiful life I’ve had.”
When Colette died in 1954, she left 50 published novels, many with autobiographical elements.
France gave her a state funeral, but the Roman Catholic Church denied her “last rites” on account of her divorces.
Colette is buried in the famous Père Lachise Cemetery in Paris. Her tomb lies in the same grounds as other famous lesbians: Gertrude and Alice, Isadora Duncan, and Sarah Bernhardt.