Happy Birthday Colette

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (1/28/1873 – 8/3/1974), better known as simply Colette, led a controversial, successful and fascinating life in her native France. She danced through the Moulin Rouge in the Belle Epoque, aided Jews during the German occupation of France during World War II, and later in life became an officer in the French Legion of Honour.

At twenty years old, she married Henry Gauthier-Villars, a roguish figure who encouraged her to write under his pen name, Willy. Colette wrote a series of short novels from the perspective of a teenage girl, Claudine, growing up and being a woman in France. Each of the four popular books in the Claudine series were published every year from 1900-1903. With a taste for literary success, Colette divorced Willy in both marriage and publication. In her not-so-private personal life, Colette had a famous affair with Mathilde de Mornyk, or Missy, with whom she performed in the Moulin Rouge. In 1913 she had a daughter, also named Colette, and she married twice more in her lifetime.

Over the course of her career Colette wrote 50 published novels with collections of her letters and essays published posthumously. Her 1920 novel Chéri contained details of a somewhat autobiographical nature and exploited gender roles. Chéri was adapted for film in 1950 (French) and 2009 (English), and has played in a variety of incarnations on stage. Her 1945 novel Gigi translated well to the stage in its 1951 debut as a Broadway musical. In her international casting search for the perfect Gigi, Colette famously discovered Audrey Hepburn in a Monte Carlo hotel lobby. Gigi was also a successful Hollywood musical in 1958, starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier and directed by Vincente Minnelli.

“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”

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