I just finished Creating Colette Vol. 1 by Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier, the first in a two volume biography of the French writer Colette. Colette is one of my favorite writers, her short stories are targeted and precise, and her clarity of description has few competititors. She had an eye for human relationships and mentalities that was piercing and unblinking. I knew that some of her writing was based on her life, but I hadn’t realized quite how much she drew from her experiences.
Colette lived a crazy life. She was flagrantly bisexual and completely non-monogamous, despite being married (her husband wasn’t into monogamy either), and was both mentally and physically intimate with many of the “huge names” of her day, from Marquises to Counts to famous courtesans. When she writes in Gigi about the life of women who “do not marry”, she was speaking from the experience of one who managed to be kept by numerous suitors without being subject to any of them. She was a celebrity of Parisan society in the way that celebrities are famous today- everyone knew the details of her life and loves, and much of that information came from her books. She co-wrote her early books with her husband Willy (although they would both later contest how much was written by whom), and they were based on their lives. They went to great lengths to create the image of Colette, so that readers felt that they knew her. Willy wrote his own series of books which also pulled from their lives, and even later in their careers they couldn’t seem to stop using their own lives and friends and lovers as fodder for their work.
Colette and Willy’s relationship is fascinating; even after a seperation and divorce during which they declared war on one another and tore each other apart in the papers and in their novels, they remained fiercely devoted to each other. I realize that makes no sense, but their whole relationship didn’t make a lot of sense.
This biography is written beautifully, it’s easy to get into and insightful without jumping to conclusions. I can’t wait to read the second volume, but I think I’ll revisit some of Colette’s work first, now that I know who she’s referring to.
Current total: 39
Just Finished: Creating Colette by Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier
Next Up: The Vagabond by Colette