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  • Kristin Jacques

Friday Fun: Women's History Month- Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Hello Readers and welcome to the end of the week! Today we are continuing in our month long celebration of Women's History Month by highlighting some known and lesser known lady authors who had an impact on literature. So who is in the spotlight today?



Author, journalist, reviewer, music hall star, and even a beautician, the incredible French novelist Colette is credited with around 80 works of fiction, including the Claudine novels and lived an incredible life despite the odds against her.


The Legacy of Sidonie- Gabrielle Colette


Born in Burgundy in 1873, Colette lived a relatively small town life with her beloved family until around age 18 where she moved in with her brother, a doctor, due to financial woes that cost her family their house. Young and beautiful, Colette still had few prospects until she fell in with journalist 'Willy' aka Henry Gauthier-Villars, who whisked her off to Paris and into the company of artists, politicians, and libertines.


It was in Paris that Colette's literary talent began to emerge, and skeezy gent that he was, Willy took credit, and royalties, for her early works by forcing Colette to publish them under his name. But Colette was not a woman to be taken advantage of, and left Willy high and draw in 1906.


So what does a recent divorcee in the early 1900s do? Become a dancer and music hall performer of course. An experience she turned into a story in her 1910 novel The Vagabond.


“What else could I do? Needlework, typing, streetwalking? Music hall is a profession for those who have never learned one.”

Like much of the 1st world, Colette was also caught up in the market crash of the 1930s, but she didn't let the plummeting sales of her books keep her down, and launched her own cosmetics business to keep herself afloat. Though the business didn't last long, Colette simply moved onto the next idea, proving her entrepreneur chops to the world. She wrote copy and advertising to get by, a move that made some of the artists in her circle accuse her of selling out. But Colette was practical and a survivor.


And her mindset was decades ahead of the times. Colette not only showed the world a determined woman can make it on their own, but went on to marry two more times, had men and women for lovers, and at one point, she famously seduced her step son, effectively ending her marriage with second husband Henry de Jouvenel.




Colette lived her life on her own terms until the day she died in August of 1954. She survived the Crash, two world wars, and numerous hardships, but preserved with her art, her wits, and her will. Colette was given a state funeral and buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery.


“I love my past. I love my present. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve had, and I’m not sad because I have it no longer.”

Colette's novels inspired feature films including Cheri the 2009 film starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and the stage play Gigi about a French woman training to be a courtesan that falls in love with a wealthy gentleman. The French novelist had many scandals and pitfalls in her life, was known as a neglectful mother, and adultress, but through her work and life she inspired and empowered generations of women. Her childhood home is now a museum and her own life inspired several books and the 2018 film Colette starring Keira Knightly.



Resources & Further Reading


https://www.completefrance.com/language-culture/history/the-life-of-french-writer-colette-1-5360999

https://www.literaryladiesguide.com/literary-musings/10-facts-about-colette-prolific-and-passionate-french-author/

https://www.literaryladiesguide.com/literary-musings/merci-colette-how-the-legendary-french-author-continues-to-inspire/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/07/colette-french-novelist-movie-keira-knightley

https://www.historyextra.com/period/victorian/colette-film-history-keira-knightley-wash-westmoreland-french-writer-sidonie-gabrielle-willy-claudine-novels/

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Colette



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