Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, 1873 – 1954) was born in Burgundy, France, where she grew up in the rural setting of the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye where her father, Jules-Joseph Colette, retired from the French army after having been injured in battle, and having lost a leg, and her namesake mother, Eugénie Sidonie “Sido” Colette had settled. Sido was undoubtedly the greatest influence on Colette’s life, with her love of animals and gardening, and her down-to-earth common sense also seems to have been passed along to her daughter. To her mother can be traced much of her writing and her love of the French countryside, its inhabitants, both human and otherwise, and her love of gardens.
At the age of twenty she married Henri Gauthier-Villars, known as Willy, who treated her badly and sold her writing as his own – a series of novels called the Claudine series – which became immensely popular around the turn of the century. She left him a dozen or so years later and embarked on a music-hall career – a performance of Rêve d’Égypte at the Moulin Rouge, which included a kiss between two women caused a riot and further performances of the play were forbidden. She was also famous for appearing nude, or nearly so, on the stage.
Thus began a series of lovers, both male and female, which established her notoriety for the rest of time. She produced over 50 novels, as well as other writings, and became a household name in France, much admired for her talent (her novel Gigi was made into films in 1948 and 1958) and, following her works for injured soldiers in the First World War was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1920. She was the only woman to be accorded a state funeral in France upon her death (the Catholic church refused her rites on the grounds of her divorce, although one suspects that her reputation had something to do with the decision as well). Colette is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
She is one of those writers that continually seems to be popping up in anthologies (where I first encountered her in gardening anthologies) and one suspects that she will continue to be read for centuries to come. In this post I have excerpted a few passages on gardening and plants from the book Colette – Earthly Paradise by Penguin Books – it is essentially an autobiographical collection of excerpts of her writings from throughout her career.
Photo & art reproductions are available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colette.
Read on then for an introduction to the seductive writing of Colette.