Friday, January 28, 2011

Virago Reading Week: Colette's Birthday

Today marks the birth of another favorite Virago author - Colette.  Last year, I enjoyed Cheri and The Last of Cheri, and plan to read more of her novels following the TBR Dare.  Have you read Colette? Virago publishes one title, The Other Woman.

From today's Writer's Almanac:

It is the birthday of the writer who said, "Be happy. It's one way of being wise." That's Colette, (books by this author) born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, in the Burgundy Region of France (1873). She's the author of more than 70 books of fiction, memoir, and journalism, including the novel Gigi (1944), which has spawned a number of stage and film adaptations.

When she was 20, she married an older man, a writer and music critic who wrote under the pen name "Monsieur Willy." The young Colette wrote under his pen name, too — her husband locked her up in a room until she had produced a satisfactory amount of writing each day. She fled their marriage in her early 30s, danced half naked in music halls around Paris, and once incited a riot during a performance at the Moulin Rouge. She became lovers with several women, including a famous French actress named Marguerite Moreno, whom Colette wrote to one June evening in 1925, a few nights after the summer solstice:
"What am I doing? Heavens, I'm spinning. And I use this verb as a planet would. Yes, I'm spinning.
I've seen roses, honeysuckle, forty degrees Centigrade of dazzling heat, moonlight, ancient wisteria enlacing the door of my old home in Saint-Sauveur.
I've seen the night over Fontainebleau. And as I said, I'm spinning.
Beside me there a is a dark boy at the wheel. I'm on my way back to Paris, but shall I stay there? The dark boy beside me is still at the wheel, and how strange everything is! And how good I am, and how amazed I am, and what wise improvidence in my behaviour! Oh yes, I'm spinning! As you can see, you must not worry about me.
From time to time I am uneasy about myself, and I give a start, prick up my ears, and cry out, But what are you doing? and then I refuse to think any more about it ... Just now, on the telephone, an enlightened Chiwawa, enlightened by the dark, dark, dark boy, sang my praises. The era of frankness is back and the cards are on the table.
But, my Marguerite, how strange it all is! ... I have the fleeting confidence of people who fall out of a clock tower and for a moment sail through the air in a comfortable fairy-world, feeling no pain anywhere ..."
Colette married three times, gave birth to a child at the age of 40 whom she left to be raised by an English nanny, had an affair in her 50s with her 16-year-old stepson, and was forever scandalizing her French contemporaries. But she was also highly respected, the winner of all sorts of prestigious international literary awards. And when she died at the age of 81, she was the first woman in France to be honored with an official state funeral.

She once said, "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner."

And, "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."

And Colette wrote: "By means of an image we are often able to hold on to our lost belongings. But it is the desperateness of losing which picks the flowers of memory, binds the bouquet."

Virago Reading Week is hosted by Rachel and Carolyn.


  1. How interesting! I've read some Colette but not the VMC (and didn't actually notice it was on the list!)

  2. Wow, she certainly has a look of confidence about her doesn't she! What a remarkable story.

    I've seen the film, Cheri, which was just okay (Rupert Friend was its only redeeming factor). Something tells me the book would be a much better way to go.

  3. Interesting lady. I hope my husband never locks me up until I have done a sufficient amount of writing each day. We will keep this one between ourselves!

  4. Fantastic post, JoAnn! I didn't know a lot about her, though I watched the film of Cheri and bought the book afterwards. I must read it, actually!

  5. A fascinating post! She's on my list of authors I MUST read.

  6. oh Gigi... I read The Vagabond last summer an interesting read...

  7. thanks for this great post-I have a collection of her short stories that I hope to begin to read very soon-

  8. thanks for this great post-I have a collection of her short stories that I hope to begin to read very soon-

  9. Verity - I was surprised to see Colette on the Virago list, too.

    Darlene - Certainly an interesting life. I haven't seen the film, but suspect the book is much better.

    Vivienne - LOL... quite a life, wasn't it?

    Rachel - Colette certainly lead a colorful life! I bought her book on my last trip to The Strand.. hoping my daughter ends up in NYC again this summer so I have an excuse for multiple visits again.

    Nymeth - I thought for sure you'd read her... bet you would enjoy these!

    Joan Hunter Dunn - I'm trying to decide whether to read Gigi or the Claudine novels next.

    Mel U - I haven't read any of her stories. Thanks for reminding me!

  10. She sounds like a wild flower for sure!! I couldn't imagine being locked up until I had written a certain amount of pages!!

  11. Fascinating back story! I have read only only Colette title despite owning several, and always mean to get to more. Love that image!

  12. I ADORE Colette & actually own the Virago title...

    You must read her short stories, JoAnn; I haven't finished the Claudine novels yet but very good as are Cheri, Gigi & The Cat.

  13. Staci - Sounds like an accurate description to me!

    Frances - Isn't that a great picture? I need to read more of Colette, too.

    Paperback Reader - I'll definitely be reading more Colette after the TBR Dare is over. Sadly, no more titles on my shelf...

  14. I've not read Colette but after reading this I think I need to!

    This makes me a tiny bit sad, though: "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner" If only we can realize all we have in the moment!

  15. I have yet to read Colette, although I keep meaning to. She sounds fascinating!

  16. Trish and Softdrink - Maybe a Colette readalong when you're done with Ulysses ;-)

  17. I read my first Colette this year and I was impressed. I'll be back for more.

  18. C.B. James - More Colette is in my future, too...I'm thinking Claudine or Gigi next.

  19. I am now started on the Collected Short Stories of Colette-I really like her work-

  20. Mel U - I'll be reading another of her novels later this year, I hope. In the meantime, I could look for some stories online. Enjoy!

  21. I have read most of her translated work. I am learning French so when I retire, I can read her original stories. She is a remarkable writer. Thanks for the post.

  22. Jean Sheldon - How wonderful to be able to read Colette in French! I am envious. Thanks for visiting.


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