A reader named Graham Lindsey asked the other day why I thought the stories of Colette resonate so well more than half a century after the author's death. I was happy to respond.
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I think quite highly of the stories. Not so much for their literary scholarship as much as their unbridled ribaldry and shameless guile, which was quite shocking for the era, even in the Gay Nineties. I think even more highly of the author Colette who, as a child of the country, basked in innocence until realizing an entirely new life waited just beyond the confines of the hinterlands and prairies. By that time, she had already begun playing role-reversal games, fantasizing, trying on new hats, tinkering with gender-bending thoughts and activities, and writing.
Her husband, a vile and self-fulfilling prophecy named Henri Gauthier-Villars, who went by the name of Monsieur Willy, was the quintessential villain of his day. While forcing his considerably younger wife to toil away at creating titillating and often sexually explicit works, he published them under his own name, made a fortune promoting the "Colette" character's brand of everything under the sun (including cigarettes), and pushed his wife's sexual acquiescence to its limits and beyond.
Later in her life, after finally finding the emotional strength to divorce Willy, Colette went on to have a string of affairs with persons of less than conventional sexuality, always returning in the end to her stories, her writing, and her creative genius. One of these stories, of course, is Gigi, upon which dozens of other stories, films, plays, and books have been based.
Colette was such an outrageous and over-the-edge personality that I began researching her years ago and recently devoted a column, "The Author-Ethicist," to her. I'm also in the process of writing a book highlighting, comparing, and illuminating the three literary archangels of the ages: Colette, Dorothy Parker, and Anis Nin. The three had more in common than simple commercial success, drawing off one another's works and growing exponentially for the experience.
So, M'sieur Graham (not to be confused with M'sieur Willy, I'm certain), thanks for bringing me back for a trip down memory lane. And reminding me that I do need to finish work on An Accidental Alliance: How Three Women Changed the Face of Literature and Helped Reinvent the World. To read more about Colette and why I find her so intriguing, check out my column on her in "The Author-Ethicist" at Substack. And let me know what you think.
Until then, smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs at Substack.com weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, I do my best!)