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Colette (1873-1954)

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born in the Burgundian village of Saint-Sauveur-en Puisaye. She was the daughter of a retired army captain, Jules-Joseph Colette.
Encouraged to start a career as a writer Colette published in short period four "Claudine" novels (1900-03) under her husband's pen name Willy. According to a famous story, he locked Colette in her room until she had written enough pages. The series of four novels depicted improper adventures of a teenage girl. The series was a huge success and inspired all kinds of side products - a musical stage play, Claudine uniform, Claudine soap, cigars, and perfume. However, Colette's own cosmetics shop went bankrupt. Tired of her husbands unfaithfulness, Colette broke free of him in 1905. After divorce in 1906 Colette became a music-hall performer at such places as La Chatte Amoureuse and L'Oiseau de Nuit.
In 1912 Colette married Henri de Jouvenel des Ursins, the editor of the newspaper Le Matin, for which she wrote theatre chronicles and short stories.
In 1910 Colette published "La Vagabonde", a story about an actress who rejects a man she loves in order to live in an independent way. During World War I Colette converted her husband's St. Malo estate into a hospital for the wounded. After the war she was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1920).
The 1920s brought Colette enormous fame. She entered the world of modern poetry and paintings, which centered around Jean Cocteau. By 1927 Colette was frequently acclaimed as France's greatest woman writer. Especially Colette's insights into the behavior of women in love gained a sympathetic response from the reading public.
In the 1940s Colette portrayed her later years in "L'├ętoile vesper" (1946) and "Le fanal bleu" (1949), which constantly questioned the relationship between autobiography and fiction. "Gigi" (1945) was published when the author was 72; the novel was made into a film in 1948.
In the 1930s Colette was made a member of the Belgian Royal Academy. She was the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Goncourt Academy. In 1953 she became a grand officer of the Legion of Honour. She won also many awards for her work. During the last 20 years of her life Colette suffered from a crippling form of arthritis. Her marriage with Henry de Jouvenal ended in 1924. From 1935 she was married to Maurice Goudaket, whose pearl business had been ruined during the Depression.
Colette died on August 3, 1954 in Paris. Colette was accorded a state funeral despite the refusal of Catholic rites on the grounds that she had been divorced. Her funeral was attended by thousands of mourners.


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