A recent meeting of the Fredonia Shakespeare club was highlighted by Nicki Schoenl’s presentation on Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born on Jan. 28, 1873, in a rural village in Burgandy, France. As a school girl, she insisted on being called by her last name, Colette, a tradition she continued through most of her adult life.
Colette began writing in her early 20s until her mid 70s. She created some of the most unforgettable female characters in French literature.
Colette produced nearly 80 volumes of fiction and non-fiction of the highest quality. Her published correspondence fills seven volumes and at least three important collections of letters remain unedited. Colette wrote novels, short stories, essays, and memoirs. She was a highly respected journalist reporting on everything from domestic violence to the front lines of the first World War, from anorexia to literature, from fashion to cooking to fake orgasms.
Over the course of her career, Colette published more than 1,200 articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals. She was a movie and literary critic, wrote an advice column, was a wartime broadcaster, a lecturer, a successful playwright, and a scriptwriter. Near the end of World War II, Colette published “Gigi” which was later to become a successful Broadway stage play and an Academy Award winning movie in the United States.
In her 60s. Colette opened The Institute of Beauty with the backing of the Sultan of Marrakech. She presided there herself blending her own perfumes and signature beauty products. Colette even did customer makeovers in Paris. Early in her life, she created successful careers for herself as an accomplished music hall mime, dancer, and actress. Colette had three husbands, numerous women lovers, and a long-term affair with her 16-year-old stepson. She adored animals, had many pets, and is quoted as as saying “perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.”
During her lifetime, Colette received a myriad of literary awards. Acclaimed as one of France’s most distinguished writers, she was awarded The Knight of the Legion of Honor, by the French government, the highest civil merit in France. In 1935, Colette was voted “the greatest living writer of French prose.” Colette died at the age of 81, on Aug. 3, 1954. She was given the first state funeral, with full military honors, that France ever gave to a woman.
Colette is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.