Colette (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Herbert Lottman’s Colette: A Life begins with an interesting question: To what extent was Colette the writer identical to Claudine, the character she created in her notorious early books? As a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl in a small, rural French town, Claudine takes great interest in her own sexual impulses and in the sexual activities of others. She notices the growing attachment between the headmistress and her assistant, with whom Claudine herself is passionately in love; the infatuation of the assistant’s young sister for Claudine; and the approaches the medical inspector makes to schoolgirls like Claudine, when he is not, according to rumor, in bed with the headmistress. According to this biography, when she was at school, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who was to be the writer called simply “Colette,” appeared to be more interested in pranks than in sexual titillation. Moreover, the real Colette seems merely to have imagined the schoolroom scandals in her book. The character of the medical inspector, for example, was based on a political enemy of her father, a respectable doctor who in real life was never accused of making attempts on the virtue of schoolgirls.
Lottman makes it clear that differentiating between Claudine the fictitious character and Colette the young writer is even more difficult because there are so many versions as to the kind of collaboration that produced the four books about Claudine. When she was twenty, Colette...
(The entire section is 1983 words.)
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Colette (Magill Book Reviews)
Sidonie Gabrielle Colette was born on January 28, 1873, in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, a provincial town 120 miles south of Paris. Colette’s father, Captain Jules Colette, had lost a leg in battle; the town tax collector, he nourished unfulfilled literary ambitions. Her mother, Adele Sidonie Colette (nicknamed Sido), was an avid reader who taught Colette to read at a very early age and provided her with a steady supply of novels. (Colette recalled that she was seven years old when she started on Balzac.)
Colette’s life changed permanently when, at the age of twenty, she married Henry Gauthier-Villars, a man then in his early thirties. Gauthier-Villars was a Parisian wit, a music and drama critic and sometime editor known to all as Willy (pronounced Vili), his favorite pen-name. A debauched Svengali with a genius for self-promotion, he presided over a “novel factory": He hatched ideas for books, gave the outlines to hacks to execute, and touched up the resulting manuscripts, to be published under his name. In such fashion—the exact details of their collaboration are still in dispute—Colette’s first book was written, with Willy credited as author. Based on Colette’s memories of Saint-Sauveur, CLAUDINE IN SCHOOL was immensely popular, initiating a series of books about the irrepressible Claudine.
In time Colette broke free from Willy and eclipsed him entirely. Writing well, it is said, is the best revenge. Herbert Lottman’s...
(The entire section is 376 words.)