Colette. My name is Colette. Of my real name, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, I will keep only the best, the end. I am the last of four siblings (so, the end) raised by a mother who adores me and adored by a father who raises me. I grew up in Burgundy, a region whose accent will never leave me. I would roll my r’s for the rest of my life.

At 16, I meet Henry Gauthier-Villars, known as Willy, a seducer who already likes to take the place of others. The first time I see him, he puts the illegitimate child he had with the wife of Emile Cohl (one of the inventors of the cartoon) in the care of a nanny.

But I still marry him, four years later. I’m 20 years old.

Willy is a journalist, a critic, the owner of a publishing house and a writer. Well, writer. Let’s say he has a nice signature that he adds to the text of others. And the others, one day, is me. Shortly after we get married, Willy suggests I take up my pen.

“You should throw down your memories of primary school on paper. Don’t be afraid of the spicy details, maybe I could get something out of it…”  

Which is what I do, on a small table, sitting on a bad chair, one shoulder askew.

But when he reads them, Mr. Willy, as I call him, puts the manuscripts away in a drawer, for perhaps a year. One day, while tidying his desk, he exclaims, “In the name of God ! I’m such an idiot! “He puts on his flat hat and leaves the house.

That is how I became a writer.

 

Claudine à l’école’ (‘Claudine at School’) is published under Willy’s name and I promise to keep it a secret. The first volume is a success and is followed by others: ‘Claudine à Paris’ (‘Claudine in Paris’. ‘Claudine en Ménage’) ‘Claudine Married’, ‘Claudine s’en va’ (‘Claudine is leaving’ (published as ‘Claudine and Annie’)

And I’m staying.

However, a discrete revolution is born me.

In 1905, I write “The Dialogue de Bêtes” which I sign under the name of Colette Willy. Part of me is starting to shine in my husband’s shadow.

My husband continues to be unfaithful to me. And I have “unspeakable relationships” with women. I take dance and pantomime lessons and start on stage. I meet Mathilde de Morny, known as “Missy”, with whom I would have a relationship.

In 1906, I finally separate from my husband, but would not divorce until four years later. I keep his name for literature: I signed Colette Willy until 1923. The novel ‘Le Blé en Herbe’ (Ripening Seed’) will finally free me from this literary tutelage.

In January 1907, at the Moulin Rouge, I play a mummy awakened by the kiss of an Egyptologist who is none other than Missy. Cigarettes, stools immediately arrive on stage and a general brawl breaks out. There will not be two performances.

However, my artistic life has never been so full. I continue to write novels and perform on stage.

In 1909, I meet Henry de Jouvenel, politician, journalist and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Le Matin, whom I married in 1912. A year later, when I am 40 years old, our daughter is born and I give her the name I had already chosen for myself: Colette.

I write short articles and reports for Le Matin, and I even become the newspaper’s literary director. As I am into everything, I can’t be content only with writing. I do adaptations of my books to the theatre, I collaborate with Maurice Ravel for the lyrical fantasy ‘L’Enfant et les Sortilèges’, I even try to open a beauty institute, but this time success is not there.

Just like the first one, my second marriage nose dives. In 1935, I marry Maurice Goudeket for the third and final time.

And then war breaks out and life slows down.

In 1945, I am elected unanimously to the Goncourt Academy, of which I become president four years later. I keep writing, I’m still active but my hip arthritis forces me remain immobile.

I die in 1954, perhaps to allow another subversive woman to shine in literature… Goodbye joy, I would have lived a lot. From the beginning to the end.