Books by Claude Francis

Released: Oct. 1, 1999

The eventful life of one of the century's great libertines is told in such a breathless rush of facts, names, and juicy episodes that readers only casually aware of French author Colette will soon cry uncle. The second volume (after Creating Colette: From Ingenue to Libertine, 1873—1913, 1998) of Francis and Gontier's lengthy biography picks up as the writer turns 40 and weds Henry de Jouvenel, editor of Le Matin. Now the baroness de Jouvenel, and pregnant, Colette nevertheless continued her wild ways, most notably with her public affair with the famed actress Musidora. Earlier, Colette had ignored her mother's entreaties to visit her and upon her mother's death refused to go to the funeral or wear mourning. Her daughter, Colette RenÇe, nicknamed Bel Gazou, or "pretty warbler," would come in for similar neglect from the work- and career-oriented author. Independent as she was, Colette was no feminist: an opponent of civil rights for women, she found interest in politics to be grotesque, depriving women of the feminine charms of "incompetence, timidity, silence." Colette's lesbian and hetero affairs would continue well into the 1930s, when she married a diamond dealer named Maurice Goudeket, a man 15 years her junior. Her efforts to free him from a Nazi concentration camp during WWII became the stuff of the Colette legend. Her writing had become infused with Fourierist principles, a kind of French "free love" philosophy, which, as read in her major works—Gigi, Sido, The Break of Day, The Pure and the Impure—helped to create a following both popular and literary. Much honored, Colette was entered into the AcadÇmie Goncourt and the French Legion of Honor. When she died in 1954, she was granted a state funeral with full military honors. An enormous cataloguing of pertinent information but rendered with little or no grace or personal insight into its subject. (photos) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 5, 1998

Any biography of the celebrated French author of Gigi, ChÇri, and the Claudine novels would have to be replete with juicily scandalous detail. This entry, covering the first half of her life, does not disappoint. Colette's novels of the demimonde and Parisian cafÇ society were noteworthy for both their high quality and their autobiographical content. Her numerous marriages, and her hetero and lesbian affairs, provided Colette with a subject and a lifestyle that made her one of the notorious fin-de-siäcle celebrities. Francis and Gontier (co-authors of Simone de Beauvoir: A Life, A Love Story, 1987, etc.) sift through rumor, legend, and shadowy fact to piece together a life that would cause modern jet-setters to blanch, perhaps. Colette's contention that she had black ancestors has usually been dismissed by her biographers as a literary conceit—as yet another example of her self-promotional efforts. Here, though, the authors dig deep to follow her maternal lineage to a black grandfather from Martinique. They also make great strides at dispelling Colette's bitter late-career assertion that she was bullied into writing by her first husband, the publishing scion Henry Gauthier-Villara. Known as Willy, he was a leading literary figure of the day and, in fact, collaborated with his wife on dozens of novels, essays, and plays. He also gave her syphilis. Colette and Willy both conducted numerous affairs, she (notably) with the Marquise de Morny. Known as "France's most notorious cross-dresser," Missy, as she was called, and Colette staged a pantomime that summoned the police. Colette's oeuvre remains of mild interest. Colette the woman is eternally fascinating. (b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >