COLETTE: A Life by Herbert Lottman

COLETTE: A Life

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Life of the great French novelist Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), author of Gigi, Cheri, etc. As in his Albert Camus (1979) and Flaubert (1988), biographer Lottman still writes more as a fact-assembler than as one inspired by his subject. Colette was the symbol of sensuality and scandal in France's belle Époque and thereafter. She was 19 when she told the witty Parisian writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, who was 33, ""I'll die if I'm not your mistress!"" And mistress and wife she became, with Willy turning the ignorant gift ""into a prodigy of dissolution, whom nothing can disgust."" Soon Willy had Colette writing her semifictional memoirs, which he published under his own name as the Claudine novel tetralogy. He took a mistress, while Colette entered into several lesbian ties, became a dancer/actress, wrote Sapphic stage entertainments and bodice-rippers that dazzled France with her exposed left breast. When she and Willy divorced, he sold the rights to Claudine, and Colette got no royalties from the series for decades. But she claimed credit for her new books, while Willy's showed him a poor thing without her. Her second marriage, to journalist Henry de Jouvenal, who saw into her ""monstrous simplicity,"" produced a daughter but did not last. By her third marriage in her 50s, to Maurice Gaudeket, who was 17 years her junior, she'd become utterly sedate, the complete reverse of her youth, but had entered into long years of physical pain, from arthritis. In time, she became the first woman elected to the Goncourt Academy, then its president. Colette smiles here and there, but Lottman fails to light up his pages.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1990
Publisher: Little, Brown