SECRETS OF THE FLESH by Judith Thurnman


A Life of Colette
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From the National Book Award-winner, a comprehensive biography of the French novelist Colette that, once it moves on from the obligatory psychologizing, becomes an engrossing study of a woman determined to live as she chose. Colette (1873—1954), author of such books as The Cat and Gigi, was both a gifted writer and a celebrity. A participant in France’s most glittering years of cultural brilliance as well as the shameful years of wartime collaboration, she was, if not exactly mistress to an age, certainly one of its poster girls. Determined to be an individual, Colette did what she liked, even if it provoked scandal (she appeared bare-breasted on the stage) or inflicted pain (her daughter was raised by a nanny). Despite Colette’s claims of a happy childhood in the country, Thurman contends that she resented her strong mother’s domineering but well-intentioned ways, and was subsequently suspicious of maternal love and an inadequate mother herself. Given the contrast between her mother and her father, a gentle soul too “oblivious to be possessive,— Colette’s deepest yearnings, according to Thurman, were to be “as free as a tomboy, and cherished as a Daddy’s girl.— Thurman deftly if not always convincingly uses these insights to explicate Colette’s writings as well as her long and colorful life. Thurman also details, sometimes too conscientiously, Colette’s three marriages; her relationship with the notorious Missy, a lesbian transvestite Marquise; her numerous affairs, including one with her stepson; and her friendships with such luminaries as Proust, Gide, and Cocteau. Regarded as one of France’s great literary figures, she was the first woman to be given a state funeral—a tribute, Thurman suggests, that reflected as much respect for her accomplishments as affection. A solid, intelligent work that goes a long way to explain a woman whose life was as distinctive as her writing, a woman, Gide observed, who wrote about and understood “the least admitted secrets of the flesh.— (24 pages photos) (Book-of-the-Month Club alternate)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-394-58872-X
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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