Know Your History – 28th January – Colette

know your history - writingOn this day…

28th January 1873

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born. Using the pen name Colette she is best known for her novel Gigi.

Her first books, the Claudine series, were published under her husband’s pen name “Willy”. Claudine still has the power to charm; in Belle Époque France it was considered shocking, much to Willy’s satisfaction and profit.gigi

Post-World War I, her writing career bloomed following the publication of Chéri (1920).Chéri tells a story of the end of a six-year affair between an aging retired courtesan, Léa, and a pampered young man, Chéri

By 1927, she was frequently acclaimed as France’s greatest woman writer.

During World War II, Colette remained in Paris during the German Occupation and continued to write and publish because “she said that she had to make a living“. Gigi, set in the same Belle Époque world as Cheri, became a bestseller because it took place during a glamorous time and the story would “sweep her readers away from their everyday concerns of wartime shortages and danger“.

Upon her death in Paris in 1954, Colette left 50 published novels in total, many with autobiographical elements. Her themes can be roughly divided into idyllic natural tales or dark struggles in relationships and love. All her novels were marked by clever observation and dialogue with an intimate, explicit style.

Her popular novella Gigi was made into a Broadway play in 1951 starring Audrey Hepburn and a highly successful Hollywood motion picture of the same name, starring Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, and Maurice Chevalier. Colette is directly credited with the discovery of a young, unknown Audrey Hepburn, whom the elder chose on sight to play the eponymous Broadway lead in Gigi.

Her personal life is equally as interesting as the stories she has written; three husbands, several scandals (on and off-stage) including flaunting her lesbian affairs (not the done thing in those days) and even the first woman given a state funeral in France.

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