This January, in 1873, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, known as her pen name Colette, was born. Colette was known for her scandalous love life, her prolific career that includes eighty works (Gigi being her most famous work), and just generally doing whatever she wanted. Here are some facts about her amazing life to celebrate her 148th birthday.
1. Her first husband took credit for her early works
In 1893, Colette married Henry Gauthier-Villars, pen named Willy and moved to Paris. Willy was a writer, critic, and publisher, and introduced her to a Parisian society of artists and writers. While she was sick, Willy suggested to Colette that she write stories about her childhood with even more scandalous details. Colette did, and this became her Claudine series. Willy then published the books under his own name. The couple seperated and officially divorced in 1910.
2. She Worked as a Music Hall Performer
After divorcing her husband, Colette was left practically penniless. She found herself work in music halls across France, training as a dancer and a mime. She wrote about this in her novel The Vagabond, “What else could I do? Needlework, typing, streetwalking? Music hall is a profession for those who never learned one.” While performing in music halls, Colette continued to write fiction and struggled financially.
3. She was Bisexual
Colette’s love life has always caused scandal. While her three marriages and divorces (along with her affair with her teenage stepson) were fodder for gossip, it was her romantic relationships with other women that truly caused people to raise their eyebrows. Her most famous affair was with the niece of Napoleon the III, Mathilde “Missy” de Morny. They were together from 1906 to 1910, and were open about it until 1907, when they shared an onstage kiss that almost caused people to riot. Missy was also a controversial figure, exclusively wearing male clothes in a time where it was illegal for women to wear trousers in Paris.
4. She was a journalist
Colette may have been known for her novels and short stories, but she was also a journalist and reported on the first world war, and topics not often talked about in her day such as sexuality, eating disorders, and domestic violence.
5. She was given a state funeral
Colette’s health was poor her entire life, but in her later years she was ill with arthritis and rarely left her house. Her husband Maurice cared for her. She died on August 3rd, 1954 at the age of 81. She was the first woman in France to have recieved the honor of a state funeral.