In the Jane Austen News last week we mentioned the upcoming film Colette, starring 2005 Lizzy Bennet actress Keira Knightley. Well since then we came across a brilliant TIME article which gave us a bit more background about the author, and we thought that you, as a fan of the pioneering author Jane Austen, might also enjoy reading a bit about another pioneering female author.
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born in 1873 in Burgundy in France. At the age of 20 she fell in love with, and went on to marry, Henry Gauthier-Villars, then aged 34, who was the owner of a ghostwriting enterprise which published novels under the pen name “Willy”. Colette became a member of the ghostwriting team and, when there was a bad case of writer’s block and a lack of money, Henry asked Colette to write about her school days. The result, published in 1900, was the book Claudine at School, which became a huge hit and turned into the first of a best-selling four-book series.
As the books gained even more popularity, Colette and Willy argued about adding her name as an author. Eventually the books were brought out with “Willy and Colette Willy” on the covers as the publishers wouldn’t remove his name from the series until a long time after his death. Although, on the positive side, after the couple separated (following many love affairs on both sides which led to an open marriage) Colette’s talent was better recognised and she became the first female President of the renowned Paris literary society, the Academie Goncourt.
This may not sound like Austen and Colette had much in common, but their books, although very different in tone and primary subject, do have a shared theme; that of inherent human nature:
Her uncanny feminine understanding, hearty physical sympathy for the internal workings of human nerves and glands, make her a writer who cannot avoid being labeled passionate but who never runs any danger of being cheap.
Hopefully you found this brief background on Colette as interesting as we at the Jane Austen News did. The full article on Colette can be found here.