[Colette] Gilmour, Jane
- Colette's France: Her Lives, Her Loves
Hardie Grant Publishing, Melbourne Vic., 2013.
Royal octavo; hardcover, with illustrated boards and endpapers; 205pp., with many colour and monochrome illustrations. No dustwrapper as issued. Near fine. 'Monstrous innocence was the ruling quality that Colette claimed in both her life and books. Protesting her artless authenticity, she was sly in devising her newspaper celebrity and ruthless in imposing her personal myths. She posed as provincial ingenue, wide-eyed young wife of the Paris belle epoque, scandalous lesbian, risque music-hall performer, novelist of prodigious output, theatre reviewer, beautician, seducer, the most feline of cat-lovers and, ultimately, garlanded literary lioness. Yet her phoniness should not deter people from reading her books. Although most of her work resembled an imaginary autobiography, it was never self-obsessed or constricting. On the contrary, she used her fictionalised self as the centrepiece of a worldly comedy with a cool, sane vision which skewered the moralising humbug of the Third Republic and lampooned a patriarchy of pompous, empty, third-rate men. She is playful, teasing, supple; full of gaiety and zest; and an exquisite stylist, so rich and simple, exact and clear, perceptive and shrewd. Rereading her, one finds that her creed of sexual and emotional fulfilment has scarcely dated. Her dialogue remains as crisp and suggestive as ever. The air of audacity has not staled, even if the lovers' anguish seems contrived. And always she remains a glorious, lyrical observer of natural beauty. Colette was catapulted into marriage at the age of 20 to Henri Gauthier-Villars. This rascal had a stable of poor hacks - known as negres - who churned out journalism and novels which he published as his own work under the nom de plume of Willy. Colette was press-ganged into the negres, and under Willy's control, locked in her room, wrote six phenomenally successful autobiographical novels with such titles as Claudine a l'ecole and Claudine a Paris. She broke away from literary slavery, and from the subjugation of an odious marriage, in 1906. Thereafter she set herself against the duties, prohibitions and guilt imposed by men, and supported herself as a mime artist, dancer and music-hall performer. Her first lesbian affair - encouraged by her husband - had occurred in 1901 with 'Georgie' Raoul-Duval, as described in Claudine en menage. There is an affably personal touch to Jane Gilmour's book. During 'les evenements' of 1968, she worked in Paris on a doctoral thesis about Colette. Returning to her native Australia, her career took other directions; but in retirement she returned to Europe to refresh her research and write Colette's France. The book is gentle and affectionate, prettily illustrated, without the austerities of academic analysis, and will make amiable holiday reading for visitors to France." - Richard Davenport-Hines
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