An extract on #bbggirls
In 1893 she married Henry Gauthier-Villars (18591931) or 'Willy', his nom-de-plume, a well-known author and publisher, and her first four novelsthe four Claudine stories, Claudine l'cole (1900), Claudine Paris (1901), Claudine en menage (1902), and Claudine s'en va (1903)appeared under his name. They chart the coming of age of their heroine, Claudine, from an unconventional fifteen-year-old in a Burgundian village to the literary salons of turn-of-the-century Paris. (The four are published in English as Claudine at School, Claudine in Paris, Claudine Married, and Claudine and Annie). The story they tell is semi-autobiographical, but not entirelymost strikingly, Claudine, unlike Colette, is motherless.
Willy, fourteen years older than his wife and one of the most notorious libertines in Paris, introduced Colette into avant-garde intellectual and artistic circles while engaging in sexual affairs and encouraging her own lesbian dalliances. It was he who chose the titillating subject-matter of the Claudine novels, "the secondary myth of Sappho...the girls' school or convent ruled by a seductive female teacher" (Ladimer, p. 53). Colette later said that she would never have become a writer if not for Willy.
Colette and Willy separated in 1906, although it was not until 1910 that the divorce became final. She had no access to the sizable earnings of the Claudine booksthe copyright belonged to Willyand until 1912 she followed a stage career in music halls across France, sometimes playing Claudine in sketches from her own novels, earning barely enough to survive and often hungry and unwell. This period of her life is recalled in La Vagabonde (1910), which deals with women's independence in a male society, a theme to which she would regularly return in future works. During these years she embarked on a series of relationships with other women, notably with Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf ("Missy"), with whom she sometimes shared the stage. On January 3, 1907, an onstage kiss between Missy and Colette in a pantomime entitled Rve d'gypte caused a near-riot, and as a result they were no longer able to live together openly, although their relationship continued for another five years.
In 1912 she married Henry de Jouvenel, the editor of Le Matin. A daughter, Colette de Jouvenel, nicknamed Bel-Gazou, was born in 1913. During the war she devoted herself to journalism, but marriage allowed her to devote her time to writing.