A scandalously talented stage performer, a practiced seductress of both men and women, and the flamboyant author of some of the greatest works of twentieth-century literature, Colette was our first true superstar. Now, in Judith Thurman's Secrets of the Flesh, Colette at last has a biography worthy of her dazzling reputation.
Having spent her childhood in the shadow of an overpowering mother, Colette escaped at age twenty into a turbulent marriage with the sexy, unscrupulous Willy--a literary charlatan who took credit for her bestselling Claudine novels. Weary of Willy's sexual domination, Colette pursued an extremely public lesbian love affair with a niece of Napoleon's. At forty, she gave birth to a daughter who bored her, at forty-seven she seduced her teenage stepson, and in her seventies she flirted with the Nazi occupiers of Paris, even though her beloved third husband, a Jew, had been arrested by the Gestapo. And all the while, this incomparable woman poured forth a torrent of masterpieces, including Gigi, Sido, Cheri, and Break of Day.
Judith Thurman, author of the National Book Award-winning biography of Isak Dinesen, portrays Colette as a thoroughly modern woman: frank in her desires, fierce in her passions, forever reinventing herself. Rich with delicious gossip and intimate revelations, shimmering with grace and intelligence, Secrets of the Flesh is one of the great biographies of our time.
Let's set the scene...
[Rory is reading on the couch in the living room as Lorelai calls her from upstairs.]
Rory: Living room!
[Lorelai comes down the steps wearing a newspaper veil on her head.]
Lorelai: I need your advice on something. What do you think?
Lorelai: Not good?
Rory: I'm not sure. Have you tried the Arts and Leisure section?
Lorelai: I need you to be serious.
Rory: You are wearing a newspaper on your head.
Lorelai: I know.
Rory: And you need me to be serious?
Lorelai: I am trying to figure out veil lengths here.
Rory: Oh, well sure.
Lorelai: See, I kind of like this shoulder length kind of semi-poofy thing like this.
Rory: Mm hmm.
Lorelai: But there's also a longer one that might be interesting.
Rory: Longer, sure.
Lorelai: And then there's the full on Diana.
Rory: Right, right.
Lorelai: Which is nice but it just might be a little. . . . You're reading me.
Rory: Wait, don't move.
Lorelai: Rory, stop it.
Rory: This Putin arms race thing is really getting crazy.
I will admit to something right here... my knowledge of French novelists is sorely lacking. I had never even heard of Colette (or the fin de siecle, for that matter... and I'm still a little cloudy on what exactly that is) until Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman reared it's pretty, rouged, tete on my list. And although it's odd to read a biography of someone before you really know their work, I'm glad I met Colette this way.
She is unapologetically herself, something I struggle with every day. She did not make excuses for her personality, her passions, her loves... Colette is Colette. While not exactly Mother of the Year (or Wife/Daugher/Sister/Stepmother of the Year, for that matter), she played a role in the lives of those she loved that was so uniquely Colette. She possessed a talent that was as much a part of her as her left arm and nurtured it even more than her daughter (but not quite as much as her stepson ::shudder::)
Judith Thurman told Colette's story in a way that was neither sycophantic or detached. It is clear that she has an immense respect for Colette's work, accepts her shortcomings as a person and still managed to tell of her life in an honest and entertaining way. Thurman's book has gotten me excited to discover Colette's work... I'm hoping to read Claudine at School soon! And lucky you, you'll all get to hear about it!
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
Babette would be highly amused by the balls-to-the-wall way in which Colette lives her life. And Colette was also an animal person. You know Babette loves anyone who loves animals.