Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette

Thurman, Judith

Published by Bloomsbury Pub Ltd
ISBN 10: 0747548439 / ISBN 13: 9780747548430
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Synopsis: Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was this century's first modern woman. She arrived in Paris around 1900 as the provincial child bride of a notorious rake and brilliant literary impressario, Willy, who signed her first novels, the Claudines, as his own. They invented the erotically reckless teenage girl as we know her, and became the greatest French bestsellers of all time. When this tumultuous marriage ended, Colette went off with a high-born woman lover, the virile Marquise de Belboeuf, and embarked on a flamboyant stage career. She bared her breast to raucous applause in the French music-hall and became a celebrity of the lesbian demimonde. Until her death in 1954, she continued to rewrite the rules for loving, working, and aging. At the end of the century, her life and work still have the power to challenge the norms.

Review: The same keen yet affectionate gaze Judith Thurman trained on Isak Dinesen in her 1983 National Book Award winner, The Life of a Storyteller, distinguishes her robust portrait of the great French writer Colette. In Secrets of the Flesh, Thurman shrewdly disentangles fact from legend during the course of the writer's long and turbulent life (1873-1954), yet she doesn't question Colette's right to mythologize herself. The fictions Colette created about herself were part of a lifelong attempt to make sense, not just of her own experience, but of the "secrets of the flesh" (André Gide's phrase in an admiring letter), the bonds that link women to men, parents to children, in an eternal search for love that is also a struggle for dominance. Chronicling Colette's scandalous life--male and female lovers, a stint in vaudeville, an affair with her stepson, a final happy marriage to a younger man--Thurman makes it clear that the writer's adored yet dominating mother and exploitative first husband made it difficult for her to conceive of amorous equality. Yet she nonetheless created a satisfying, creative existence, firmly rooted in the senses and filled with artistic achievement, from the bestselling Claudine novels to the mature insights of The Vagabond and Chéri. Thurman assesses with equal acuity the bleakness of Colette's world-view and a zest for life that it never seemed to dampen. --Wendy Smith

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Title: Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette
Publisher: Bloomsbury Pub Ltd
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Good

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