Philobiblon: Colette

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


It's ages since I read this now, but I did want to record a couple of snippets from A Life of Colette: Secrets of the Flesh, by Judith Thurman ...

* It's often forgotten that Colette was very much a journalist as well as a novelist. "She would be one of the first women to report from the front lines of World War I, and go up in an airship and an aeroplane. One of her specialties would be crime, particularly domestic violence, and criminal psychology, and she would cover some of the great trials of the century." (p. 218)

* As the row ignited by Jacques Chirac over English food rages, we should perhaps be thankful he wasn't commenting on female sexuality. Thurman is referring particularly to Colette's The Ripening Seed, which a New York Review of Books review (full text requires payment) says contains her defining lines: "Ces plaisirs qu'on nomme, a la legere, physiques" (these pleasures lightly called physical.)

The biographer says: "At least since the Puritan revolution, and probably since the reign of the first Elizabeth, ambitious Anglo-Saxon daughters have been taught that their greatest worldy leverage - the route to influence in art, politics, or anywhere else in the public sphere - lies in abstention. Despite misogynistic laws and traditions, French culture ultimately prizes and respects sexual appetite and daring in women and, as these women age, values their prowess and wisdom - one reason Colette would become a national treasure." (p. 316-7)

Is there some truth in that? I suspect there is, but looking at yesterday's post, perhaps the absence (and always lesser importance) of the nunnery as an alternative for Englishwomen, meant celibacy IN society, as opposed to outside it, was a significant option, which it wasn't in France - have to think about that one.

* But I have to admit, I struggled to really sympathise with the woman who "had always been a misogynist, but she became an increasingly entrenched one. In 1928 Colettette had published a polemical pamphlet entitled 'Why I Am Not A Feminist', explaining in her preface that 'I have never had any confidence in women, the eternal feminine having betrayed me from the outset in the guise of my mother'." (p. 381)

She seems, like too many successful women, to have preferred to regard herself as exceptional, above the rest of the female half of the human race. So no, I'm not a fan.


Anonymous Ahgasi said...

Yes it's odd how you sometimes see successful women who separate themselves off from other women and look upon themselves as honorary men. I think it has racial parallels. I don't know much about empires etc. . But I imagine that there must always have been subjected peoples who tried to pass as members of the ruling tribe.

Maybe I'm being crass and insensitive by comparing the race and gender issues. Or maybe whilst racial discrimination is now (thank goodness) absolutely unacceptable, sexual discrimination still receives less condemnation. So socially it feels awkward to compare the two.

7/06/2005 09:57:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

No, I think that is a valid comparison - and indeed while open racial discrimination is unacceptable in most quarters, the level of representation of minority groups in all sorts of areas would lay, I'd suggest, a responsibility on anyone who "makes it" to help their compatriots.

I think there is stil a responsibility on women to do likewise.

7/06/2005 01:18:00 pm  

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