I am re reading a book on the life of Colette.
In many ways, although the story should be about her "courage" to break taboos, it is quite dull...
She is essentially amoral, and despite the "courage" of breaking taboos, it seems that these taboos are regularly broken by those in her peer group...so she is not so much breaking taboos as going along with the "in crowd".
And sometimes the author gets it wrong (if you read the discussion at the end of the book, she gets quite a bit wrong...since she discusses it from the PC point of view, oblivious of other points of view). For example, the author implies because Colette went on stage naked she did not receive a Catholic funeral...hello. As the archbishop pointed out, she never went to church, openly despised all religion, was married three times, and refused last rights.
Her amoral life destroyed those around her. She slept with a stepson...and ignored her daughter. She wrote from the front lines of World War I and her Jewish husband was almost deported to a concentration camp, but one would not know this from her writings, which mainly concentrate on sexual relationships and infidelity.
So it is ironic that most of her daring, avant gard stories are now dated...in some ways similar to the book The Second Sex, which assumes that all cultures can be explained by the hedonistic revolot against the inhibitions of fin de sicle France.
The supreme irony is that, if Colette is known at all today, it is for her short story Gigi.
Unlike most of her stories, which has coupling, passion and despair, Gigi has a happy ending.
Gigi, of course, is the story of a girl brought up in a family of courtesans. However, grandmother is a warm caring woman and Gigi is well adjusted. She falls in love with a rich man who frequently visits her grandmother's house to relax in simplicity and warmth...but when Gigi grows up, the family arranges for her to bedcome his courtesan.
Gigi, of course, is horrified, knowing from her relatives the sordidness of women who have to rely on that lifestyle, but eventually agrees since she loves the rich man not for his money but for himself.
But to be a courtesan, she must inhibit her own self: her feelings, her spontaneity, her affection...and so at the end the rich man marries her instead, realizing that what he, and she, really want is not the false world of restaurants, jewels, spas and the in crowd, but the simple pleasures of love and family.
Now, looking on Colette's life, one wonders if this story is her best because it might be her life as she would have wished it.
Her original husband, Mr. Willy, was older and helped her. But he could not be faithful, and so he encouraged her to find one night stands, hang out with gays for male companionship, and have lesbian or bisexual lovers...
Yet even when they divorced, there was still love between them. One wonders if she,unlike Gigi who closely escaped, was twisted into an avant gard hedonism by an amoral husband...and her inborn narcissism made it impossible for her to see other ways to escape this trap.
In a discussion of woman writers at the end of the book, it was noted most of them were lesbian divorces, or spinsters.
Children take time, and emotions. Books are substitute "daughters", but because these women did not really touch real life, you see it missing in their writings...(Jane Austen, who mothered her extended family, was an exception, as is Sigrid Undset, who raised six children/stepchildren).
Like the wars, which she "reported" but actually had little impact on her writings or thought, Colette's daughter did not touch her life: reality showed she mainly neglected her daughter so she could do her own thing... so her writings of her mother and her daughter were fictional essays about Colette herself... not about her daughter as a living human being with independent thoughts and needs...
Now, I have not read all of Colette, but that which I read was....boring and dated. Instead of sympathizing with the characters, or identifying with them, as a doctor I felt like shaking them and say: Get a life. You have jewels to live off of, so why put up with this type of exploitation. Learn to type and get a job, young lady....go back to your family. Get a backbone. Of course, back then jobs and alternatives for women were limited: But they were not completely lacking. Most of those in her writings came from rich families.And if worse came to worse, these ladies always could have taken a ship to America and become a maid or worked in a factory...oh I forgot: The characters all had maids and cooks...they were too proud to get their fingers dirty...
One suspects that in the future, most of Colette's writings will merely be of historical interest...And because they describe a world of narcissitic selfishness, few of them have universal themes that would allow a later reader to enjoy them; similarly, for all their "love of life", most of her stories lack that gleam of hope for the joy that underlies a life of faith.