On this day, French author Colette (born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) is born in a small town in Burgundy, France. Raised in the country, Colette married writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars and moved to Paris, where she began writing. She published her earliest writings, a racy series of novels about a young girl named Claudine, under the name Willy, her husband’s pen name.
During her marriage to Gauthier-Villars, Colette grew from a naive and provincial country girl to a sophisticated Parisienne. She took mime lessons in 1903 and began acting before she separated from her husband in 1906. The pair divorced in 1910, the same year Colette published her novel The Vagabond, based partly on the failed marriage.
After the divorce, Colette supported herself as a music-hall actress. She also began publishing essays and articles, notably in the newspaper Le Matin. She married the paper’s editor, Henry de Jouvenel, in 1912. Her book Music-Hall Sidelights (1913) was based on her experiences as an actress. She began writing her best work in the 1920s, including Cheri (1920) and The Last of Cheri (1926), about a handsome young man who lives for pleasure and kills himself when he cannot recapture the joy of his first love affair.
Colette divorced Jouvenel in 1924 and later married the much younger Maurice Goudeket. She continued writing and won many awards and honors. Her novel Gigi (1944), the story of a girl raised to be a courtesan, was adapted for stage and screen, and included one of Colette’s rare happy endings. Colette died in Paris in 1954.