Colette was the pen name of the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (January 28, 1873 –August 3, 1954). She is best known, at least in the English-speaking world, for her novel Gigi, which provided the plot for a Lerner & Loewe musical film and stage musical.
Colette was born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne, in the Burgundy Region of France, the daughter of Jules-Joseph Colette and Adèle Eugénie Sidonie Landoy ("Sido"). In 1893 she marriedHenri Gauthier-Villars, a famous wit known as "Willy", who was 15 years her senior.
Her first books, the Claudine series, were published under the pen name of her husband, "Willy", writer, music critic, "literary charlatan and degenerate",. Claudine still has the power to charm; in belle epoque France it was downright shocking, much to Willy's satisfaction and profit.
In 1906 she left the unfaithful Gauthier-Villars, living for a time at the home of the American writer and salonist Natalie Barney. The two had a short affair, and remained friends until Colette's death.
Colette took up work in the music halls of Paris, under the wing of Mathilde de Morny, the Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy, with whom she became roman.tically involved. In 1907, the two performed together in a pantomime entitled Rêve d'Égypte at the Moulin Rouge. Their onstage kiss nearly caused a riot, which the police were called in to suppress. As a result of this scandal, further performances of Rêve d'Égypte were banned and Colette and de Morny were no longer able to openly live together, though their relationship continued a total of five years.
She published around 50 novels in total, many with autobiographical elements. Her themes can be roughly divided into idyllic natural tales or dark struggles in relationships and love. All her novels were marked by clever observation and dialogue with an intimate, explicit style. Her most popular novel, Gigi, was made into a Broadway play and a highly successful Hollywood motion picture, Gigi, starring Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron.
A controversial figure throughout her life, Colette flaunted her lesbian affairs, and collaborated with the Vichy regime during World War II - while at the same time aiding her Jewish friends, including hiding her husband in her attic all through the war. She was a member of the Belgian Royal Academy (1935), president of the Académie Goncourt (1949) (and the first woman to be admitted into it, in 1945), and a Chevalier (1920) and a Grand Officier (1953) of the Légion d'honneur.
When she died in Paris on August 3, 1954, she was given a state funeral, although she was refused Roman Catholic rites because of her divorce. Colette is interred in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.