The One with the Writer behind the Husband

Annie Goetzinger, Les Apprentissages de Colette (French, 2017)

I’m not a huge Colette fan. I probably should be, but I started Colette at the wrong time in my life and I didn’t persevere. I know, I know, you’re all shaking your head in disbelief, well I know at least Mr. Smithereens is, since he’s a big Colette fan.

In an attempt to reconcile with her, I borrowed this graphic novel (by a woman!) from the library, about the beginning of Colette’s literary career, from her marriage with Willy to her divorce from Jouvenel, her second husband, in 1923. I knew already about Willy signing Colette’s book and Willy’s philandering habits, but I didn’t know the details. This book starts when Colette is still a shy, small-town girl with a drawl from her native Burgundy. It’s not quite clear even after reading the book why those two got married, but it wasn’t a love match nor a money match. Willy was sure to get a young wife who wouldn’t be troublesome with his own philandering (before and after the wedding). Or so he thought…

The book follows her first attempts at writing a memoir / novel under her husband’s guidance. Willy employed several ghost writers and he obviously thought that his wife would be just another (non-paid) one. We see how she gets more and more confident, and more and more jaded about her marriage. She gets lovers of her own; she gets to know intellectuals and journalists and the most popular figures in Paris; she works as a journalist, but also as a scandalous actress who appears onstage barely clothed; she gets married again, has a daughter; she grows into the famously independent and rule-breaking woman that we know.

Although I was interested in the subject, I didn’t warm up to the book’s design, and it didn’t help me to warm up to Colette’s life. Annie Goetzinger draws very distinctive characters, they all seem a little deadpan, which makes them slightly aloof. But the period details and costumes (all those Edwardian and Roaring twenties dresses!) are very well-researched and will convince Colette’s fans and fashion historians alike.

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