Friday, February 7, 2014

Colette v Colette

I remember the first time I saw the movie Gigi, it was at the Prosser Public Library where they used to have a regular Friday night movie (also the first place I saw The Graduate- you just know they don't do this anymore).  I was primed to love this movie for all the usual reasons but also because me & my brothers were quite sure the lyrics to the most famous song began with "Thank Kevin for little girls" & one of use was Kevin!  So thrilling. 

For those of you wondering why I am talking about this is, Gigi (& several other novellas & short stories- run, run to your public library) was written by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette & her connection to today is....extremely tenuous.  Back to Gigi for just a moment:  it is a fairy tale:  young girl in poverty etc. etc. marries the prince & lives happily ever after (I refuse to apologize for the spoiler, if you don't know how Gigi ends, you really need to get out more). 

But today's Colette is an entirely different person...& personage.  Saint Colette was born in 1381, in Corbin, France (a place that is not Googleable or Bingable so either it was spelled wrong, renamed or has Brigadoon-type qualities, guess which story I prefer).  After a while she joined the Poor Claires & began reforming, but before that she was an anchoress.  When I first learned about these women, I was fascinated & I still pretty much stop every time I hear about one.

An anchoress would wall herself into a room with no egress (if ever there was a time for the word "egress" I believe this is it)....with no egress except a window looking into a church.

I have been told I have the soul of an accountant.  I don't think it was meant to be a compliment & my response at the time was I don't have the soul of anything, there is no such thing as a soul which I am sure the other guy thought pretty much proved his point.  But I knew what he meant.  While I like a good yarn as much as anyone, it takes me mere moments to get bogged down in the day-to-dayness of just about anything.  Upon hearing of an anchoress, my first thought was how did she go to the bathroom, but our saint lived in a day of chamber pots so that was a no brainer.  More problematic was how she managed to produce anything to fill a chamber pot.  I picture the priest holding mass while altar boys chuck loaves of bread through the window behind him.  Then there is the whole how did she get in there?  How did she get out (she left the room after four years)?  I cannot be alone in starting to wonder if this is how the whole Rapunzel thing got started. 

Now for the Rapunzel detour:  the Rapunzel story we know is almost certainly a German rip-off of a French story written by an actual known person, a woman as it happens:  Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force.  Mademoiselle de la Force lived...quite the life & was well known in her day.  More than a hundred years later, her stories were still being published in France under her name & then the Grimm Brothers sanitized it & it caught on everywhere else.  Yes, yes de la Force ripped the story off from the legend of Saint Barbara (patroness of among other things firefighters & people who will die a sudden death--what?!?!?!), but she spiced it up plenty. 

So here we are at the other Colette.  She wrote, famously or infamously, under what I was taught was a pseudonym but turned out to be her last name, one of them anyhow.  In fairness, the first stories WERE published under her husband-at-the-time's pen name but no one seems to have ever been confused about who really wrote them.  It seems he often published other writers' works as his own.  This doesn't make it not-plagiarism but does make it maybe a norm for the time. 

Colette was described as a victim of her machinating husband/publisher who took all the credit & kept all the money.  This story also had a Rapunzel ring to it, but it turns out she had a pretty good time herself.  She died in 1954 & it is clear everyone knew who she was.  She had a state funeral after all, having been much lauded while alive for all kinds of artsy & patriotic stuff.  The French people adored her, the catholic church not so much; they refused rites because of her divorces.  Apparently you can hide Jews from Nazis, etc but get two or three little divorces...

To recap:  one Colette lived in a room with a window into a church & the other Colette lived large.  One went on to a life of deprivation & the other did NOT.  That's all I've got.  Except today's word: machination.  & Saint Colette's patronages:  women who are trying to get pregnant, expectant mothers & sick children.  The other Colette was by all accounts, including her own, a disinterested mother.

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