Published on the fiftieth anniversary of her death, this intellectual biography of Colette the final volume of Julia Kristeva's trilogy "Female Genius" will be considered a major breakthrough in understanding one of the great creative minds of the twentieth century.
Colette (1873-1954) was a prolific novelist who celebrated sexual pleasure and invented a language for it at a time when women writers were inhibited about dealing with the topic. Female sexuality in a male-dominated world and the joys and pains of love served as her main themes, and her novels Cheri, La Chatte, and Gigi, among them blurred the boundaries between fact and fiction long before autobiographical novels became commonplace. She married three times, had male and female lovers, and for a time supported herself as a mime, dancing semi-nude in music halls throughout France. When she died, she received the first state funeral the French Republic had ever given a woman.
Colette's writing was inspired by entertainers, courtesans, an aristocratic Parisian lesbian subculture, and fin de siècle gay aesthetes. She admired those who lived on the sexual edge and was accused of moral corruption in intellectual matters she published in pro-Vichy, anti-Semitic journals during the Occupation, even as she fought to keep her Jewish third husband from deportation. Kristeva deftly examines Colette's controversial life and work and considers two of her most important influences, Honoré de Balzac and Marcel Proust. In a multifaceted approach, Kristeva considers Colette's use of metaphor, the characters in her novels, and the development of her writing within the context of her life. Paying particular attention to the language the French writer used to "say the unsayable and name the unnameable," Kristeva offers an elegant and sophisticated critique of Colette's psychological conflicts, particularly her sexual relationships and how these conflicts are both recorded in and resolved through the act of writing.
Appealing to Freudian and Lacanian concepts such as the Oedipus complex, perversion, the symbolic, and melancholy, Kristeva opens Colette's oeuvre to psychoanalytic interpretation. The impression that remains is of a woman intent on experiencing the world's pleasures its jouissance in a melding with the world's flesh.