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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal


Colette 1873to –1954

Celebrated French novelist and beloved public figure, best known for her work Gigi. Colette was introduced both to writing and to Paris’s libertine underground when she married her first husband at the age of 20. He persuaded her, perhaps forcibly, into writing her first novels, the semi-autobiographical Claudine series which included salacious descriptions of same-sex attraction. The novels were published under her husband’s name, which was a fine opportunity for a female author at the time, but when Colette divorced him she no longer had access to any of her books’ profits. To get by, she became a music hall performer. She had a number of affairs with women during her marriage (then encouraged by her husband) and continued to form relationships with both men and women, most notably that of fellow actress Mathilde de Morny. Together they scandalized audiences by sharing a kiss on stage, and police had to be called to quell the ensuing riot. Colette married twice more, earned a reputation for her sexual appetite (her second marriage ended when she began an affair with her 16-year-old stepson), and throughout this time wrote under her own name about women seeking both independence and love. When her popular novel Gigi became a film and then a play, she handpicked a then-unknown Audrey Hepburn to play the title role.

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