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.
"This scholarly biography, published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Colette's death, is not a scandal sheet but a psychoanalysis of Colette in which Kristeva uses psycholinguistics to explore the author's work and life. . . . Recommended for academic libraries." — Library Journal
"Persuasive and entertaining. As an account of how Colette's writing works through vivid and sexualized metaphor, it's quite superb. . . . Kristeva and Colette are a brilliant coupling." — The Times (London)
"part psychoanalysis, part apologia--all based in love." — Julia Balen, Women's Review of Books
"A major study on a figure who remains one of France's most underrated writers." — Julien Bisson, France Today
"This is a wonderful book by one of the finest minds of our time." — Michael Payne, Daily Item
Julia Kristeva is professor of linguistics at the University of Paris VII. A world-renowned psychoanalyst and literary theorist, she is the author of many books, including Hannah Arendtand Melanie Klein (both published by Columbia). Jane Marie Todd is a translator living in Portland, Oregon. She has published some thirty translations, including Catherine Clément and Julia Kristeva's The Feminine and the Sacred (Columbia).