In the world of French literature, there is a stroke of genius that drew its inspiration from the landscapes of Burgundian Puisaye: Colette. 20th century French writer, Colette wrote a masterful and poetic work on nature and the relationships between living beings. Today she is one of the most famous women of letters, in France and in the world. 

Her notoriety is also due to her audacity, her choices and her tumultuous life, which made Colette a pioneer in the emancipation of women, free and modern. 

Dove Clier

Colette's birthplace. It was here in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye that she was born on January 28, 1863.

Biography and Work of Colette

His childhood

Colette, real name Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, was the daughter of Jules-Joseph Colette, a former army captain, and Adèle Eugénie Sidonie Landoy. Colette is the last of Sido's four children. She had a happy childhood and was a good student at the secular school of Saint-Sauveur in Puisaye. Her education was rather atypical for a young girl of the time. His mother Sido, was an educated woman who encouraged her to read, write and loved the nature around her. This education stimulated her passion for literature and played an essential role in her writing career, for which she made her home, her childhood and her native country the most beautiful pages of his work.

There is no equivalent in French literature of an author who has devoted so many pages and so much creative energy to reconstructing his childhood setting.

Frédéric Maget, director of Colette’s house
Colette Study Center

His meeting with Willy

In 1893, Colette married Henry Gauthier-Villars, a man of letters and literary critic known under the pseudonym “Willy”. Their marriage was the starting point of Colette's public life. Under the influence of her husband, she began writing four semi-biographical novels entitled “Claudine”, under the signature of Willy. However, Colette and Willy's relationship was tumultuous and the couple divorced in 1906.

Three husbands and a daughter

Very quickly, Colette understands the benefit of writing, even if she claims to have become an author without having wanted to: “it allows you to nourish yourself, both your stomach and your mind”. After her separation from Willy, Colette collaborated with the newspaper “Matin”. She meets there Henry de Jouvenel, one of the editors-in-chief. This union gave birth to her daughter, Colette Renée de Jouvenel, known as “Bel-Gazou”. However, Jouvenel's political career, hardly compatible with that of Colette, caused their separation. This in no way prevents Colette from taking charge Bertrand de Jouvenel, born from Henry de Jouvenel's first marriage, and to have a romantic affair with this young man, only 16 years old.

Colette and Jean Cocteau in Paris

In 1925, Colette met Maurice Goudeket, pearl broker. From Saint-Malo to Saint-Tropez, via Paris and Corrèze, they both lead in great style. Their marriage was celebrated on April 3, 1935. In 1938, Colette finally realized her dream: to live on the noble floor of the Palais Royal. She counts among her neighbors Jean Cocteau, who becomes a faithful friend. Suffering from polyarthritis and forced to immobility, Colette slowed down her writing and publication despite the unwavering support of Maurice Goudeket. She died on August 3, 1954.  

The works of Colette, in a protean career

Colette's career spanned several decades, and she left behind a body of work of unparalleled accuracy, including novels, plays, essays and articles.

Among his most famous works are:

  • Gigi: a short story written in 1944, on the theme of demi-mondaines and the Belle-Epoque. 
  • Sido: Autobiographical novel in which Colette depicts her mother Sido and her family circle.
  • The tendrils of the vine: it is a collection of 20 short stories where Colette recounts her childhood and her passion for nature.
  • Dear : novel adapted for the theater, then for the cinema. Léa de Lonval, courtesan, is Fred Peloux's mistress: a story that is not without regrets. 
  • Budding wheat: Colette wrote this novel during her vacation in Roz-Ven. It tells the story of the sentimental and sexual initiation of two adolescents.  
  • The Vesper star: In this novel, Colette delivers her memories with great sensitivity, through well-chosen fragments of life. 
  • The wanderer: Written during a tumultuous period in Colette's love life, this novel is perhaps the novel of revenge. 

This writing frenzy never stopped her from being a free woman and to do what she liked, when she wanted: actress, music-woman, journalist and even owner of a beauty salon...

Where to buy Colette's books in Puisaye-Forterre?

You will naturally find them at all the booksellers, at the boutique of the birthplace and the museum or at the essential second-hand bookseller, rue de la Roche in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye.

Are there any special events around Colette, in Puisaye-Forterre?

Throughout the year, the Birthplace and Museum organize conferences, readings, exhibitions, screenings, dedicated to Colette or other women writers, scientists, politicians, etc. In the fall, the International Festival of Women's Writings remains the major event. The cooking workshops, for children or adults, led by Isabelle Géraud, will introduce you to Colette's favorite dishes.

Are there guided tours to learn more about Colette’s life?

During the summer, take part in guided hikes, with reading extracts from Colette's books and the possibility of visiting Colette's classroom. For groups, possibility of an excursion “In the footsteps of Colette: in the land of Claudine”. Find out more at the Tourist Office.

His honors

Unclassifiable author, she became the first woman to be elected member of the Goncourt academy in 1945 and 1953, she was elevated to the dignity of grand officer of the Legion of Honor. 

The sulphurous reputation of his novels prevents the author from obtaining a religious burial. But his reputation is such that the Republic organizes for him national funeral. This is a first for a woman. “We have no idea today of this level of recognition,” according to Frédéric Maget, director of the Colette house and author of “7 Lives of Colette” at Flammarion. 

She is buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

What is Colette's most famous work?

It’s Claudine at School – This semi-autobiographical novel, published in 1900, was a real scandal at the time. Filled with life and sensuality, it is Colette's first novel.

How many women have had a state funeral?

Colette was the first woman to obtain this very high recognition, then there was Joséphine Baker in 1975 and Simone Veil in 2017.

The 5 novels to read or reread?

The “Claudine” series (1900), The tendrils of the vine (1908), The budding wheat (1923), Sido (1930), The blue beacon (1949).

Top 3 of Colette's most beautiful quotes?

  • “Do stupid things, but do them with enthusiasm” Extract from Letter to his Daughter (1916-1953).
  •  “If you are not capable of witchcraft, there is no point in meddling in cooking” – Excerpt from Paradis Terrestre.
  • “If I had a son to marry, I would tell him: beware of the young girl who likes neither wine, nor truffles, nor cheese, nor music.” Excerpt from “Portraits and Landscapes”.

Colette's birthplace in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye

Colette's birthplace is a journey through time for literature lovers. It is a beautiful bourgeois residence nestled in the heart of the village. The interior of the house, as Colette knew it in the first 18 years of her life, was meticulously reconstructed from Colette's texts and archival documents. 

My house remains for me what it always was: a relic, a burrow, a citadel, the museum of my youth...'

Colette, The Sentimental Retirement (1907)

The house has two gardens, so skillfully governed by Sido, the upper garden and the lower garden. The century-old wisteria in the lower garden is a pure marvel during its flowering. Labeled “House of the Illustrious”, the house and gardens can be visited in small groups of 15 people maximum and accompanied by a guide who will help you discover the place like “turning the pages of a book”.

Pratical information

Farm. Opens Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
8-10, rue Colette
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The Colette museum in Saint-Sauveur en Puisaye

Open since 1995 and housed in Victor Gandrille's castle, a few steps from Colette's birthplace, the museum was created at the initiative of her daughter, Colette Renée de Jouvenel, nicknamed “Bel Gazou”. This printing museum has an original scenography with a magnificent photography room, part of its furnishings apartment at the Palais Royal, an imaginary library and well-chosen pieces from its collections of sulfides and butterflies. After the visit, you will enjoy a gourmet break in the museum's tea room.

Pratical information

Open. Closes at 18:00 p.m.
Castle Square
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Who are the other famous people in Puisaye-Forterre?

  • Pierre Larousse, the famous lexicographer, was born in Toucy on October 23, 1817. 
  • Jean d'Oremesson : spent part of his childhood at the castle of Saint-Fargeau who belonged to his maternal family. Strongly attached to this place, Jean d'Ormesson had even confided during an interview with Francis Guthleben: “La Puisaye was my country and I am Poyaudin. This is my root
    permed." He also made the castle the central character of his novel “In the Pleasure of God”.

Are there other places around literature to visit in Puisaye-Forterre?

The Graphic Art Center: Mecca for art printing professions, combining both modernity and tradition, the art center brings together workshops dedicated to the creation original prints and artists' books. Artists and poets such as Di Rosa, Agosti, Texier come there recharge and work on it.

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