The same keen yet affectionate gaze Judith Thurman trained on Isak Dinesen in her 1983 National Book Award winner, Isak Dinesen: The Life of Karen Blixen
distinguishes her robust portrait of the great French writer Colette. In Secrets of the Flesh
, Thurman shrewdly disentangles fact from legend during the course of the writer's long and turbulent life (1873-1954), yet she doesn't question Colette's right to mythologise herself. The fictions Colette created about herself were part of a lifelong attempt to make sense, not just of her own experience, but of the "secrets of the flesh" (André Gide's phrase in an admiring letter), the bonds that link women to men, parents to children, in an eternal search for love that is also a struggle for dominance. Chronicling Colette's scandalous life--male and female lovers, a stint in vaudeville, an affair with her stepson, a final happy marriage to a younger man--Thurman makes it clear that the writer's adored yet dominating mother and exploitative first husband made it difficult for her to conceive of amorous equality. Yet she nonetheless created a satisfying, creative existence, firmly rooted in the senses and filled with artistic achievement, from the bestselling The Claudine Novels
to the mature insights of The Vagabond
. Thurman assesses with equal acuity the bleakness of Colette's world-view and a zest for life that it never seemed to dampen. --Wendy Smith
About the Author
Judith Thurman is the author of ISAK DINESEN: THE LIFE OF A STORYTELLER, which won the National Book Award for Biography in 1983. It formed the basis for Sydney Pollack's film OUT OF AFRICA, on which she was Associate Producer. Her essays on literature, film, culture and style have also appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Nation, Elle, Vogue and the Sunday Times. She lives in Manhattan.