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Secrets of the Flesh: a Life of Colette Paperback – 4 Sep 2000


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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (4 Sept. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747548439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747548430
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 97,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

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 and Cheri. 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

Review

" THE MOST IMPRESSIVE AND FASCINATING BOOK OF THE . . . SEASON. NO NOVEL, NO MEMOIR, NO OTHER BIOGRAPHY DISPLAYS SUCH INSIGHT AND VITALITY. . . . Through deft observation, research, and beautiful writing, Thurman brings alive one of the most astonishing writers and women ever to stride this earth." --USA Today " [Colette] has been the subject of . . . a half-dozen significant biographies over the past thirty years. Yet this one by Judith Thurman will be hard to top. . . . Its prose is smoothly urbane, at times aphoristic, always captivating." --The Washington Post Book World " IT WILL STAND AS LITERATURE IN ITS OWN RIGHT." --RICHARD BERNSTEIN The New York Times

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IN THE MIDDLE of the last century, the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye was rustic backwater despite its proximity to Paris, three hours by train to the nearest station followed by a rough cart ride. Read the first page
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 Oct. 2000
Format: Paperback
You may think Colette would be a gift for anyone to write about - how could you go wrong with detailing such a colourful life - but Thurman proves theres a world of difference between merely charting or interpreting someone's life and the 'art' of biography.
And this is an excellent piece of work. If you find when you walk into bookstores, you despair at the piles of gaudily-covered repetitive works of fiction, this book will restore your confidence in literature. If you find you can devour a book in a day, this work will take you at least a week to consume - and it'll actually make you think in the process.
And you'll enjoy it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 Dec. 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is so well written! Not only has Judith Thurman come to a truly thoughtful and sensitive point of view on Colette and her works, but also managed to see and portray her in the context of the fascinating society and the time in which she lived (late 19th to mid 20th centuries). There are so many interesting characters passing through the pages of this book, not to mention historical events.
I have been a long-time fan of Colette's work, and this biography has deepened my appreciation of her books as well as given me much food for thought on the subjects of artists, 'rebels', and the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives to make them more interesting. I generally disapprove of authors biographies becuase so often they serve only to diminish an artist and her/his work. This time however the author, Judith Thurman has managed to enhance the writer and her work without in any way writing a hagiography. I particularly liked the sensitivity with which Thurman advanced her own criticisms or doubts about Colette's behaviour without ever giving herself the final word. Like any truly great biographer she allows her subject to have the final word and be the final authority on herself, leaving the reader better able to draw their own conclusions.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 3 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback
A superb depiction of one of France's most famous female authors. Judith Thurman follows Colette from her provincial background in Burgundy to her marriage to one of the most notorious writers of the fin-de-siecle, Henri Gauthier-Villars (Willy), through her career as a music-hall artist and long affair with a cross-dressing lesbian, 'Missy', her very successful writing career, her second marriage to the diplomat and aristocrat Henri de Jouvenal, her seduction of her young stepson Bertrand, her second divorce, her third, very happy marriage to the much younger Maurice Goudeket, the agonies of World War II (when the Jewish Maurice had to go into hiding) and her old age, in which the great celebrity and animal-lover became almost bedridden with arthritis. When describing all periods of Colette's life, Thurman gives some fascinating historical background, placing Colette very much in the context of the Paris of her time. There are some wonderful depictions of fin-de-siecle and early 20th-century 'characters' such as the exuberant lesbian Natalie Clifton-Barney, the poet Renee Vivien, Willy himself, intelligent and yet lazy, a sybarite and yet melancholy, other literary figures of the 19th and 20th centuries such as Proust, Anna de Noailles, Francis Carco and Francis Jammes, the composer Maurice Ravel (with whom Colette collaborated), the lesbian circles that she sometimes frequented, and of Colette's family and friends. The historical information on France at the time of Colette (from the late 19th century until the 1950s) is brilliant, and always interesting. One learns a great deal from this book.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By H. Callaghan VINE VOICE on 6 Jan. 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A refreshingly honest and candid look at Colette, which I quickly devoured. The Colette here is a woman absolutely unconcerned with exterior politics and interested only in human, specifically female relationships, displaying an artist's narcissism on the effect her own relationships had on the people around her. The author pares away a lot of Colette's self-mythologizing and tries to get beyond the veil of self-absorption her subject erects, but at the same time eschews the opportunity to judge Colette. This was a large, well-referenced tome but nevertheless an enthralling read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Colette or her work. Definitely the best biography I read this year.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Ware on 22 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
You cannot fail with Judith Thurman, her intelligence and perception is up there with the gods. Collette must be the most difficult person to write a biography about. She was such a private person, nothing was as it seemed and this was brought out so cleverly in the book. A treat.
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