secrets of the flesh…

…a life of colette.

my summer reading has gotten off to a whirlwind start.  trish regan’s look at the underground medical marijuana economy, joint ventures tops the list along with the latest tome in george r.r. martin’s series, a dance with dragons. another vastly different offering is judith thurman’s piercing biography of famous french novelist, sidonie-gabrielle colette also known simply as colette.

i have an admitted weakness for literary classics especially those written by turn of the century authors if, for nothing else, because of the window they offer into the societal conventions of their day.  women, in particular, utilized literature as an opportunity to express themselves and rail against the confines of what was then considered ‘a woman’s place.’ as bold and unconventional as colette was for her time; c0-writing with her first husband, henri gauthier-villar, the erotic hi-jinks of boarding school bound, claudine; the scandal and disintegration of their may/december marriage; the lesbian affairs and society shunned stage career; to name but a few, brought her into contact with the most fascinating group of eccentrics paris had to offer.  with the biographical spotlight on the artist, so comes into view the additional cast of like minded creatives who are successful in their own right; rich, bored patrons who are famed for their debaucheries and the usual hangers on; leeches, courtesans, scam artists and the like.  all of this makes for a rich, summer stew of salacious reading that can in turn, take on a life of it’s own.

mathilde de morny, image courtesy of strange flowers

i am the kind of reader who thrives on break out google sessions perusing the wiki’s, extra bits of information and photos of these side show characters who surrounded colette.  i want to see the “old man” who was able to sweep the naive 16 year old off her feet.  i want to know more about the tragic transgendered marquise, mathilde de morny who, following colette’s divorce, became her lover and patron.  from their connection with colette, i learn more about french intellectuals, poets, playwrights, artists and the like and with every other page, performing online searches to flesh out their portraits.

by and large i begin to recognize a commonality of sources and find much of the material provided courtesy of strange flowers.  aptly described as “cultural archeology”, strange flowers is a wordpress blog dedicated to those individuals who lived and died on the fringes of society often times producing some of the most groundbreaking creative work of their generation.  as many of those who were known for their successes, there were so many more who were famous for their excesses and blogger, james conway does such a brilliant job of bringing those individuals to light.

gay rights, civil rights, women’s rights, many of the boundaries were being pushed and explored by these pioneers during times when it would not have thought to have been possible because of crippling social shunning. my heart goes out to these misunderstood, often discarded people, struggling for the right to exist according to their own perceived values and they do not disappoint in their dedication of living by their own creed right up until the, sometimes tragic, end.  forget about the summer blockbusters and boring remakes of half baked hollywood, give me the independent films, plays and bios exploring the lives and contributions of these compelling people!