Why the hell did Cocteau say Colette was cruel to animals?

IN “The Great Interview” of June 12thinvited to talk about the big Colette specialists and admirers: Frédéric Maget (professor of modern literature, president of the Society of Friends of Colette), Geneviève Brisac (writer), Antoine Companion (Professor at the Collège de France since 2006, holder of the chair of modern and contemporary French literature), Chantal Thomas (essayist, novelist, research director at CNRS), Julia Kristeva (writer, psychoanalyst, linguist). They tell about his childhood in the countryside and his taste for nature.

A Colette’s childhood in the countryside, in nature

The young Colette, future author of Nature and Sensations, spent the first eighteen years of her life in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, in Burgundy, a small village between Dijon and Paris. Antoine Compagnon says in “The Great Interview” that she spent much of her childhood in the countryside:

“It’s still childhood paradise. It’s also the place she calls her savagery. She and her brothers were wild even though they read a lot. They also walked a lot in the country. You can even walk on a path today.”




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She had a real passion for her animals, especially cats. “Without animals I impoverish myself”, she claimed. She made beautiful declarations of love to her four-legged companions in her books, but also on the radio. You can listen to it in the show “Colette, a pioneer in the field of animals”, on the culture of France.

But why did Jean Cocteau, one of her contemporaries, accuse her of being cruel to these beasts she loved so much?

Sidonie Gabrielle Colette.  (Image / Getty Images)
Sidonie Gabrielle Colette. (Image / Getty Images)

Colette, cruel to animals?

Antoine Compagnon teaches us in “The big interview” that Cocteau described Colette as a wild and a child. He adds that Cocteau was always a bit mean to her and often made fun of her:

“He was a little treacherous, but he was treacherous in the same way as Proust. (…) Cocteau said she was cruel to animals.”

According to Antoine Compagnon, it would rather come from a misunderstanding, from a Parisian side that has had little experience with the landscape. The author and critic explains: “He has a certain sentimentality with animals that Colette does not have at all.”

Colette grew up in the countryside with farms nearby, and her perception of animals is not quite the same as children who only occasionally see animals. She lives with them and loves them, but has a more direct, more frontal relationship.

Vincent Josse tells an anecdote on which Jean Cocteau allegedly based his critique of the author: “That is, one day a little injured bird is brought to her, to Colette. She looks at it, she goes out into the garden and she twists her neck because she knew nothing could be done for him.”

It is not the only one who blames Colette for her cruelty to animals, it is also the case with the author Paul Léautaud, as Antoine Compagnon states: “There is also Léautaud who says that when her cats die, she throws them everywhere. She has a great connection to her animals, but was raised in the countryside. If they’re dead, it’s over. “

A slightly toxic literary environment

The literary environment of the time was misogynistic. As the author Geneviève Brisac points out in “The big workshop”the attacks of male writers are incessant:

All women, all writers, to return to one of my favorite fighting horses have been the subject of – I do not see any conflicting examples – of attacks that are generally not charitable at all, jealous, sour, perfidious. And yet Colette did everything she could to avoid it. “

Too much sensitivity on the part of these gentlemen, a misunderstanding associated with diametrically opposed childhood, or even jealousy in a somewhat toxic literary environment, it is difficult to say the reasons for this unfounded accusation of animal cruelty. We prefer to preserve Colette’s love for animals, as in this truer description of a toad, a hedgehog, and a squirrel:

“It was a strong, beautiful, comfortable, giant toad. I scratched its head. Amphibians like to have their heads scratched. It’s a detail that’s important, but that people really ignore too often. The hedgehog that I could keep, he had a happy ending. He died of indigestion. He had eaten too much cold lamb. The squirrels were many. They came to see us eat, and they demanded their share, like all the squirrels in the world. Like those in America that is so well known. “




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