cover image Colette


Julia Kristeva. Columbia University Press, $75.5 (521pp) ISBN 978-0-231-12896-4

In this final volume of her trilogy on female genius (Hannah Arendt; Malanie Klein), Parisian linguistics professor Kristeva employs her prodigious arsenal of feminist scholarship and psychoanalytic prowess to prove why the French author of Cheri and Gigi deserves such intellectual distinction. A writer, dancer and sexual gourmand, Colette was the sort of woman who took boxing lessons in order to acquire""the most vicious punch possible."" Seducing both male and female lovers (including her own stepson), the thrice married and intensely prolific aesthete ignored the sexual mores of her time and sublimated her lifestyle in a lyrical prose that Kristeva equates with the light-filled palettes of Poussin and Watteau. Expertly translated by Todd, the dense biography is a fascinating read for lovers of belle-lettres, but it assumes that readers already possess a substantial familiarity with Colette's work. After breezing through the author's life, Kristeva launches into a close reading of all seven movements to 1905's Tendrils of the Vine (even breaking down the title by its vocal vibrations) and proceeds to scrutinize Colette's strained relationship with her mother, Sido. Kristeva is at her best when she uses psychoanalysis to explore the""perverse acts"" that punctuated Colette's life, noting that for Colette,""writing itself appears as a substitute for erotic pleasure and the text as a fetish."" Clearly in awe of her subject, Kristeva candidly admits that she feels""all the humility of the immigrant when faced with her language, over which she asserts her irrevocable mastery,"" and does her idol proud by completing a rousing, academically rigorous, detailing of her life. 3 pages of b&w photos.