"I look upon you as a child filled with genius who does not yet know where it will go but who will open its wings and fly toward the light if it finds the proper path to seek. This path is one of absolute independence toward the petty prides and prejudices of our century. You have almost shattered yourself on those, madame. You have an ardent soul, an impetuous and courageous character. But your future should be aimed in a direction totally opposed to the one you have taken."

Letter from Georges Sand to Louise Colet, 1842


Louise Revoil, born in 1810, spent her early life in Lyons dreaming of taking her place in high society in Paris. She was known in the small community for her charm and beauty, but she refused to marry any of her many admirers, knowing that to do so would be to bind herself to Lyons forever. When Colet turned 26 and still had yet to marry, her chance for escape came in the form of a marriage proposal from Hippolyte Colet, who had been appointed a professor in Paris. Louise accepted, and began the next chapter of her life in Paris.

Colet's first step into the literary spotlight came in the form of recognition for her poetry, when she submitted a poem to the Academie Francaise and won a competition for two thousand francs. The competition did more than bring her extra income, however, it was most profitable in that it brought her to the attention of Victor Cousin. Cousin was to become her supporter and lover through these early years, starting from their meeting in 1838. Colet's association with Cousin was just the connection she needed to enter the Parisian world of the literary elite.

The one complication in the affair came in 1840, when Colet found herself pregnant, and public speculation pointed to Cousin as the father. When neither her husband nor Cousin would stand forward to defend her honor in the affair, Colet took matters into her own hands, seeking out the man who had begun the rumor: Alphonse Karr, who had published the gossip in his weekly Guepes. Taking a kitchen knife, she went round to Karr's house early in the morning and stabbed Karr in the ribs, drawing "one solitary speck of blood" (Enfield 40). After this failure, by Karr's own account of the events he escorted her to the door and called her a cab. The knife he kept, however, hanging on the wall. The inscription with it read, "Offered by Madame Colet, 1840--in the back."

A few months later, in August of 1840, Colet's daughter Henriette was born. This proved no hindrance to Colet's writing or her romantic life: her affair with Cousin continued, and within a year Colet had established herself as "one of France's leading women poets" (Gray 85). Colet cemented that reputation with the publication of La Jeunesse de Mirabeau.

Colet sent a copy of this work to many of the writers she admired at the time. One copy went to George Sand, one of the few women writers of the time. Sand replied with a letter full of criticism for Colet, attacking everything from her conduct to her views on the revolution, and ending on a note of complete rejection of Colet: "I prefer that you leave this letter unanswered. I understand you better than you understand yourself. I have never sought to meet you. You love glory and literature too much for us to be able to converse with each other, although I do not blame you for loving things which bore me."

Colet's affair with Cousin dwindled towards an end as the next few years passed, and the major love of her life entered the scene. Her affair with Gustave Flaubert began in 1846, and aside from one period of separation and conflict from 1848 to 1851, it continued until 1855.

Around the end of her relationship with Flaubert, Colet became friends and then lovers with the cast off lover of George Sand. This new interest was the poet Alfred de Musset, who appears with George Sand as one of the central figures in Colet's novel Lui.

Colet's relationship with Flaubert was to be the last romantic entanglement of her life. With her husband dead, Colet depended now on her writing alone to support herself and her daughter. The tone of her work changed greatly through her later years, becoming more satirical and bitter about Parisian society in general.

Disease and poor health marked the last few years of Colet's life, and in time they claimed her life. Colet died on March 8th, 1876, at the age of 66. When he heard of her death, Flaubert wrote to his friend Edma Roger des Genettes, "You can well guess how affected I was by news of my poor Muse's death. The memory of her, thus revived, forced me to relive the years... I trod on so many things in order to survive!"

Works Cited:

Colet, Louise. Lui: A View of Him. Translated by Marilyn Gaddis Rose. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Enfield, D.E. A Lady of the Salons: The Story of Louise Colet. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923.

Gray, Francine du Plessix. Rage and Fire: A Life of Louise Colet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.


This writeup also appears at http://www.wam.umd.edu/~amsalter/colet/index.html as part of a study on Louise Colet I maintain.

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