French novelist. She was a member of the Belgian Royal Academy (1935), president of the Académie Goncourt (1945), and in 1953 was created a Grand Officier de la Légion d'honneur.
Colette was born in the Burgundy village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne. In 1893 she married the writer Henri Gauthier-Villars and her first four novels, the ‘Claudine’ series (1900–03), were ghost-written for her husband and appeared under his pseudonym, Willy. The adventures of the young heroine, whose freshness and sensuality contributed to the success of the novels and also aroused some scandal, were partly based on Colette's own experience. Having published Dialogues de bêtes, the first of many engaging sketches of animal life, under the name Colette-Willy in 1904, Colette finally broke away from her husband's influence, divorcing him in 1906. A spell in the Parisian music halls was described in La Vagabonde (1910) and L'Envers du music hall (1913). During World War I she turned to journalism, writing dramatic criticism and short stories for such periodicals as Le Matin, whose editor, Henri de Jouvenel, she had married in 1912.
Colette firmly established her reputation as a novelist with Chéri (1920), which deals with the love of a young man for an older woman. This was followed by La Maison de Claudine (1922), inspired by childhood memories; Le Blé en herbe (1923; translated as Ripening Seed, 1955), a study of adolescent sexuality; La Fin de Chéri (1926); and Sido (1929). Her understanding of the natural world and her love of animals are displayed in such works as La Paix chez les bêtes (1916; translated as Creatures Great and Small, 1951) and La Naissance du jour (1928; translated as A Lesson in Love, 1932). La Chatte (1933; translated as The Cat, 1953) centres on a wife's jealousy for her husband's pet cat; the theme of jealousy recurs in Duo (1934).
In later life, happily married to the writer Maurice Goudeket, Colette retained the warm regard and great respect of the French literary world with such novels as Le Képi (1943), Gigi (1944), L'Étoile vesper (1947), and Le Fanal bleu (1949). Dying at the age of eighty-one, a legendary figure at the end of a writing career spanning fifty years, she was given a state funeral.