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Colette

  • ... hope costs nothing.

  • My virtue's still far too small, I don't trot it out and about yet.

  • When she raises her eyelids it's as if she were taking off her clothes.

  • When one loves in a certain way, even betrayals become unimportant ...

  • When, like me, one has nothing in oneself one hopes for everything from another ...

  • ... there are days when solitude ... is a heady wine which intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.

  • It is, alas, only the first forgiveness which is difficult.

  • A bed, a nice fresh bed, with smoothly drawn sheets and a hot-water bottle at the end of it, soft to the feet like a live animal's tummy.

  • How can one help shivering with delight when one's hot fingers close around the stem of a live flower, cool from the shade and stiff with new-born vigor.

    • Colette,
    • "On Tour," Music Hall Sidelights ()
  • I look like a discouraged beetle battered by the rains of a spring night. I look like a moulting bird. I look like a governess in distress. I look — Good Lord, I look like an actress on tour, and that speaks for itself.

    • Colette,
    • "On Tour," Music Hall Sidelights ()
  • I hate guests who complain of the cooking and leave bits and pieces all over the place and cream-cheese sticking to the mirrors.

  • A door slamming makes one jump, but it doesn't make one afraid. What one fears is the serpent that crawls underneath it.

  • Give me a dozen such heart-breaks, if that would help me to lose a couple of pounds!

  • A wild beast has no need to leap in order to promote fear.

  • The sudden desire to look beautiful made her straighten her back. 'Beautiful! For whom? Why for myself, of course.'

  • The longer you wear pearls, the realer they become.

  • The divorce will be gayer than the wedding.

  • It is not a bad thing that children should occasionally, and politely, put parents in their place.

    • Colette,
    • "The Priest on the Wall," My Mother's House ()
  • ... one keeps on forgetting old age up to the very brink of the grave.

    • Colette,
    • "My Mother and Illness," My Mother's House ()
  • ... the telephone shone as brightly as a weapon kept polished by daily use ...

  • I love my past. I love my present. I'm not ashamed of what I've had, and I'm not sad because I have it no longer.

  • ... you do flatter yourself, you know, always imagining that you're the only one of your kind.

  • If one wished to be perfectly sincere, one would have to admit there are two kinds of love — well-fed and ill-fed. The rest is pure fiction.

  • ... you remind me of people who bring along a little box of cakes and leave it in the hall, saying to themselves: 'There'll be plenty of time to produce these later,' and then pick them up again when they go.

  • Extreme beauty arouses no sympathy.

  • ... both legally and familiarly, as well as in my books, I now have only one name, which is my own.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing its strength, a desire its power, or a pain the keen edge of its bite, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: 'I am the daughter of ... a woman who, in a mean, close-fisted, confined little place, opened her village home to stray cats, tramps, and pregnant servant girls. I am the daughter of a woman who many a time, when she was in despair at not having enough money for others, ran through the wind-whipped snow to cry from door to door, at the houses of the rich, that a child had just been born in a poverty-stricken home to parents whose feeble, empty hands had no swaddling clothes for it. Let me not forget that I am the daughter of a woman who bent her head, trembling, between the blades of a cactus, her wrinkled face full of ecstasy over the promise of a flower, a woman who herself never ceased to flower, untiringly, during three quarters of a century.'

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • As for an authentic villain, the real thing, the absolute, the artist, one rarely meets him even once in a lifetime. The ordinary bad hat is always in part a decent fellow.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • I instinctively like to acquire and store up what looks like outlasting me.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • My true friends have always given me that supreme proof of devotion, a spontaneous aversion for the man I loved.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • How pure are those who have never forced anything open!

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • And what then is old age? I shall learn. But when it comes I shall no longer be able to understand it.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • Shall I ever marvel enough at animals? This one is exceptional, like a friend one will never replace, or a perfect lover.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • I would like to leave a great reputation among those creatures who having kept, on their fur and in their souls, the trace of my passage, madly hoped for a single moment that I belonged to them.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • Death does not interest me — not even my own.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • To lift and penetrate and tear apart the soil is a labour — a pleasure — always accompanied by an exultation that no unprofitable exercise can ever provide.

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • ... breathe in the pine and mint from the little salt marsh; its fragrance is scratching at the gate like a cat!

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • I know you! Your motto is 'Silk socks and dubious feet.'

  • In its early stages, insomnia is almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge.

  • She could not forgive her sorrow for being bearable and for taking its place, between despair and indifference, in a spiritual region which allowed of diversions, pleasures, scruples, and compensations.

  • It takes time for the absent to assume their true shape in our thoughts.

    • Colette,
    • Sido
    • ()
  • It was on that road and at that hour that I first became aware of my own self, experienced an inexpressible state of grace, and felt one with the first breath of air that stirred, the first bird, and the sun so newly born that it still looked not quite round.

    • Colette,
    • Sido
    • ()
  • Sincerity is not a spontaneous flower, nor is modesty either.

  • Smokers, male and female, inject and excuse idleness in their lives every time they light a cigarette.

  • ... is there such a thing as nonphysical jealousy?

  • Jealousy leaves no time to be bored; does it even leave time to grow old?

  • The seduction emanating from a person of uncertain or dissimulated sex is powerful.

  • It is wise to apply the oil of refined politeness to the mechanism of friendship.

  • Your truffles must come to the table in their own stock. ... And as you break open this jewel sprung from a poverty-stricken soil, imagine — if you have never visited it — the desolate kingdom where it rules.

  • Wine, according to its quality and the soil where it was grown, is a necessary tonic, a luxury, and a fitting tribute to good food. And is it not also a source of nourishment in itself? Yes, those were the days, when a few true natives of my Burgundy village, gathered around a flagon swathed in dust and spiders' webs, kissing the tips of their fingers from their lips, exclaimed — already — 'a nectar!'

  • We only do well the things we like doing.

  • Neither knowledge nor diligence can create a great chef. Of what use is conscientiousness as a substitute for inspiration?

  • In the region where I was born, we always say that during a good meal one is not thirsty but 'hungry' for wine.

  • ... my cat does not talk as respectfully to me as I do to her.

  • [Sleep is] ... that provisional tomb where the living exile sighs, weeps, fights and succumbs, and is born again, remembering nothing, with the day.

  • It was towards the end of June that incompatibility became established between them like a new season of the year. Like a season, it had its surprises and even its pleasures.

  • Ah, how much I like you, how well we get on, when you're asleep and I'm awake.

  • ... a divorce? That's a door that makes a noise.

  • And there is nothing that gives more assurance than a mask.

  • For words are wearisome and worn, while the arabesques of music are forever new.

  • Youth often gets the friendships it deserves.

  • You do not notice changes in what is always before you.

  • ... friendship, which is of its nature a delicate thing, fastidious, slow of growth, is easily checked, will hesitate, demur, recoil where love, good old blustering love, bowls ahead and blunders through every obstacle.

  • But just as delicate fare does not stop you from craving pig-brain sausage, so tried and exquisite friendship does not take away your taste for something new and dubious.

    • Colette,
    • "The Rainy Moon," Chambre d'Hôtel ()
  • In their friendship they were like two of a litter that can never play together without leaving traces of tooth and claw, wounding each other in the most sensitive places.

  • There is a childish vanity in suffering, in suffering better and more than anyone else.

    • Colette,
    • "The Cure," in Mary Louise Aswell, ed., It's a Woman's World ()
  • To a poet, silence is an acceptable response, even a flattering one.

    • Colette,
    • Paris From My Window
    • ()
  • A poet perceives and gives whole-hearted expression to that which our sensibilities, not less lively but less musicianly, keep stored inside.

    • Colette,
    • Paris From My Window
    • ()
  • The true traveler is he who goes on foot, and even then, he sits down a lot of the time.

    • Colette,
    • Paris From My Window
    • ()
  • There is a certain melancholy in having to tell oneself that one has said good-bye — unless of course one is a grandmother — to the age and the circumstances that enable one to observe young children closely and passionately.

    • Colette,
    • Paris From My Window
    • ()
  • Instead of marrying 'at once,' it sometimes happens that we marry 'at last.'

    • Colette,
    • Gigi
    • ()
  • If only her brain worked as well as her jaws.

    • Colette,
    • Gigi
    • ()
  • Explain yourself without gestures. The moment you gesticulate, you look common.

    • Colette,
    • Gigi
    • ()
  • Never wear second-rate jewels, wait till the really good ones come to you. ... Rather than a wretched little diamond full of flaws, wear a simple, plainly inexpensive ring. In that case you can say, 'It's a memento. I never part with it, day or night.'

    • Colette,
    • Gigi
    • ()
  • [Men] forgive us — oh! for many things, but not for the absence in us of their own failings ...

    • Colette,
    • Gigi
    • ()
  • Boredom helps one to make decisions.

    • Colette,
    • Gigi
    • ()
  • Writing is often wasteful. If I counted the pages I've torn up, of how many volumes am I the author?

  • Towards the end I looked like a rat dragging a stolen egg.

  • Poetry does not necessarily have to be beautiful to stick in the depths of our memory ...

  • Total absence of humor renders life impossible.

  • Adventures happen to people who, by their composure, their unshakableness, and their scorn of the unusual may be said to deserve them. They leave little or no trace.

  • On this narrow planet, we have only the choice between two unknown worlds.

    • Colette,
    • "The Photographer's Missus" (1944), The Tender Shoot ()
  • But once I had set out, I was already far on my way.

    • Colette,
    • "The Photographer's Missus" (1944), The Tender Shoot ()
  • The more the wonders of the world become inaccessible, the more intensely do its curiosities affect us.

  • [After seeing a film based on her life:] What an interesting life I had. And how I wish I had realized it sooner!

    • Colette,
    • in Helen Bevington, When Found, Make a Verse Of ()
  • You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

    • Colette,
    • in New York World-Telegram & Sun ()
  • ... that wild, unknown being, the child, who is both bottomless pit and impregnable fortress ...

    • Colette,
    • "Look!" (1929), Gigi and Selected Writings ()
  • Sit down and put everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.

    • Colette,
    • Casual Change
    • ()
  • When one can read, can penetrate the enchanted realm of books, why write?

  • Look for a long time at what pleases you, and longer still at what pains you ...

  • To be astonished is one of the surest ways of not growing old too quickly.

  • It is the image in the mind that binds us to our lost treasures, but it is the loss that shapes the image.

  • Humility has its origin in an awareness of unworthiness, and sometimes too in a dazzled awareness of saintliness.

  • What a delight it is to make friends with someone you have despised!

  • No temptation can ever be measured by the value of its object.

  • The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately; the time has come for him to lay aside his pen.

  • For the dog is a creature that believes in order.

  • [On Johann Sebastian Bach:] A divine sewing machine.

    • Colette,
    • in Leonard Louis Levinson, ed., Bartlett's Unfamiliar Quotations ()
  • January, month of empty pockets!

    • Colette,
    • "Empty Pockets" (1928), Journey for Myself ()
  • Only in the snow can both sexagenarian and child squat on the same small sledges and abandon themselves to the slopes. They feel alike and exchange smiles ... O simple, precarious, eternal realm of snow!

    • Colette,
    • "Farewell to the Snow," Journey for Myself ()
  • For years now we've had no cause to mistrust the begonia. ... This year we stand stunned before its megalomanic flower, which aspires to replace the hollyhock, the nasturtium, the peony, even the rose. A blaze of incomparable, presumptuous colours adorns it, it claims the most beautiful vibrant reds, a yellow that sheds light all round, a unique fleshy saffron. But smell it; it has less fragrance than a clod of earth and, if you touch it cautiously, it has been unable to lose its vegetable stiffness, its flesh as brittle as that of a young radish.

    • Colette,
    • "Flowers," Journey for Myself ()
  • It is man who has affixed the word 'wild' to the name animal.

    • Colette,
    • "Animals" (1928), Journey for Myself ()
  • ... confronted with a film, the child hardly thinks at all ... faced with some confused activity where human movement has pride of place. The beating of the heart, the to-and-fro of the eyes, supplant thought while the screen is showing the hero pursued by kidnappers or murderers and revolver shots explode in wads of cotton-wool.

    • Colette,
    • "Cinema," Journey for Myself ()
  • There is no pleasure without fatigue and that of the eye, if it is prolonged, is particularly dispiriting.

    • Colette,
    • "Silks" (1928), Journey for Myself ()
  • A kindly gesture bestowed by us on an animal arouses prodigies of understanding and gratitude.

    • Colette,
    • "Tits" (1928), Journey for Myself ()
  • The fear of aging, a commonplace neurosis, does not usually wait for age and spares neither sex.

    • Colette,
    • "Beauties" (1928), Journey for Myself ()
  • The power of sonorous language is great, it goes to the gates of death.

    • Colette,
    • "Journal à rebours" (1941), Looking Backwards ()
  • One of the best things about love is just recognizing a man's step when he climbs the stairs.

    • Colette,
    • "Journal à rebours" (1941), Looking Backwards ()
  • ... the poet's mission: to forget reality, to promise the world wonders, to celebrate victories and deny death.

    • Colette,
    • "Journal à rebours" (1941), Looking Backwards ()
  • Be happy. It's one way of being wise.

    • Colette,
    • letter, in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • One always writes for someone. Rarely for several people. Never for everyone.

    • Colette,
    • in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • This is the nth time I have started again on a certain page of my miserable novel. I work with ferocious patience, I who am usually so impatient! It's a battle between my two halves. Oh, what a métier writing is! It seems to me that when you've practiced any other craft for over thirty years, you feel a little confidence, a little mastery. With writing, it's the opposite.

    • Colette,
    • in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • Happiness is a question of changing your troubles ...

    • Colette,
    • 1937, in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • I am never completely unhappy, because I ask so little of life ... You can't imagine how little it takes to satisfy me.

    • Colette,
    • in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • It's terrible to think, as I do every time I begin a book, that I no longer have, and never have had, any talent.

    • Colette,
    • in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • Artisans, bureaucrats, that's what we writers are! The joys of creation! Novels dashed off in ecstasy in three weeks! Nonsense! Three thousand pages botched and wasted in order to produce two hundred and fifty polished ones.

    • Colette,
    • in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • ... I am a pear that has survived a hailstorm: when it does not rot, it becomes better and sweeter than the others, in spite of its little scars.

    • Colette,
    • 1912, in Robert Phelps, trans., Letters From Colette ()
  • For me, being rich means to possess — apart from the tenderness of a loved one and my friends — a bit of ground, a car that runs, good health, and the freedom not to work when I don't want to, or cannot.

    • Colette,
    • 1927, in Robert Phelps, trans., Letters From Colette ()
  • I have very often deprived myself of the necessities of life, but I have never consented to give up a luxury.

    • Colette,
    • 1932, in Robert Phelps, trans., Letters From Colette ()
  • The tomcat is behaving consistently. On arrival, he struck his forehead and cried 'But of course! This is where I climb up a mulberry tree and sing at the top of my voice and then do battle with a white cat!'

    • Colette,
    • 1927, in Robert Phelps, trans., Letters From Colette ()
  • ... I am just over an attack of grippe-bronchitis, very unpleasant at my ages (I have two or three).

    • Colette,
    • 1929, in Robert Phelps, trans., Letters From Colette ()
  • Jealousy is the only evil we endure without becoming accustomed to it.

    • Colette
  • The woman who thinks she is intelligent demands equal rights with men. A woman who is intelligent does not.

    • Colette
  • At the end truth is the only thing worth having: it's more thrilling than love, more joyful and more passionate.

    • Colette
  • There are no ordinary cats.

    • Colette
  • Books, books, books. It was not that I read so much. I read and re-read the same ones. But all of them were necessary to me. Their presence, their smell, the letters of their titles, and the texture of their leather bindings.

    • Colette
  • Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.

    • Colette,
    • in Allan Massie, Colette ()
  • Let's buy a pack of cards, good wine, bridge scores, knitting needles, all the paraphernalia needed to fill an enormous void, everything needed to hide that horror — the old woman.

Colette, French writer

(1873 - 1954)

Real name: Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette Willy Gauthiers-Villars de Jouvenel des Ursins Goudeket.