French novelist Colette might best be known for her fiction and her delightfully controversial life (chronicled in the Judith Thurman biography, Secrets of the Flesh). But, as The Believer notes, she also had her own advice column in Marie Claire from 1939 to 1940. It’s recently been collected and translated in a new collection. Read all of the excerpts here.
Her answers touch on everything you might want from a novelist who had three marriages and an affair with her stepson — but what’s more surprising is the caliber of dramatic writing from her advice seekers. Here, a desperate letter from “A Tormented Heart”:
I hope you can enlighten me and restore to my soul my peace of mind and my joy in life. I’m twenty years old, I’ve been engaged now for six months to a man who is twenty-seven and who, I can assure you, adores me. Before meeting him, I went out several times with another young man whom I liked a lot, but then, when I left the city where he lives, I forgot about him a little bit. Now I’m back, but tied to my fiancé. I’ve seen that young man again and my love has rekindled. I feel I love him more than my fiancé, or rather, not in the same way: I feel for him a violent love, passionate, reckless; for my fiancé, my love is calm, considered, as if asleep. I agreed to go out with him again, confessing to him I was engaged. He tells me he loves me but I know I can’t have any hope for a future with him. But my reason does me no good, my love is stronger than my reason. I’m abandoning my fiancé little by little, I suffer from the thought that he will suffer if he finds out about this and still I’m leaning more and more to the other man. I can’t see clearly any more, I’m all nerves, help me, will you? I’m confident that your response can bring me peace.
“My love is calm, considered, as if asleep … ” What an expression of torment. It’s amazing how well people could express all of their feels back then — they didn’t even have emoji.