A kiss that shocked the nation: Mathilde de Morny and Colette
For Mathilde de Morny and Colette, their relationship was defined by a kiss.
Mathilde De Morny, the Marquise de Belbeuf, was a minor French royalty. She was a masculine lesbian who later became a proto-transsexual.
Meanwhile, the bisexual Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was then a writer who was trying to make a living as a dancer and an actress.
When they got together, their relationship scandalized the public with a lesbian kiss on stage.
Colette: A woman struggling in a man’s world
Before Colette became France’s national treasure, she was married at age 20 to the writer and music critic, Henry Gauthier-Villars, who was 15 years her senior.
Because her husband had published her first novels under his name, she did not have access to her earnings.
That’s why when she left him after thirteen years of marriage because of his infidelity, she had to work in the Parisian music halls.
That was where she had her first relationship with women, from Natalie Barney to Mathilde de Morny.
Mathilde de Morny: A woman who wanted to be a man
Mathilde de Morny, also known as Missy or even ‘Uncle Max’, was a painter and sculptor under the name of Yssim.
Mathilde was the daughter of the Duc de Morny and the grand-daughter of Josephine Beauharnais, who was the consort of Napoleon. She was briefly married to the Marquis de Belboeuf.
She was known to dress like a man, layering several pieces to look plump rather than thin. People sometimes addressed her as “Monsieur le Marquis.”
Later on, she had a hysterectomy and had her breasts removed, at that time the closest one could get to become a transsexual.
The kiss between Mathilde de Morny and Colette
When the two first met, Mathilde was a lesbian who dressed like a man: boots, a cane, and a top hat. Mathilde became enamored with Colette and they became lovers for six years.
In 1906, Mathilde helped Colette move out from her husband’s house to a place of her her own. The two stayed together in the ‘Belle Plage’ villa in Le Crotoy, where Collete was able to write again.
In fact, Colette turned Mathilde into a character in her novel, Le Pur et l’Impur. Colette described this character, La Chevalière, as “in dark masculine attire, belying any notion of gaiety or bravado… High born, she slummed it like a prince.”
As Mathilde joined Colette on the stage playing male roles, they decided to act together in 1907 in a one-act pantomime-play called Rêve d’Egypte at the Moulin Rouge.
Colette played the role of a mummy that Mathilde– assaying the role of an Egyptologist– discovers, unwraps, and kisses. Because the act of two women kissing in public was such a big thing at that time, it started a riot in the theatre and the police threatened to close down the Moulin Rouge.
What’s more, because the venue used Missy’s family coat of arms, Mathilde’s own family was so shocked that not only did they send hired thugs and angry friends to disturb the first performance, they cut off her income.
Because of this, Mathilde was not able to support Colette, forcing the latter to make her own living as an actress. Likewise, they could no longer live together in the open.
In 1910, the two bought the manor of Rozven at Saint-Coulomb in Brittany after Colette’s divorce was announced. The two separated in 1911 though Colette kept the house.
Life after for Mathilde de Morny and Colette
Colette went on to marry Henry de Jouvenel, the editor of the newspaper Le Mattin. The two had a daughter, Colette de Jouvenel, in 1913. The married couple later divorced in 1924 after Colette had an affair with her 16-year old stepson, Bertrand de Jouvenel.
While Colette wrote journalism and survived the Second World War, Mathilde committed suicide in 1944 during the German occupation of France.
However, though the relationship between Mathilde de Morny and Colette did not last, their kiss became part of history.