Colette's house had already been saved from oblivion in 2011 - LIDO / SIPA

It is here, in this bourgeois house in Yonne, that Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born on January 28, 1873. A residence in which the novelist spends the first 18 years of her life and which even fits as a character to full part of his works. In 2011, the building had already required a surge of solidarity to be saved from oblivion. In 2020, it is the Covid-19 that threatens this object of French cultural heritage.

The very small structure, owned by a non-profit association which does not benefit from any subsidy, depends almost exclusively on paid entries. It therefore suffered the full brunt of the closure due to confinement. “We need 15,000 to 17,000 visitors a year to be profitable. And still barely, ”says Frédéric Maget, the director.

"The deficit is 60,000 euros"

The doors have since reopened but the rule of 4m2 minimum space per person, desired by the epidemic, forces the house to refuse people and to accept only half of the visitors it can accommodate. “It's not economically viable. The deficit is 60,000 euros ”, loose Frédéric Maget, who fears to suffer the fate of the house of Jane Austen, in England: the closure.

“In 2016, we said to ourselves: this is it, she is saved. Today, we have the impression that it is the rock of Sisyphus. We did not fight for ten years to have everything destroyed in a few months. It would be a shame, all this for amounts that seem reasonable to me, ”he emphasizes. Because, to "hold", the association requests a subsidy "of 20-30,000 euros per year".

A solution in sight from the region

"The house of Colette will benefit from assistance", one replies to the Bourgogne Franche-Comté region. The amount remains to be established but it "should make it possible to preserve it", we are assured. The department of Yonne, for its part, "could" pay 20,000 euros in reimbursable advance and "consider an exceptional subsidy" of an amount not yet determined. However, the department does not want "to install this subsidy over time".

However, ensures Frédéric Maget, "no place works like us 100% in self-financing: it is not sustainable". Does ruin threaten Colette's house again, as in 1891, when the writer's family, penniless, had to sell "the house of happiness"? “Colette will never recover from this departure,” recalls director Maget. She died in Paris in 1954, not without having written on a yellowed lithograph of the house: “I would also like to die there”.

A "house-book" already saved before

Such a house could not disappear. It is therefore a tremendous surge of solidarity that is created when, in 2007, the house is put up for sale, when the roof collapsed. Carole Bouquet, Mathieu Amalric, Arielle Dombasle among others help to raise funds and the then Minister of Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, proudly announces in 2011 that the house has "been able to be bought and saved from oblivion".

Years of work, and 1.5 million euros, are needed to restore it as it was between 1873 and 1891 and, in 2016, the public was admitted to this resurrected paradise. "Everything is recreated according to the texts", congratulates Mr. Maget. 30% of the furniture is original, the rest is reconstructed very faithfully, as described by the author, down to the books in the library, placed in the order they were then. You can visit Colette's house as if, in each room, a page of her work was turned, like a “book house”.


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  • Culture
  • House
  • Subsidies
  • Heritage
  • Covid 19
  • Coronavirus