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Rozven, Roz Ven, 35350 Saint-Coulomb, Francia
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Mathilde de Morny (26 May 1863 - 29 June 1944) was a French noblewoman and artist. She was also known by the nickname 'Missy' or her pseudonym as an artist, 'Yssim' (an anagram of Missy), 'Max', 'Oncle Max' ('Uncle Max') and 'Monsieur le Marquis'. Active as a sculptor and painter, she studied under Comte Saint-Cène and the sculptor Édouard-Gustave-Louis Millet de Marcilly. She was in a relationship with Colette; during this time Colette cropped her hair, wore English ties, and sported a bracelet engraved with the phrase, "I belong to Missy." The most significant and lasting of Colette’s lesbian relationships was with Sophie-Mathilde-Adèle-Denise de Morny, marquise de Belboeuf, otherwise known as ‘Missy’. An inspiration to men as well as women, Missy was the model for the title character in Rachilde’s Marquise de Sade and the protagonist of Jean Lorrain’s Âme de boue. At one period in her life she kept a pair of carriage horses called Garlic and Vanilla; both garlic and vanilla come in une gousse, a clove or a bean – which just happened to be a slang term for a lesbian. Although Missy dressed mannishly herself, she had what Judith Thurman calls ‘a straight man’s contempt for pederasty’ and was shocked if she saw a lesbian couple both in jackets and trousers. She was a skilful lover, by all accounts, but seems to have been unresponsive herself. Colette wrote that ‘the salacious expectations of women shocked her very natural platonic tendencies’.
She was the fourth and final child of Charles de Morny, Duke of Morny and Sofia Sergeyevna Trubetskaya. Her father was the half-brother of Napoleon III, whilst her mother may have been the illegitimate daughter of Nicholas I of Russia.
Her extravagant conduct made her a celebrity of the Belle Époque and despite her 1881 marriage to the known homosexual Jacques Godart, 6th Marquis de Belbeuf (1850 – 1906) – whom she divorced in 1903 – she was open that her sexual preference was for women. Though lesbian love was then fashionable, she was still attacked for this, especially due to her very masculine dress and attitude. At this time a woman wearing trousers could still scandalise even if she had been legally authorised to do so, as in the case of Rosa Bonheur (who sought police permission to wear trousers to make it easier for her to paint in the countryside). Mathilde wore a full three-piece suit (then forbidden to women), wore her hair short, and smoked a cigar. Contrary to some claims, no evidence supports the theory that she underwent a hysterectomy or a mastectomy. As a young woman, though, Mathilde adhered to sartorial convention. An 1882 magazine article describes the newlywed marquise wearing "a dress of the very palest mauve, mixed tulle and silk," adding that she "is not exactly pretty, but has a most original face, being very pale, with a very set expression, the darkest eyes possible, and quantities of very fair hair."
Colette and Missy de Morny
Thanks to her personality and fortune, Mathilde de Morny became a lover of several women in Paris, including Liane de Pougy and Colette. From summer 1906 onwards she and Colette stayed together in the 'Belle Plage' villa in Le Crotoy, where Colette wrote the les Vrilles de la vigne and la Vagabonde which would be adapted for the screen by Musidora. On 3 January 1907 Mathilde and Colette put on a pantomime entitled Rêve d'Égypte ('Dream of Egypt') at the Moulin Rouge, in which Mathilde caused a scandal by playing an Egyptologist during a simulated lesbian love scene - a kiss between them almost caused a riot and the production was stopped by the prefect of police Louis Lépine. From then on they could no longer live together openly, though the relationship lasted until 1912. Mathilde also inspired the character 'La Chevalière' in Colette's novel Le Pur et l'Impur, described as "in dark masculine attire, belying any notion of gaiety or bravado... High born, she slummed it like a prince."
On 21 June 1910 the couple bought the manor of Rozven at Saint-Coulomb in Brittany (its owner, baron du Crest, refused the sale because Mathilde was dressed as a man and so Colette signed the deed instead) - on the same day the first chamber of the 'tribunal de grande instance' for the Seine departement pronounced Colette's divorce from Henry Gauthier-Villars. When Mathilde and Colette separated a year later, Colette kept the house. At the end of May 1944 Mathilde tried to commit hara-kiri but was prevented. Ruined and desperate, she committed suicide on 29 June 1944.
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