A short unpublished prose by French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir from the 1950s has been published in Czech translation. The strongly autobiographical text looks back on the author’s childhood and adolescence and especially on his relationship with his friend Elisabeth Lacoin, known as Zaza. After reading it, one wonders if it was this daughter’s friendship with a tragic end that shaped the views and attitudes of the future icon of the second wave of feminism, women fighting tirelessly for the universal right to live life and love.
Somewhere between friendship and love
Simone de Beauvoir: Inseparable. Přel. Alain Beguivinin the Knihovna klasiků edition published by EMG/Odeon, Prague, 2021, 144 p.
The manuscript of this short story comes from the beginning of the fifties of the last century, however Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) never decided to publish it because she considered it too intimate. jean paul Sartre he reportedly “rolled his nose” over him. However, the author retained the amendment (unlike the texts with which she was dissatisfied) and in the last will she dedicated it to her adopted daughter Sylvia Le Bon de Beauvoir. Only now has she made sure the text gets out and has written an illuminating preface to it, in which she assigns fictional names of characters and places to their true prototypes. We learn that Zaza, true friend and soul mate of the author, is named Andrée in the short story, the author herself appears in her as the narrator Sylvie, and the novel Pascal Blondel was in fact none other than a future phenomenologist. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. If Simone de Beauvoir left the text untitled, Sylvie also gave it a name: title Inseparable is inspired by the nickname used by Simone and Zazu to describe their teachers at the Catholic school of Adeline Désir.
Documentary character Inseparable
name Inseparable it thus represents a bridge between fiction and reality. The two intertwine in the book. On the one hand, we have a true story to which the text clearly refers and which de Beauvoir has already described in the first part of his autobiography. Memories of a Neat Girl (published in Czech in 1969 in translation AJ Liehma). This is the story of Zazy, who died tragically at the age of twenty-two, allegedly from viral encephalitis. According to de Beauvoir, however, the vitality of this exceptional, intelligent and free-spirited young girl was fatally undermined by the pressure of a conservative Catholic family, accustomed to marrying off girls according to their own tastes as early as the 1920s. The book’s documentary is also highlighted by copies of Simone and Zazy’s letters and period photographs, which are included in the volume. The reader therefore approaches the amendment with this pre-understanding and regards it as valuable evidence of the important writer’s childhood and early adulthood, his emotional and intellectual development, and his departure from the faith. Catholic.
All this is no doubt a novel, but it is also a narrative novel. De Beauvoir dedicates the book to Zaze and writes: “After all, it’s not really your story, but a story inspired by us. You were not Andrée, and I am not the Sylvie who speaks in my name.”
A feeling greater than friendship
The story begins at the end of the First World War, when nine-year-old Sylvie Lepage, a first-class classmate, and Andrée Gallard, an unconventional girl who disregards an unspoken rule of decency and of a duty of respect. attitude towards teachers, meeting in a catholic school for girls from better families, controlling other classmates. The narrator Sylvie is immediately enchanted by Andrée. She is fascinated by his beauty, his sparkling eyes, his intelligence, his spirit and his stubbornness. But above all, she is fascinated by the deep vivacity of Andrée: “You don’t meet a girl who burns alive every day, I wanted to ask her lots of questions.”
They quickly become close friends. Sylvie lives for their conversations and quiet moments inside and outside of school. The teachers believe that Andrée has a bad effect on Sylvia, but they still tolerate their friendship, as do their mothers. During the separation holidays, the narrator realizes the painful emptiness of her life without Andrée. He also begins to doubt that their friendship is symmetrical. Andrée is a kindred spirit for her, without whom life has no meaning. Andrée, meanwhile, shares her attention between her friend Sylvia, her adored mother, and her love story, first with Bernard and then with Pascal. Sylvie doesn’t really understand these relationships, but she never gets involved. She herself has no object of romantic interest and in a way Andrée replaces it for her. Still, I think it’s too bold to label Inseparable for the story of unrequited lesbian love. Sylvie’s feelings for her girlfriend are undoubtedly very intense and go beyond ordinary friendship. It is a mixture of admiration and fascination, a desire for the presence of the other, the need to share one’s thoughts with him and to be inspired by him. But isn’t any attempt to encapsulate a real feeling simplistic in some way? The depth of Sylvia’s feelings is revealed above all when the young girl fights for Andrée’s interests – her freedom to choose her husband and the possibility of remaining in France – and likewise when Andrée herself gives up. The novel can be read two ways: as a reflection on a young woman’s problem with naming another woman’s attraction and feelings, set in the 1920s, or purely as a story about the different forms of love and closeness of two teenagers.
Accusation of hypocrisy of Catholic morality
From the beginning, it is clear that practiced piety is extremely important to the families of the two girls. Sylvia’s story – from a child’s point of view, but with the eyes (and sarcasm) of an adult – shows that religion serves here as an educational tool: Sylvie was a zealous Catholic in her childhood, she goes to confession regularly, and this practice is quite an adventure. for her, separated from worldly life. Thus, when he sees his confessor as a “slanderous old man”, he soon ceases to believe in God completely, even if he has to keep it a secret. Later, freed from religion and the obligation to marry (because her father could not provide a dowry), she began to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in order to become a teacher.
Andrée never ceases to be a believer. Her father is president of the League of Fathers of Large Families and her mother is a Catholic activist and parishioner. Her childhood is quite celibate, but the older she gets, the more careful she is about her obedience to traditions, including the marriage of her choice. Part of Andrée’s family justifies the arranged marriages to which he forces his daughters, by the so-called rule of “the holiness of love at first sight”. According to this rule, every girl falls in love with her husband the moment she stands with him at the altar on her wedding day. Andrée trusts her family – and especially her beloved mother – in matters of religion. For her, faith in God is not a cover, an excuse or an argument to assert her own opinion, but a painful existential question. Rather than a consolation, it becomes a source of fear and doubt for her, as she often comes into moral conflict with what she considers right.
His future is not his
Andrée is also in constant conflict. Her natural freedom is associated with the desire to do things herself, on the other hand she has a good will to listen to her mother, which includes her homework, her chores with errands and obliges her to participate in family celebrations, so the girl has no time for herself, her thoughts, developing her musical and intellectual talent. Family celebrations and preparations for her sister’s wedding beat and tire her so much that she stops eating, loses her temper and one day deliberately cuts her leg with an ax to gain a week of rest and solitude in bed. .
With narrator Sylvia, the reader gradually learns how little Andrée is allowed to talk about her own future. Her mother seems caring and tolerant while Andrée is a child, but she gives her adult daughter no choice in important life decisions. She is allowed to study literature for a few years, but then she has to assume the true role of a woman. Gallard’s daughters marry at the choice of their parents or enter a convent. “A love marriage is suspect.”
Zaza created a feminist?
In Sylvia’s narrator, we read something universal about sincere love that doesn’t need categories; grief caused by the loss of a loved one; on the limits and hypocrisy of Catholic morality. The amendment can be read alongside the author’s philosophical texts, in which the author discusses similar topics; the main heroine is a tragic example of a girl whose will to life was suffocated under the weight of the duties of a woman’s forced “mission”.
A thin novel Inseparable impresses with a simple but impressive girlfriend confession rather than formal or artistic originality. The reader cannot avoid the question of whether Zaza, a nine-year-old schoolgirl to whom Simone de Beauvoir was so attached and whose life ended prematurely, has already planted in the author a seed of will to fight against the outdated notions of who a woman is. and what is its mission. In the fight that will accompany his personal life and his philosophy.
© Annemarie Hujova