8 February 2016

Simone de Beauvoir: Les Mandarins I (1954)

The dazzling lights that were Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Jean Sartre haven't gone out, and will continue to blaze, I'm sure, long after more recent writers in France and the rest of the world – many still living – have long been forgotten. But I have no intention just yet of saying much about this, Simone de Beauvoir's huge Goncourt-winning novel, which the Folio version here divides into two separate books, both more than 500 pages in length. I've just ordered Les Mandarins II and shall be making a longer comment in due course on the full 1000-page book.

Beauvoir wanted readers to take her book as 'neither autobiography nor reporting, but evocation'. Not too sure about the meaning of that last word for her, although clearly she didn't intend it to be seen as a roman à clef, which it certainly isn't, although a number of the characters in it have a number of resemblances to actual characters within Beauvoir's world: Beauvoir herself is a little like Anne Dubreuilh, the writer Robert's wife; Scriassine recalls Arthur Koestler in a number of ways, etc, etc. But the other principal player in the novel is Henri Perron, who has a great deal of similarities to Albert Camus, notably with his paper L'Espoir, which sounds a little like Combat: Beauvoir even lays the analogies on thicker with a wink to the main character in L'Étranger by celebrating Henri's return with...a bottle of meursault!

As I said above, more comments when I've read the whole work, but it seems great so far.

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