Simone de Beauvoir is more famously known as theFrench feminist who was in a non-monogamous relationship with Jean-Paul Sarte, the short and ugly French philosopher, than she is as a writer. Strange, considering that her fiction is also immensely compelling. De Beauvoir has a way of writing that makes you connect to her characters immediately. She Came To Stay was her first novel. It examines her relationship with Sarte and the Kosakiewicz sisters (whom she combined into one character). The three characters in the story, who are based on these real life figures, attempt a ménage à trois (a three-person romantic relationship)that ends up in failure and tragedy.
Pierre and Françoise have been in a 10 year long relationship, and neither of them are getting bored. According to Francoise, whose POV carries through the entire novel,
Their life was the same. They did not always see it from the same angle, for through their individual desires, moods, or pleasures, each discovered a different aspect. But it was, for all that, the same life. either time nor distance could divide them. There were, of course, streets, ideas, faces, that came into existence first for pierre, and others first for Françoise; but they faithfully pieced together these scattered experiences into a single whole, in which ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ became indistinguishable. Neither one nor the other ever withheld the slightest fragment. That would have been the worst, the only possible betrayal.
Their relationship is the kind of stuff all of us have been desiring for. These are two capable individuals in their respective fields (he is a director/actor and she is a playwright), and neither of them is compromising their true ability to be with each other. The bond that they share a bond is beyond the nitty gritty of relationships. It seemed like they were indestructible.
That is, until Xavière comes along. Xavière is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read in literature. Yes, she is repulsive, but it is rare that you see such insight into the roots of a character’s disagreeable nature. She is immature, lacks self-confidence, a hedonist and possessive - all at the same time. (This is a condition that can only be afforded by the bourgeois.) After leaving Rouen, she joins a full-of-sisterly-devotion Francoise in Paris and starts a life of pleasure and boredom. She starts out hating Pierre for stealing Françoise’s affection, but later hates Françoise for being the pillar of Pierre’s life. Very intense. This is the stuff of high school dramas - give a girl what she had always wanted in the form of an extreme makeover or a short cut into a life of glamour and she will get over her head, and become the destroyer of the person who gave her access to all of that in the first place.
What I found most interesting about the book was Françoise’s reaction to the situation I had described above. I’ve read The Second Sex some years ago, and assumed that De Beauvoir was a staunch feminist, a strong female who was level-headed and intelligent. However, she did not quite match up to that impression here… Even though Françoise seemed like quite a self-possessed individual at the beginning of the novel when she was describing her relationship with Pierre, after Xavière turns against her, she seemed really, for the lack of a better word, wimpy. She became subservient to the feelings of those around her, and became the perfect example of a long-suffering wife - one that was willing to make constant sacrifices for the sake of the people she loved. It comforted me slightly that my perfect image of De Beauvoir was proven wrong, as this made me relate to her more as a person and a woman. No one is as objective as they try so hard to seem in academic papers. I love breaking down that false wall of objectivity to learn more about writers and their creative process. (That’s probably why I love Woody Allen so much.)
Trying to get my hands on The Mandarins, which is about De Beauvoir’s relationship with American writer Nelson Algren, who broke up with her after she refused to leave Sarte. Fun stuff.
(Initially published last July on matchstiks.wordpress.com as I wanted to devote a separate blog to book reviews purely. Well, that didn’t work out so it’s here now.)