Village Life

Posted on 15 August 2007

I am thick into Tête-à-Tête, loving the play by play of Sartre and Beauvoir’s lives.

And so I read and read and then write and from time to time, devour a cheap mystery that somehow does not seem such a sin as Sartre and Beauvoir loved mysteries. And my novel sometimes appears a joke but I persevere and am allowing myself all kind of liberties. Somehow the discussion with Susan about this being only a draft and lazy writing has made a difference. It has slowed me down but I think the text richer…

Several nights ago, Gill and I went to the village fete that was rather corny as it was a band with an accordion lead. How the villagers loved it – especially the older folk who danced and twirled – often women with women. And how I wanted a dancing partner so Gill and I got up and danced a few numbers and then a very tall lean man asked me to dance and I did and I loved the movement. We danced well together though he was much too tall and I had to stay on my toes so it wasn’t altogether agreeable.

Last night Gill and I went to the village feast that takes place every August 15.
See her blog for an account and pictures: “join me at the table”.

I’m feeling like a fat slug I sit so much so I agreed to water David’s garden, as he and Susan wanted to escape the five days of music. Their garden is outside the village, down a steep road that isn’t much fun walking back up but I do it stoically. Once there, we follow David’s regime of checking out the zucchini and cutting the big ones and putting them in a basket, and then picking up the yellow plums and apples that have fallen – so many and though yummy, I am growing a little tired of them. And as Susan so eloquently says “They make you shit but it’s worth it.” At this point, I have to pull the cover off the well and toss the bucket down – wiggle it around until it is full and then pull it up hand over hand, pour the water into a watering can and water the zucchini, tomatoes, and cabbage. The rest – onions and beets and lettuce and herbs, he says do just fine without water.

Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Loves

University Days Olga-Algren-SimoneSartre and Beauvoir

For those who are interested in Beauvoir and Sartre (if you are not as fascinated as I am by their lives, don’t read this long rambling account): I just finished Tête-à-Tête and then immediately sat myself down and wrote about it to assimilate the information. I am not checking details so don’t quote me.

I have always admired the relationship between Sartre and Beauvoir – never marrying or living together (even when they spent their annual holiday in Rome, they had separate hotel rooms.) Still their relationship has been called a “marriage” but, after reading Rowley’s biography of the couple, I would not call it one. Marriage, in my mind, includes sharing a bedroom and having sex but early in their relationship, Beauvoir and Sartre stopped fornicating. And what surprised me is that Sartre didn’t even like sex. He admitted never being able to let go. It wasn’t a problem getting an erection and ejaculating but he didn’t like it much (or only for a second.) He said that he liked the touching and caressing of another body but the rest left him cold. He would complain to Beauvoir that his young women were too demanding. They exhausted him.

On his 74th birthday, he began a flirtation with Francoise Sagan. At that time, he boasted that he had nine women in his life. He loved the seduction of sweet young women of promise. He did not love them and leave them – true to his existential thought that freedom includes taking responsibility for one’s actions – he took care of the women, giving them his time (carefully scheduled into time blocks of a hour or two; once, twice, or three times a week) and his money and sometimes even his talent – he wrote plays for several of his conquests.

When he traveled, he often seduced his interpreter – the best way to learn a language. All this action by a man who doesn’t like sex surprises me. As does his lie-telling to his young women (that he admitted to, in an interview.) He’d say he was working in one place with someone – usually Beauvoir – and he’d be with another of his loves, somewhere completely different. He was often found out because his picture would appear in a newspaper with his traveling companion.

Sartre has been described as short, ugly, fat, poorly dressed, and smelly and yet women vied for his attention. On the positive side, he has been described as an extraordinary listener, sensitive, and giving – especially with his money. He was paid a bundle in royalties from his books and for his lecture tours and newspaper and magazine articles and most of it, he gave away. He was often broke. Money never swayed him. When he was won the Nobel Prize – which he refused for ethical reasons – he gave up a grand sum that he could have used.

And what of the “Beaver” which is what Sartre and her friends called Beauvoir? She too loved young women of promise – several of whom were her students – though for years, she denied their relationship was sexual. She also loved men. Her greatest love affair, in my mind, was one with the American writer and journalist, Nelson Algren. He wanted marriage. She refused. And when she published stories – one fiction, one not – about their relationship, he was furious and denounced, mocked, and criticized her person and her work. And still she wore his ring until death. Unlike Sartre, Beauvoir had a voracious sexual appetite that often drove her to despair. She would have liked to have been less passionate. As she grew older, she hated desiring and being, in her mind, undesirable.

Throughout her life, she adored, respected, clung to her genius Sartre. I see them as intellectual equals. They edited each other work, discussed ideas for hours on end, and wrote alone in the morning and together in the afternoon when in the same city. When apart, they wrote each other long letters telling everything about their work and love life. I now see their relationship as more of a rich friendship than a “marriage” – or perhaps one could say that they were like a close sister/brother duet. One of the things that I like most about their partnership is that they gave each other courage to be free and responsible. (“Screw up your courage,” Sartre said to Beauvoir when she hesitated about writing her autobiography.) Each was like a mirror for the other. And when one was in despair about his or her love life, there was always the knowledge that someone cared deeply and understood.

I am shocked by some of their “antics” – both his and hers – but I am also impressed? touched? (I don’t know the right word) by both their courage to deal with emotional upheaval and ostracization. Sartre might be a scoundrel as far as his love life – or should I say, sex life was concerned, but as far as his work went, he was fanatically true to his beliefs. I don’t think it was easy for either Beauvoir or Sartre to share their personal lives with the public but they did. But here, Beauvoir ranks higher. She has been more than generous about sharing the facts of her life – even after death via her adopted daughter, Sophie Le Bon de Beauvoir; whereas Sartre and his adopted daughter have been less than generous. It is a shame. We hav
e only Beauvoir’s truths about their relationship. It would be good to read Sartre’s to know if they truly were in agreement.

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