Wednesday, January 25, 2006

La Femme Existentialiste

Pioneering feminist and famed author of the Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, wrote the great novel I just finished reading.

The Mandarins explores the social and political milieus of French bohemian-intellectual people after the end of the Second World War. Lives have been have been marred by loss and grief and some have more or less abandoned themselves and their principles. The novel closely follows the paths of Paula, the disintegrating singer, Henri, the successful writer, and Anne Debrouillah, the psychoanalyst. Beauvoir seems to have written a lot of herself into the sensitive yet strong and intelletually cogent Anne. The other women seem to display what might be called "The Hysterical Tradition" of female characters.

Many things are learned, many things are lost as we follow their paths, as well as the paths of the men, especially Henri, who finally gives himself over to domesticity.

The novel goes through French and European politics of the time in a rigorous manner - I felt undereducated as I read many of the newspaper-related scenes, which centered around issues of the Resistance, Socialism and France's response to Soviet and American powers. In short, the book made me want to learn more about these topics.

The emotional authenticity of The Mandarins is irresistable. I highly recommend Beauvoir and am planning to find and read more of her novels.


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