ATLA Question #13 - Zaza

by Simone de Beauvoir

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ATLA Question #13 - Zaza

Unread postby Liz » Sat Oct 23, 2010 2:26 pm

Simone had a childhood friend named Zaza. (see ATLA Tidbit # 18) Simone has mentioned in various writings the profound effect that friendship and Zaza’s subsequent death had on her.


From Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2006:


Beauvoir and her best friend Zaza "Mabille" (Beauvoir often assigned fictional names to friends and family members described in her autobiographical writings) sometimes discussed the relative merits of bringing nine children into the world, as Zaza's mother had done, and of creating books, an infinitely more worthwhile enterprise, the young Beauvoir believed. As the girls matured, Beauvoir observed the degree to which Zaza's mother used her daughter's affection and commitment to Christian obedience to manipulate Zaza's choice of career and mate. When Zaza, tormented by her parents' refusal to grant her permission to marry Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the "Jean Pradelle" of the memoirs, died at twenty-one, Beauvoir felt that her friend had been assassinated by bourgeois morality. Many of Beauvoir's early fictional writings attempted to deal on paper with the emotions stirred by her recollection of the "Mabille" family and of Zaza's death. Only many years later did she learn that Merleau-Ponty, who became a well-known philosopher and writer and remained a close friend of Beauvoir's and Sartre's, was unacceptable to the "Mabilles" because he was an illegitimate child.


And a little bit of psychoanalysis by Steve Shelokhonov, who wrote Simone’s bio for IMDb:

Her bold and spontaneous classmate, Zaza (Elisabeth Le Coin), was her earliest and strongest friendship. Beauvoir and Zaza were both students of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whom Zaza loved. That relationship was disrupted by Zaza's controlling parents. Zaza died of encephalitis at age 20, leaving Beauvoir shocked and depressed. Zaza's short life was described by Beauvoir in several versions and in various literary forms; revealing Beauvoir's own post-traumatic scars. As Beauvoir was trying to soothe the pain of loss, she drifted away from the restrictive social order of French class society. For the rest of her life, Beauvoir harbored her traumatized inner child, and played a game of rebellion by advancing her individual choices. She had issues with social rules regulating the impulses of her own life, or having a stable relationship; and her life really turned into a series of impulses.


What are your thoughts on this?

From what you know of Simone at this point, can you see Zaza as having such a profound effect on Simone’s life, attitudes, behavior?
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Re: ATLA Question #13 - Zaza

Unread postby nebraska » Sat Oct 23, 2010 7:50 pm

ok, I'll bite :freaked: even though this looks like another "let's figure out Simone" question.

I vote "yes."

I think a close friendship with a peer can have a really big effect on your life, especially when you are young. In many ways Zaza and Simone had some similarities in their childhoods - the strict religious background, for instance - and I am sure Simone identified strongly with her. It seems only natural that Simone would be affected deeply by Zaza's death. Linking Zaza's fatal encephalitis to her parents' refusal to allow her to marry the man she wished to marry -- thus causing Simone to adopt a whole different approach to life -- could be seen as a little extreme. On the other hand, I do think our mental and emotional state affects our physical health, so it is possible Zaza's depression over the broken relationship made her vulnerable to disease.

I think the key here is that Simone was in her younger years, and while not a child any more, she was naturally more affected by emotions and events because of her age. Later in life she observed people, and she analyzed and cared for people, and she was sad when tragedy happened in the lives of her friends. But in her later years it didn't overwhelm her to the same degree as it did in Zaza's case.

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Re: ATLA Question #13 - Zaza

Unread postby fireflydances » Sat Oct 23, 2010 8:11 pm

Liz said:
"From what you know of Simone at this point, can you see Zaza as having such a profound effect on Simone’s life, attitudes, behavior?"


Absolutely. I totally connect with Simone on this. Her experience resonates deeply in my own life. I believe that many young people are caught in a bind between the messages they are given about life and what rings true deep inside them. Our 'adults' give us 'truth' and for some of us this true thing is incomplete or it constricts. I think this is where many artists, writers and philosophers begin -- at the disconnect between what is given and what is experienced.

To lose a friend to death at this age of separating, this time of dreaming into being -- it has to have been traumatic and defining. Adolescents and young adults still see the world as largely black and white, possible and impossible: it is easier to rebel completely, to tar the other as worthless. So, yes Simone makes perfect sense to me.

(editted twice -- for sloppy writing!)
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Re: ATLA Question #13 - Zaza

Unread postby Liz » Sat Oct 23, 2010 9:47 pm

Nebraska, you make an interesting point here. Seems she might have grown cold to the physical ailments of her friends. She talks about them in a way that seems to put herself in the place of an observer (as you say) as opposed to someone who really cares or worries.

I believe the young adult years are probably more defining of us than our earlier childhood. And we are equally influenced and affected by our peers and the adults in our lives. And since Simone was already in a place of anger towards Zaza’s parents, she probably felt that it was easier to put the blame of Zaza’s death on the parents as opposed to some cruel twist of fate. And I can see that causing rebelliousness against society’s norms. And rebel she did.
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Re: ATLA Question #13 - Zaza

Unread postby Buster » Sat Oct 23, 2010 10:57 pm

To have a friend die, especially when they are struggling emotionally - very intense. Perhaps it did contribute to deBeauvoir's need to be in control. I think it did help her to define her personal philosophy.

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Re: ATLA Question #13 - Zaza

Unread postby gemini » Sat Oct 23, 2010 11:48 pm

I wrote this earlier and got sidetracked and lost it before I posted. One more time.

Simone was infatuated with Za Za when she was young, though they were very platonic. When Simone later revealed her feelings to Za Za, she was astonished. This made me think as I read elsewhere that Simone may have blown up her relationship with Za Za and this made her early death even more shocking. ZaZa's parents thought Simone a bad influence and tired to keep them apart. I think naturally anyone that young has a hard time adjusting to someone their own age dying. I read that when Simone’s sister later read her writing about Za Za, she was very surprised to learn that Simone was that affected.

I have come to believe that Simone sees many aspects of her life out of proportion. I am referring to her feeling for Za Za here , not her death. I read the same of her relationship with her childhood cousin Jacques. As youngsters they decided they were engaged. As young adults he had mistresses, and later married someone else seemingly unaware that Simone was even in the running. Her parents may have had something to do with this as they thought he had money and good husband material. In her bios both of these people became major events.

Anyhow I agree with most of you that this was an early start to her lifelong obsession with death.
"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." Will Rogers

Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.


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