ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

by Simone de Beauvoir

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ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby Liz » Mon Nov 01, 2010 10:10 am

What do you think of the nature of Simone’s letters to Algren?
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby gemini » Mon Nov 01, 2010 1:08 pm

Mushy! :biggrin:
Just like her letters to Sartre. I am sure her letters to Bost during the war were the same but he probably threw them away before his wife found them.
OK I have to lighten up on the sarcasm. Simone did keep him up on all the current events and politics as well as films and authors. She certainly wasn’t boring. She also threw in a little tease her and there to keep him interested.
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby nebraska » Mon Nov 01, 2010 1:50 pm

It took me a while to get comfortable with reading the letters - maybe something about English not being her first language affected the rhythm and flow somehow. :perplexed: Eventually, after I read enough of them, which was awfully hard work for a while, I got more comfortable with the way she expressed herself.

The letters were always so over the top! From the very first, when she had just met the man, she wrote mush on the emotional level of a teenager. If the letters had begun with a little more sensible getting-to-know you phase and built up to that level of silliness I would have found it all a bit more believable. From the letters I have read in Liz's pre tidbits, Simone must have written that way to all her men.

Some of the historical bits and travel stories and anecdotes about the people around her were interesting enough - my difficulty was my own with my lack of knowledge. I found it distracting that she referred to people by such terms as 'the ugly woman' instead of using her name. And her pet names for Algren and herself were quite annoying to me at times.

Once I got past my initial difficulty, I enjoyed her style a lot more than the content. I have just started to read the Mandarins and I see some of that wordy kind of style in that book as well.

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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Nov 01, 2010 2:33 pm

She was definitely mushy! I guess that was just her style. I did wonder if her letters would have been different if they had been in French instead of a second language. It is really interesting to think that is pretty much the only way they communicated for months and years between visits. It sounded like phone calls were very few and far between and used only as a last resort. The level of detail was almost like a diary at times and was how she conveyed what was going on in her life and with the people around her to try and bring Algren into her world. I did enjoy reading about her travels, especially Africa.
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby fireflydances » Mon Nov 01, 2010 4:59 pm

DITHOT said:
She was definitely mushy! I guess that was just her style. I did wonder if her letters would have been different if they had been in French instead of a second language.


Language. Yeah, I wondered the same thing. Frankly I found something deeply boring in her love sentiments, saying the same things over and over, even with the wording variations, nothing particularly specific. Vague, amorphous declarations of undying love but she -- a writer -- where is the description that demonstrates to the reader exactly what she felt, saw, did etc? The words are not personal enough, and they don't have to be explicit but what, what, what are you remembering Simone. Give me the details! I found greater specificity in her vast assemblage of stories, her decriptions of travel etc. than in her recollections of time with Algren.

Makes you wonder also if part of it boils down to convention, i.e. that she was staying within the confines of that generation's style of letter-writing? Pleasantries extended, descriptions of the weather, light entertainment, gossip, the occasional philosophical meanderings and then sweet closing. In a way they feel polite, staid, ordinary -- not original in form or content, not shocking in description, not one depth plunged, not one edge trod upon. Not existential.
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby gemini » Mon Nov 01, 2010 6:15 pm

Interesting thoughts here. I must say though. I think DITHOT has a point. She should be given more credit for writing in another language. It must be difficult to follow your train of thought and translate it to paper in another language. She most likely sounded more intelligent in French but I’ll bet she was still mushy. I wonder if very affectionate endearments are more the norm in France, than with us coarse speaking Americans? Somehow, I relate being overly affectionate to films where women are trying to seduce something out of a man more in jest than in affection. ;-)

DITHOT said
It sounded like phone calls were very few and far between and used only as a last resort. In one book. Simone mentions that the letters ended when they began using the phone so we would not have had all this reading material if the phone was convenient sooner. :lol:

Firefly said
Not existential. I have been pondering this awhile. Can you elaborate?
:-)
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Nov 01, 2010 8:28 pm

gemini, is the telephone why we have fewer letters as the years go on or were they just not communicating at all?
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby fireflydances » Mon Nov 01, 2010 8:56 pm

Gemini said:
Not existential. I have been pondering this awhile. Can you elaborate?


The comment here was primarily with reference to tone and style, not philosophical. Her letters are light, flippant, romantic, flowerly, gossipy, not very much concerned with the dark side, the deep side, the angst of life. Here, then, two examples of writing that might be considered more 'existential' in tone.

I live alone, entirely alone. I never speak to anyone, never; I receive nothing, I give nothing… When you live alone you no longer know what it is to tell something: the plausible disappears at the same time as the friends. You let events flow past; suddenly you see people pop up who speak and who go away, you plunge into stories without beginning or end: you make a terrible witness. But in compensation, one misses nothing, no improbability or story, each too tall to be believed in cafes. Satre, Nausea

Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete beastiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself. A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn't it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea- he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility... Do get up from your knees and sit down, I beg you, these posturings are false, too. Dostoevsky, Notes From The Underground

I actually believe that Simone's "lifestyle" however, was very much existential.

I may not have answered the question. If not, tell me more about what you are asking.
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby fireflydances » Mon Nov 01, 2010 9:03 pm

Gemini said:
I wonder if very affectionate endearments are more the norm in France, than with us coarse speaking Americans?

I have exactly the same question about culture (language as part of culture obviously). I think there is a root of similarity in all cultures, but both subtle and major differences in relations between men and women when love is involved. We see the big differences, thing like status, but I think we gloss over the tiny differences. Love to learn more about this subject.

EDIT: Bringing back two short sections on an interesting page on love and sex in France and the US. And TWO links. The first is to a video on the differences between French and American women's view of men, marriage, dating etc.

Video link:

Second link relates to the sections quoted below:

And the two quotes. Note especially what is said in the latter section. So perhaps our Simone's behavior is rooted in culture?

Yes. Of course there is adultery in France, but the difference between France and the States is that in France, the extramarital partner lasts a long time, whereas in the States it's often a one-night stand. In France, when you have an extramarital affair you often have it for a long time. We've noticed that Americans, men and women, have more of them, in shorter duration (one-night stands, for example), than the French. Fidelity is a strong value in France, but it has more to do with love than sex. The major difference between Frenchwomen and American women can be summarized as follows: The French are marathoners and the Americans are sprinters.

Globally we found that the French have a more deeply grounded conception and value of the couple. The French are also less attached than Americans to marriage as the unique option for living together. The French have more "premarital cohabitation," "nonmarital cohabitation" and even "noncohabiting long-term relations." This seems to make it easier for men and women age 40 or older to have companionship after having experienced the burden of marriage and cohabitation.
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby Liz » Tue Nov 02, 2010 12:15 am

I agree with most of you that her mushiness got tiresome after a while. But I think that I found it endearing longer than the rest of you. After a while I was pretty sick of it. But I took into consideration the fact that all she had were letters. I assumed that she felt that was her only way of getting across what she couldn’t in person. So maybe she went overboard to express what she might have expressed merely physically if she had been in his presence.

DITHOT brought up lack of phone calls. This drove me crazy. Were they afraid of the phone? I know it existed. Maybe Algren didn’t have one. Maybe she didn’t have one. But I do know it’s awfully expensive. But you’d think now and then…. But who’s to say that they didn’t now and then. We only know about the letters. But DITHOT you do raise a good question about why there were fewer letters. I just assumed the letters decreased because the relationship changed.

But think of this. Look at all of us. How we know each other is through the written word. Some of us only know each other through the Zone. Others of us email. Emailing, to me, is like letter writing. The difference is that it is more real time. I think that waiting for a letter back then would have driven me crazy.

Firefly, I’d say that she could be rather shocking at times, especially for the times. Based on what you view as “existential” (or maybe I should say living it in one’s letters to others), no she did not write in an existential way. I would term her writing as very coquettish and gossipy.

But I would also call her writing schizophrenic in that one minute she would be talking about her tremendous love for him and how much she missed him, and then she’d abruptly move to politics or gossip or the latest book they were discussing. She was not good at transitions.

Gemini, that video explains A LOT. :ohyes:
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Nov 02, 2010 10:26 am

Interesting comments about differences in our cultures. Thanks for sharing!
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Nov 02, 2010 11:44 am

Yeah, I found the video itself very revealing. Subtle differences between how Americans in particular and the French look at love. Did anyone else find anything in it that added a new twist to their perspective on the Simone/Satre/Algren relationship?
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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Nov 02, 2010 12:03 pm

There were two ideas that struck me right off the bat. The first was that as Americans we are goal oriented. What do you want out of a situation? There has to be an end game, something just can't be. The second was her description of how French women perceive relationships. How they are taught as they are growing up a relationship doesn't have to be one or the other, black or white, there are gradations. I think both of these ideas played a part in the Simone/Nelson affair.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby Liz » Tue Nov 02, 2010 2:22 pm

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:There were two ideas that struck me right off the bat. The first was that as Americans we are goal oriented. What do you want out of a situation? There has to be an end game, something just can't be. The second was her description of how French women perceive relationships. How they are taught as they are growing up a relationship doesn't have to be one or the other, black or white, there are gradations. I think both of these ideas played a part in the Simone/Nelson affair.

MOST DEFINITELY!
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The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Re: ATLA Question #22 - Her Letters

Unread postby gemini » Tue Nov 02, 2010 5:24 pm

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:gemini, is the telephone why we have fewer letters as the years go on or were they just not communicating at all?

Speaking of Sartre here, I got the impression they communicated just as much but with the phone they didn't need to write. I don't think it applied to Algren across the pond. I think they still wrote.
"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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