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February 10, 1983 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1983-02-10

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Page 6

The Michigan Daily

Thursday, February 10, 1983

By Ben Ticho1
Simone de
Beauvoir-'When Things
of the Spirit Come First'
Random House, 212 PP.
THE MOST distinguishing feature of
this newly-translated collection of
five early stories by Simone de
Beauvoir, the grand femme of
Existentialism, is its unashamed use of
autobiographical material. De
Beauvoir is perhaps best known for her
lifelong association with Jean-Paul Sar-
tre, as well as for her pioneering work
for her gender, exemplified in her ram-
bling masterwork, The Second Sex.
De Beauvoir has always felt it her
prime duty, desire, and destiny,
however, to tell her own story, to give
posterity a true look at a modern
woman's evolution out of the restric-
tive, sheltered world of the French
middle class into the challenging
domain and responsibility of indepen-
dence, freedom, and intellectual
To that end she wrote Memoirs of a
Dutiful Daughter, an utterly frank,
even matter-of-fact, account of her life
through age 20. Published in 1958, the
Parisian describes her years of piety
and obedience, growing disatisfaction
with formal education and sexual
mores, and, finally, open rebellion
against the Catholicism and constrictin
g values espoused by her parents and


De Beau voir
... feels spirit first
Written just before age thirty (mid
1930s), Quand Prime le Spirituel was
originally rejected by the publishing
house of Grasset. In fact, French
publication waited until 1979;
nonetheless, the collection remains an
illuminating forerunner of de
Beauvoir's more advanced later work
and a valuable source for looking at her
physical and spiritual past.
Each of the five stories focuses on a
single heroine, who donates her name
to the title: Marcelle, Chantal, Lisa,
Anne, and Marguerite. In each charac-
ter, de Beauvoir infuses her memory of

past acquaintances and at-
mospheres ... and bits of herself as
"Marcelle" concerns a you:ngwoman
convinced of her own genius and virtue,
as proved by an enormous self-ascribed
capacity for sacrifice. She helps
organize a social club, devoted to
bringing "culture" to the youth of the
area, or rather, to bring them "up to
culture." More than her social am-
bitions, Marcelle is anxious to find a
man worthy of her sacrifice.
Desroches, one of the club's founders,
brings her equal selflessness, idealism,
and reverance for the spirituality (as
opposed to physicality) of marriage,
and they are engaged.
But, as happens throughout the
collection, Marcelle tires of the "com-
monplace," tires of Desroches, and
gives up her club activities and marries
a somewhat daring young poet, Denis.
Their union is marked by the pleasure
Marcelle receives in "giving" herself to
her husband, more in the debasement
of the act than its sensuousness, and
the inevitable disappointment of Mar-
celle's idyllic conception of Denis, who
writes less and less, squanders money
in bistros, and finally leaves her for
another woman.
Although de Beauvoir claims in her
preface to have modelled Marcelle af-
ter a schoolgirl she once taught, details
and traits from her own life show
through. She herself once instructed
working girls in literature as part of an
"Equipes sociales" program. Fur-
thermore, the idea that the coarse,
small-minded world does not ap-
preciate properly her talents and poten-
tial is amply expressed in Memoirs of a
Dutiful Daughter. Here, de Beauvoir
accepts her own "bad faith"; she seeks
to alleviate her responsibility by con-
demning a situation which (she claims)
she can do little to control.

The other entries in Things of the Spirit
contain variations of the same theme:
talented, and less talented, women
struggle to assert their individuality, to
"transcend," with their own false
visions of happiness often equal
enemies with the bourgeois mentality
they all resent. Seldom understood,
they strive at any costs (as Marcelle
does) to maintain their self-esteem,
while, with a few exceptions, resigning
themselves to the place society accords
"Chantal" is the collection's most
vivid presentation of "bad faith."
Chantal, a provincial schoolteacher,
goes to great pains to assure herself
and others of her "difference." She
presumes to judge her stuffy school
associates as well as her pupils,
delegating some to aesthetic
"promise" and others to eternal
boredom. In the end, however, she
cannot keep up the pretense of sen-
sitivity, as she betrays the trust of a girl
with "promise" who has become
pregnant. Chantal is a clever hybrid of
Jean Brodie and Willa Cather's Paul,
caught up in middle class morality bat-
tles while considering herself above
Unfortunately, "Anne," and the rest
of Things of the Spirit, while pointed
and earnest, reads too much like an ad-
vanced soap opera. De Beauvoir her-
self freely admits the heaviness and
awkwardness of what she calls a
"beginners's piece." She recommends
Memoirs for a more faithful portrait of
Zaza, as well as of Jacques Laiguillon,
the cousin de Beauvoir almost married
and who is loosely personified in the
wild and often self-indulgent Denis.
It was Jacques who introduced de
Beauvoir to the exhiliration and daring
of the little bars which populated Paris
in the 1920s. Similarly, Denis buys
Marguerite her first gin fizz in the
collection's final and probably most
successful story. Marguerite resem-
bles her author more than any of the
other women, for she escapes from the
trap of what de Beauvoir calls "the
wonderful" and "looks the world in the
When she wrote Things of the Spirit,
de Beauvoir was just such a woman
who, having extricated herself from an
oppressive past, looks the world in the
face, and revels in her newfound
freedom. This happiness, however,
caused problems in her writing, as she
recognized in Force of Circumstance.

De Beauvoir had promised herself
she would "tell all," but in her
exuberance she found she had lost her
subject: "Emerging from boredom
and bondage of my childhood years, I
was overwhelmed, stunned, blinded
with joy. How could I have found in
my happiness an urge to escape from
it? My plans for work remained empty
dreams until the day when my hap-
piness was threatened, and I

rediscovered in solitude a certain kind
of anxiety."
The difficulties emerge in her stories.
Even given the biographical context;
the schoolgirl romances and torments
come off more as sentimental
reminiscenses than the work of 0
mature writer. De Beauvoir attempts
different style spproaches-there is
Chantal's diary and the confession of
Anne's mother-but she seems too ofte
detached, blunt, and awkward.
Some have complained about a lacy
of feeling in de Beauvoir's writings;
with understanding; from L'Invitee
onward, she strove more for accuracy
than emotion with what Henri Peyre
calls an "abhorrence of mysticism."
Not that her writing is cold, only
distant; there is always the awareness
of judgement, as there is in Sartre's fic-
Despite these deficiencies, de
Beauvoir succeeds in her principal
aim-to show the oppressiveness of
French society between the wars and
the difficulty in establishing individual
integrity. Francois Mauriac's Therese
Desqueyroux is a far more subtle, com-
plex, and developed victim then are
Anne and the others. The youthful de
Beauvoir already recognized the ,
primacy of things of the spirit-their
literary exposition she developed later.

The R. C. Players present
FEBRUARY 10-12, 8:00


' , .

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Barry Reynolds - 'I Scare
Myself' (Island)
Barry Reynolds is the guitar player
for the Compass Poiont All Stars
(featuing rhythm deities Robbie 'n'
Sly), backing up everyone in the
cosmos, from Grace Jones to 'Joe
Cocker to Black Uhuru.
This; everhow, is the first album with
Barry's face on it, and, well, Barry's
face is fairly ordinary, and so is the
vinyl face. Sure, the rhythms are
thunky and sticky, and Barry plays
some nice guitar, but his voice just
don't thrill chill spill nor kill. It's just
sort of thete.
Barry also didn't seem to have much
to say in the way of thrilling and killing
or spilling, it's more like just filling.
The best song lyrics were written by
somebody else, or at least co-authored.
BUT, I'd rather listen to this bitches
brew of tonal hybrids than the stolid
plod of the Baby! radio silence. The
rhythm and beat twins can out punch
any old white boys anyday. This just is
not their finest day; it's very Sunday af-




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