Violette Leduc Henri Peyre - Essay

Henri Peyre

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[La Bâtarde] was not only a succès de scandale … but was acclaimed by many as the most striking book of imaginative literature in a rather lean year. Its faults are glaring, and they will more than once exacerbate a fastidious or an impatient reader. The bâtarde is also a bavarde: she never wearies of recording her woes, her mad sexual and spiritual yearnings, and the petty doings of daily life, in what some male readers may regard as inexhaustible prattle.

Though it is too long, the volume is never dull, and it is much less monotonous and annoyingly complacent than most autobiographies and personal records. The lack of restraint or of pudeur—that "wrapping of the body by the soul," in the phrase Nietzsche admired and stole from another woman … the candor in the totally uninhibited description of the author's Lesbian loves has contributed not a little to the success of the book…. But it was not Mme. Leduc's design … to titillate the pruriency of readers or to indulge any lewdness. This, the story of the author's first forty years, is a courageous confession and a work of art….

Her long confession is a weird mixture of burning, naïve, lucid, and unadorned sincerity … and of poetic inner monologue.

Time and again, in high-flown passages, she invokes the reader, her grandmother and her mother, and the women whom she has loved. But these rhetorical forms of address to absent characters, to her sleeping partners, or to the reader have none of the contrived and self-conscious artifice that palls…. Mme. Leduc's disregard for all the contemporary tricks of technique, of elaborate structure, of remoteness from life … is one of the fresh merits of La Bâtarde…. (p. 46)

Violette Leduc's extraordinary prose, rich, sensuous, at times sumptuous with images worthy of Rimbaud, [is] perhaps the closest counterpart of Jean Genet at his best….

The author of La Bâtarde has for years been close to the Existentialist group…. La Bâtarde is less verbose and more imaginative than Simone de Beauvoir's three thick volumes; it is more artistic and more zestful than Sartre's disillusioned and overpraised record of his childhood in The Words. (p. 47)

Henri Peyre, "Passions of a Gallic Sappho," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1965 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XLVIII, No. 44, October 30, 1965, pp. 46-7.