Violette Leduc James Walt - Essay

James Walt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With less imagination than Proust but with a frankness that makes Proust and most autobiographers seem positively Pecksniffian, [Violette Leduc] writes five pages of her journal every day, wrestling with her soul and her sanity for le mot juste. Poverty, frustration in love, doubts about her capacity to write, have given her the stuff from which books can be made without resorting to the masks and evasions of popular fiction.

La folie en tête [Mad in Pursuit] carries her through World War II, a nightmarish imprisonment, friendship with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet, the will o' the wisp allurements and disappointments of the literary life, and a passion for a book collector whose indifference to her provoked one of those crises usually leading their victims to suicide or cynicism.

Her book sometimes resembles a cluttered Victorian house whose jumble of knicknacks drew the eye away from what was useful and beautiful. But there is no overlooking the art with which she bodies forth a person, an incident, an atmosphere. A gift for comedy struggles with her taste for hero worship and even the admired Genet is diminished in her story of their checkered relationship. Comic in effect if not in intention is her account of the seduction of a young man who had courted her friendship so he might learn how to write. She experiments with point of view, drops occasionally into stream-of-consciousness, and handles ideas with a deftness surprising in a self-educated woman who meekly confesses that Nietzsche is as Greek to her. Though living alone almost shattered her, it has not robbed her work of tenderness and warmth.

James Walt, "French: 'La folie en tête'," in Books Abroad (copyright 1971 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 45, No. 2, Spring, 1971, p. 277.