Violette Leduc

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Peter Brooks

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 610

If "La Bâtarde" describes the weight of a malediction—the stigmata of [Leduc's] birth, rejection by her mother, guilt and will to self-annihilation, narcissism and first homosexual loves—"Mad in Pursuit" is the story of this malediction redeemed and forged into a vocation…. The book is in part the story of a salvation through writing, through assumption of the risks of confession and the effort to fix one's perception of the world on paper, and daily struggle with pen and notebook to render exactly what has been seen. This is the interior "madness" referred to in the original title, "La Folie en tête." She chooses imprisonment—in the "black den" of her room, in the solitary labor of writing—in order to escape the inner prison.

A phrase runs through the book like a leitmotif: Simone de Beauvoir's question, "Have you been working?" By working she means writing. At the start of the book, we are in Paris after the Liberation, and everyone seems to be writing: Sartre, Camus, Nathalie Sarraute, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, Simone de Beauvoir herself….

This was, of course, a rare moment of literary effloresence, and Violette Leduc creates some striking, original, intuitive portraits of the masters: an aging Cocteau falling asleep after lunch as two beautiful young companions play volleyball on the lawn outside; Sartre complaining that Hegel's chapter titles are more tiresome than the text…. (p. 4)

To [Genet], Violette Leduc establishes a cult: he is sacred, she would go to the scaffold for his writings. She wants to adore, and in doing so to efface herself: she is woman, castrated, useless, to him. Her humiliations and adulations finally provoke Genet's ire. It is the most remarkable example of a relationship Violette Leduc is compelled to play out again and again: a self-punishing attachment to a homosexual who doesn't need her, who defines her by what she is lacking. (pp. 4, 41)

The literary figure who most dominates "Mad in Pursuit" is Simone de Beauvoir…. Cool, aristocratic, self-possessed, disciplined, Simone de Beauvoir represents everything Violette Leduc is not…. This relationship also is tortured, because Violette Leduc cannot be satisifed with the role of literary protégée; she wants intimacy…. This distance, this separation of the professional from the private life, is just what is impossible for Violette Leduc, who is everywhere and in everything always cringingly or exultingly conscious of her entire self, her face, her big nose, her body, her personality.

It would be a mistake to give the impression that "Mad in Pursuit" is primarily a picture of the literary scene in Paris between 1945 and 1949. It is the story of an utterly personal literary vocation, assumed in despair and never quite believed in…. The demand that her book makes on its reader is that he hold close to her, that he enter into her confessions of shoplifting, black marketeering, rapacity, homosexuality, masturbation, the fury of her desires and her self-loathing, not because to understand is to forgive, but because to listen and to understand is enough.

The force of this book is the force of a personality so strong that its self-horror becomes the basis of self-affirmation. The force of personality on the written page is style, and Violette Leduc's style is admirably savage, strong and lyrical, fine and occasionally precious in its notations, sometimes heavy and fatiguing…. As with other confessions that are starkly honest and moving, you live within the prison of her skin, which is not always comfortable. (p. 41)

Peter Brooks, "Escaping the Inner Prison through the Solitary Labor of Writing," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 3, 1971, pp. 4, 41.

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