Violette Leduc

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1115

Violette Leduc does not try to please; she doesn't please; in fact, she alarms people…. Leafing through [her books] you glimpse a world full of sound and fury, where love often bears the name of hate, where a passion for life bursts forth in cries of despair; a world laid waste by loneliness which, seen from afar, looks arid. It is not in fact. (pp. v-vi)

[In La Bâtarde, Violette Leduc's autobiography, she is a] schoolgirl of fifty-five … writing down words in an exercise book. And sometimes, when her memories do not suffice to illumine her emotions, she whirls us off into strange flights of fancy; she exorcises the absence that tortures her with violent and lyrical phantasmagoria. Under its real-life covering, the dream life shows through, running like filigree through stories of the utmost simplicity.

She is her own principal heroine. But her protagonists exist intensely. (pp. xii-xiii)

Because she is "never satisfied" she has always remained open to new experiences; any encounter can appease her hunger or at least distract her from it: everyone she meets is an object for her acute and attentive observation. She unmasks tragedies and farces concealed behind facades of apparent banality. In a few pages, in a few lines, she can bring to life the characters who have established a claim to her curiosity or her friendship…. Moving, unusual, they take the same hold on our interest as they did on hers.

She is interested in people. She cares about things…. For Violette Leduc,… language is to be found in things, and the risk a writer runs is that of betraying them. (p. xiii)

She can extract the warmth, the softness, from a child's sock. She inhales the odor of her poverty tenderly from her old rabbit-fur coat. She finds succor in a church chair, in a clock…. (pp. xiii-xiv)

Violette Leduc paints tortured landscapes which resemble those of Van Gogh…. But she can also describe the peace of autumns, the shy approach of spring, the silence of a sunken lane…. We perceive abstractions through our senses when she evokes "the playfulness of the cow-parsley flowers … the anguished scent of fresh sawdust … the mystic vapor of flowering lavender." There is nothing forced in her notations: the countryside is talking spontaneously about the men who cultivate and inhabit it. And through this countryside Violette Leduc is reconciled to those who live in it. (p. xiv)

All writers who tell us about themselves aspire to sincerity: each has his own, which resembles no other. I know of none more complete than Violette Leduc's. Guilty, guilty, guilty: her mother's voice still reverberates inside her; a mysterious judge is always stalking her. Despite that, thanks to that, no one can browbeat her. The faults that we impute to her can never be as grave as those she is charged with by her invisible tormentors. She spreads every last piece of evidence in the case before us so that we can deliver her from the evil she has not committed.

There is a considerable erotic content in her books; it is neither gratuitous nor deliberately sensation. (p. xv)

Eroticism for her leads to no mysteries and is never cluttered up with a lot of nonsense. It is, nevertheless, the master key to the world; it is by its light that she discovers the city and the countryside, the density of the night, the fragility of the dawn, the cruelty in the mouths of pealing bells. In order to speak of it, she has forged herself a language devoid of sentimentality and vulgarity, which I...

(This entire section contains 1115 words.)

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find a remarkable achievement…. Violette Leduc's discreet audacity is one of her most striking qualities, but one which has certainly done her a disservice: it shocks the Puritans, and the dirty-minded are left dissatisfied.

In these days, there is an abundance of sexual confessions. It is much rarer for a writer to speak frankly about money. Violette Leduc makes no secret of the importance it has for her: it too is a materialization of her relations with other people. (p. xvi)

She also acknowledges other petty traits such as we are usually careful to conceal….

Yet she offers no extenuations. Most writers, when they confess to evil thoughts, manage to remove the sting from them by the very frankness of their admissions. She forces us to feel them with all their corrosive bitterness both in herself and in ourselves. She remains a faithful accomplice to her desires, to her rancor, to her petty traits. In this way she takes ours upon her too and delivers us from shame: no one is monstrous unless we are all so.

This audacity is a result of her moral candor. It is extremely rare for her to blame herself for anything or to produce any sort of defense. [Violette Leduc] doesn't judge herself; she judges no one. She complains…. Often she is tender, sometimes admiring; she is never indignant. Her guilt came to her from outside, without her being any more responsible for it than for the color of her hair; and so the worlds "good" and "bad" are empty ones for her. The things from which she suffered most—her "unforgivable" face, her mother's marriage—are not listed as crimes. Inversely, anything that does not touch her personally leaves her indifferent. (p. xvii)

In this world swept clear of moral categories, her sensibility is her only guide…. Confronted with injustice, [Violette Leduc] immediately takes the part of the oppressed, of the exploited. They are her brothers, she recognizes herself in them. The people out on the fringes of society seem more real to her than the settled citizens who always behave according to their allotted roles. She prefers country pubs to elegant bars, a third-class railroad compartment smelling of garlic and lilacs to the comfort of traveling first class. Her settings, her characters, belong to the world of ordinary people whom literature today usually passes over in silence. (pp. xvii-xviii)

La Bâtarde ends at the moment when the author has concluded the account of her childhood with which she began the book. Thus we have come full circle. The failure to relate to others has resulted in that privileged form of communication—a work of art. I hope I have persuaded the reader to partake of it: he will find in it even more, much more, than I have promised. (p. xviii)

Simone de Beauvoir, in her foreword to La bâtarde by Violette Leduc, translated by Derek Coltman (reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; English translation © 1965 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; originally published as La bâtarde, Editions Gallimard, 1964), Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965, pp. vi-xvii.




Henri Peyre