Violette Leduc

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The Times Literary Supplement

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There are a number of similarities, both literary and personal, between Violette Leduc and Jean Genet…. Both are brilliant writers without the slightest interest in constructing a coherent work of narrative prose. Both use literature for essentially personal and autobiographical motives, and both write virtually the same book again and again. Both feel themselves rejected by normal society through the misfortunes of their childhood and the nonconformity of their sexual tastes, but, both have been surprisingly successful in reintegrating themselves into society through literature. Both are completely indifferent to conventional moral values, and describe their thefts, homosexual exploits or black market profiteering with a strange innocence that is only partly the result of a deliberate pose. And both of them, in England at least, are probably bought in the first place for what moralists would describe as the wrong reasons….

La Bâtarde may be bought by voyeuristic readers in search of salacious details. Such purchasers, it need hardly be said, are in for a disappointment. There are descriptions of women making love to each other, as there are references to menstruation and abortions, but these take up only a very small part of the book. The love affairs, moreover, are described with such a wealth of poetic images that only the most determined immoralist could find them sexually exciting….

[What La Bâtarde] really contains is a series of fairly loosely connected passages of well-written and essentially innocent description: of her childhood and the sufferings of having no father; of her schooldays and the romantic friendships she formed; of her delight in dress, which she evokes perhaps better than anything else; of her marriage with the elusive Gabriel, the least convincing of her portraits; of her experiences in the worlds of publishing and the cinema; of her friendship with Maurice Sachs, the character in her book who comes most to life as a person in his own right; and, best of all, of the frenzy with which she made money by selling food on the black market during the Occupation. Like the individual passages in Genet's novels, each one of the episodes in Violette Leduc's life is fascinating to read on its own….

But, again like Genet, she has not been able to weld these different episodes together into any kind of unity.

Perhaps autobiographies are, inevitably, the recital of one damn thing after another, and perhaps it does distort the truth to create significant form where there was none before. Yet it is the almost complete absence, in both Violette Leduc and Jean Genet, of any concern for composition which constitutes an insurpassable obstacle to the view that these writers triumph, through literature, over the inadequacy of their lives….

[Violette Leduc] makes us feel not that her problems are ours and that we are one with her in the loneliness of the human condition, but that she is a kind of monster, set apart from us not so much by her wickedness but by the very uniqueness of her personality. This is not a moral reaction, but an aesthetic one. For whatever qualities La Bâtarde may possess, it is not what Mme. de Beauvoir calls "that privileged form of communication—a work of art". It is a brilliant essay in self-revelation, but as far from a work of art as our ordinary conversations are from a Socratic dialogue….

"Liaison Dangereuse," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1965; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3328, December 9, 1965, p. 1125.

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