Tag Archives: Maurice Meleau-Ponty

The Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir (translated by Lauren Elkin, Vintage 2021)

Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Inseparables in 1954, the same year as The Mandarins. Her friendship with Zaza (Elizabeth Lacoin) is something she’s already tried to write about in various unpublished short stories, as a section of The Mandarins deleted before publication, and which would become a cornerstone of the de Beauvoir legend when incorporated into her first autobiography, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958). De Beauvoir was not satisfied with The Inseparables and decided not to publish it; yet she thought it of enough value not to destroy it either. I’m glad it’s now seen the light publicly. It’s really a very queer story (one I wish someone like Céline Sciamma would film). This roman-à-clef is narrated in the first person by Sylvie (de Beauvoir) who falls in love with Andrée (Zaza), who values the friendship but is rather unaware of the intensity of Sylvie’s love much less reciprocates it. Andrée in turn falls in love with Pascal (the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty as a young man) whom she hope will save her but who is too scrupulous about being truthful to promise to marry her (and thus rescue her from her family). It’s a novel full of intensity of feeling and a complex delineation of social restrictions (Andrée’s family are Catholic activists), some due to class (even though they are best friends, they address each other through the formal vous) or family, which is the real villain of this story: once the older daughter turns twenty-six, the mother informs her –with love and under the guise of it being for the good of all – that she must marry the first suitable candidate or it’s off to the convent. The morays are those of another time; indeed of a hundred years ago. Who now would devote so much time to the significance of the loss of faith; the arguments well-brought up girls of a certain family needed to make in order to get a university education; the significance of being set to run errands in the big department stores or indeed how not wearing a hat might be excused only by the quality of clothes worn. Sylvie’s longing, her love, her adoration, her worship, her clear-headedness and analysis are clearly and complexly evoked. That Zaza died before turning 21 in the throes of a love which her family’s control and her boyfriend’s thought prevented her from living fully – whilst De Beauvoir looked on in the sidelines hoping but unable to hep, is clearly why de Beauvoir so often returned to the story, why it’s such a key narrative in her own telling of her life and of her thought. Why isn’t de Beauvoir more taken up by queer theorists/scholars?

José Arroyo