20 April 2017

Simone de Beauvoir: Les Mandarins II (1954)

Simone de Beauvoir's Les Mandarins (a title referring to the intellectual status of the characters) scooped the Goncourt in 1954, its year of publication. The second part of it here begins at Chapter VI, following on from Les Mandarins I: the first edition was published (unlike these two paperback Folio volumes (also belonging to the original publisher)) in a single Gallimard edition.

Roman à clef is an expression often used of this 1000-page book, although it's not entirely easy to fit the characters neatly into the place of real characters. On the other hand, there are clear autobiographical elements, such as Anne Dubreuilh and her husband the intellectual writer character Robert Dubreuilh resembling the (unmarried) Beauvoir and her long-term companion Jean-Paul Sartre in an apparently open relationship.

There are strong similarities between Anne's relationship with the American author Lewis Brogan from Chicago and Beauvoir's relationship with the author Nelson Algren, who fall in love, visit the States and Mexico, meet for some weeks on three occasions and then part after Lewis goes somewhat cold on Anne on her final visit to Chicago.

Robert Dubreuilh's relationship with Henri Perron, particularly their ideological split, very clearly recalls Camus's split with Sartre, and there are several other characters in the book who can be said to share similarities with people who existed. A settling of accounts? A kind of guessing game? Maybe both, but also a highly rivetting novel about those whose peopled Beauvoir's life during the immediate post-war years.

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