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“The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings

“The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings

Margaret A. Simons
Marybeth Timmermann
Foreword by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    “The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings
    Book Description:

    "The Useless Mouths" and Other Literary Writings brings to English-language readers literary writings--several previously unknown--by Simone de Beauvoir. Culled from sources including various American university collections, the works span decades of Beauvoir's career. Ranging from dramatic works and literary theory to radio broadcasts, they collectively reveal fresh insights into Beauvoir's writing process, personal life, and the honing of her philosophy. The volume begins with a new translation of the 1945 play The Useless Mouths, written in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Other pieces were discovered after Beauvoir's death in 1986, such as the 1965 short novel "Misunderstanding in Moscow," involving an elderly French couple who confront their fears of aging. Two additional previously unknown texts include the fragmentary "Notes for a Novel," which contains the seed of what she later would call "the problem of the Other," and a lecture on postwar French theater titled Existentialist Theater. The collection notably includes the eagerly awaited translation of Beauvoir's contribution to a 1965 debate among Jean-Paul Sartre and other French writers and intellectuals, "What Can Literature Do?" Prefaces to well-known works such as Bluebeard and Other Fairy Tales, La Bâtarde, and James Joyce in Paris: His Final Years are also available in English for the first time, alongside essays and other short articles. A landmark contribution to Beauvoir studies and French literary studies, the volume includes informative and engaging introductory essays by prominent and rising scholars. Contributors are Meryl Altman, Elizabeth Fallaize, Alison S. Fell, Sarah Gendron, Dennis A. Gilbert, Laura Hengehold, Eleanore Holveck, Terry Keefe, J. Debbie Mann, Frederick M. Morrison, Catherine Naji, Justine Sarrot, Liz Stanley, Ursula Tidd, and Veronique Zaytzeff

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09719-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword to the Beauvoir Series
    (pp. ix-x)
    Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir

    It is my pleasure to take this opportunity to honor the monumental work of research and publication that the Beauvoir Series represents, which was undertaken and brought to fruition by Margaret A. Simons and the ensemble of her team. These volumes of Simone de Beauvoir’s writings, concerning literature as well as philosophy and feminism, stretch from 1926 to 1979, that is to say throughout almost her entire life. Some of them have been published before, and are known, but remain dispersed throughout time and space, in diverse editions, diverse newspapers or reviews. Others were read during conferences or radio programs...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-8)
    Margaret A. Simons

    This volume of literary writings by Simone de Beauvoir (1908–86), the renowned French existentialist author ofThe Second Sex, opens with a drama. Beauvoir wrote her 1945 play,The Useless Mouths, during the final year of the Nazi Occupation of France when food shortages were acute. Her story of the anguish of choice for a besieged medieval town facing starvation is also a surprisingly feminist tale of courageous women who stare down death and inspire the male leaders of the town to do the same.

    The play doesn’t provide the only drama in the volume: there are lots of...

  6. 1. The Useless Mouths (A Play)

      (pp. 11-32)
      Liz Stanley and Catherine Naji

      Les bouches inutiles(The Useless Mouths), Simone de Beauvoir’s only play, opened with a benefit performance on October 29, 1944, at the Théâtre des Carrefours.² It has considerable importance for understanding Beauvoir’s writing, the development of her philosophical ideas particularly. However, as Virginia Fichera has pointed out, “Although it is a major work exploring the relationship between sex and gender predatingThe Second Sexby about four years, unfortunately it has been neglected by critics and scholars of her work.³ The play deals with the ethical consequences of treating some people as worthless and useless, something still of considerable social...

      (pp. 33-88)
      Simone de Beauvoir

      The events take place in the 14th century, in Vaucelles, a town in Flanders.

      The play was performed for the first time in November 1945 under the directorship of MICHEL VITOLD, in the Théâtre des Carrefours.

      A lookout post under the ramparts of Vaucelles,² at the foot of a tower. Three soldiers around a fire. They are stamping their feet to keep warm.³

      First Soldier:⁴ It’s freezing!

      Second Soldier: I’m hungry. Isn’t the angelus bell going to ring soon?

      First Soldier: Once we’ve eaten, it’s even worse; we’re just as hungry as ever and we’ve nothing left to look forward...

  7. 2. Short Articles on Literature

      (pp. 91-97)
      Elizabeth Fallaize

      “In the same week we have heard Sartre’s lecture, been to the opening night ofLes bouches inutiles(The Useless Mouths) and read the first issue ofLes temps modernes(Modern Times).”¹ So wrote a mildly irritated critic, according to Beauvoir inLa force des choses(Force of Circumstance). It is not difficult to understand this reaction to the “existentialist offensive” in which Beauvoir and Sartre found themselves unwittingly engaged in the autumn of 1945. Beauvoir’s second novelLe sang des autres(The Blood of Others) was published in September, followed a few weeks later by the publication of the...

      (pp. 98-101)
      Simone de Beauvoir, JANELLA D. MOY and MARYBETH TIMMERMANN

      For a year now there have been some rather considerable changes in the French press. It is truly regrettable that in glancing through the newspaper columns devoted to theatrical critiques, one might think one has been transported back to the time when Alain Laubreaux and the like systematically strove to muddle values, destroying any strong and great work with their insults.¹ It seems they have, alas, created a tradition. This outrage is what one discovers when reading the articles written in reaction to the presentation ofKing Lear

      For the first time in years, one of Shakespeare’s most remarkable masterpieces...

      (pp. 102-106)
      Simone de Beauvoir, JANELLA D. MOY and JOE FEIGL

      The novel and the theater are two forms of fiction: in both cases, it is a matter of creating an imaginary world, and making characters, whose story constitutes what is called the plot, enter into this world. In order for the impact of the work to surpass that of simple entertainment, the story must also have a signification. Through carefully constructed lies, the book, like the play, strives to communicate a general human truth, but they do not rely on the same devices, and they do not seek the same type of truth.

      The novelist has a varied and supple...

      (pp. 107-112)
      Simone de Beauvoir and JANELLA D. MOY

      One of the significant events in French literature during the period between the two wars was the discovery of American literature.¹ I remember with what fervor the initiated, those who could read English, passed along the first books of Dos Passos, Hemingway and Faulkner.² The appearance in French translation ofManhattan Transfer, Farewell to Arms,andSanctuarywas a revelation to the entire French reading public.³

      During the occupation, when American books were forbidden, they became all the more precious.⁴ On the morning after the liberation, there were wonderful opportunities for the booksellers. Copies ofGod’s Little AcreandOf...

      (pp. 113-124)
      Simone de Beauvoir, MARGARET SIMONS and OTHERS

      Today in France they frequently say that the novel is dying, that the novel is dead. That is one of the leitmotivs of postwar criticism. Nevertheless, if you loiter by the bookshop windows, or prowl among the editors’ offices, you cannot help being struck by the great number of books and manuscripts that flaunt the label “novel.” Nor are they dead works, for many of them are received by the public with enthusiasm. The critics cannot ignore this fact, but they nevertheless shake their heads and mutter, “These are not true novels. The novel is dead.” You might be tempted...

  8. 3. Existentialist Theater

      (pp. 127-136)
      Dennis A. Gilbert

      One must admire today the extent to which the terrain of Simone de Beauvoir scholarship has changed over these last decades: the Beauvoir whose centennial we celebrated in 2008 is a very different public and private figure from the one whose death we mourned in 1986. Still, little critical attention continues to be paid to Beauvoir’s relationship to theater, admittedly a small portion of her creative activity withLes bouches inutiles(The Useless Mouths) as her only play, and even less to her ideas on theater.¹ Until recently, Beauvoir’s theoretical interest in the genre as both a written and a...

      (pp. 137-150)
      Simone de Beauvoir, SABINE CRESPO and DENNIS A. GILBERT

      Today I intend to speak to you about French theater such as it has developed and affirmed itself since the war. But, as it is a subject that would be much too long for a short talk, I think it would be best to limit ourselves to a few plays and a few authors.

      I have chosen the two authors that seem to be the most representative: Jean-Paul Sartre and Camus, who had never published theatrical works before the war, and who are very indicative of the tendencies of modern theater.¹ And among their plays, I choseThe Fliesand...

  9. 4. A Story I Used to Tell Myself

      (pp. 153-156)
      Ursula Tidd

      In the following short radio broadcast, in which Simone de Beauvoir reflects upon her engagement with the autobiographical genre and its relation to fiction, a meta-narrative of her autobiographical project is briefly emplotted. Beauvoir echoes here certain of her “in-flight” observations on autobiography inThe Prime of LifeandForce of Circumstanceand anticipates the lengthier and later analyses of the roles of fiction and autobiography of her 1966 lecture, “My Experience as a Writer,” delivered in Japan.

      As the title, “A Story I Used to Tell Myself,” and certain of her comments in this broadcast suggest, there is an...

      (pp. 157-164)

      We know about Simone de Beauvoir’s life, because for the last seven years, she has devoted her efforts and talents to making it known to us.Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée[Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter],La force de l’âge[The Prime of Life], andLa force des choses[Force of Circumstance], make up three volumes of autobiography that followLes Mandarins[The Mandarins], which already was a harbinger of the memoirs.²

      Simone de Beauvoir does not repudiate the novel. She knows that it goes further than the raw document, which always only skims, as she says so well, the...

  10. 5. Preface to La Bâtarde by Violette Leduc

      (pp. 167-173)
      Alison S. Fell

      “I took great pleasure in writing a preface for Violette Leduc’sLa bâtarde[The Bastard]. I liked all her books, and this one more than the rest. I read them again, trying to make out just what it was that gave them their value and trying to pass on that understanding” comments Beauvoir inTout compte fait(All Said and Done) as she reviews and reflects on her 1960s literary output.¹ Beauvoir’s preface to Violette Leduc’s sixth published work and first volume of autobiography was published in 1964.La bâtardetells the story of Leduc’s life from her birth in...

      (pp. 174-188)
      Simone de Beauvoir and JANELLA D. MOY

      When, early in 1945, I began to read Violette Leduc’s manuscript—“My mother never gave me her hand”— I was immediately taken by her temperament and her style.¹ Camus welcomedL ’asphyxie[In the Prison of Her Skin] right away into hisEspoir[Hope] series.² Genet, Jouhandeau, and Sartre hailed the arrival of a writer.³ In the books that followed, her talent was confirmed. Exacting critics openly praised it. But the public did not respond. Despite a considerablesuccès d’estime, Violette Leduc has remained obscure.

      They say that there are no longer any unknown authors; anyone, or almost anyone can...

  11. 6. What Can Literature Do?

      (pp. 191-196)
      Laura Hengehold

      “To will that there be being,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote inThe Ethics of Ambiguity,“is also to will that there be men by and for whom the world is endowed with human significations. . . . To make being ‘be’ is to communicate with others by means of being.”¹ However, for most of her intellectual career, literature was Beauvoir’s preferred means for carrying out the philosophical task of disclosing being in a communicable, communicative way. As she argued in a series of essays and public lectures between the 1940s and 1960s, literature is better equipped to present the qualitative...

      (pp. 197-210)
      Simone de Beauvoir, JANELLA D. MOY and MARGARET SIMONS

      Well, I do not need to tell you that my conception of literature is not that of Ricardou.¹ For me, literature is an activity carried out by men, for men, in order to disclose the world to them, this disclosure being an action.²

      However, my colleague touched upon an issue that I find very interesting, one that I wanted to talk to you about anyway; namely the relationship between literature and information. This is a pressing issue of our day, now that there are all these types of information to which Semprun just alluded and which are so very successful.³...

  12. 7. Misunderstanding in Moscow

      (pp. 213-218)
      Terry Keefe

      In 1992 the French journalRoman 20–50. Revue d’étude du roman du XXe siècleprinted a previously unpublished story of some 21,000 words by Simone de Beauvoir, which receives no explicit mention in her memoirs.¹ The editor of the journal issue and of Beauvoir’s text, Jacques Deguy, suggests that “Malentendu à Moscou” (“Misunderstanding in Moscow”) was due to be included in the collection of short storiesLa femme rompue(The Woman Destroyed), but that Beauvoir rejected it—for unspecified reasons—“around 1967.” Because whole textual sequences in the story are identical with sequences in one of the stories finally...

      (pp. 219-274)
      Simone de Beauvoir

      She looked up from her book. How irritating all these old refrains on non-communication were! If we really want to communicate, we manage to do so more or less successfully. Not with everyone, of course, but with two or three people. André was sitting in the seat next to her, reading a thriller. She kept from him certain moods, some regrets, some little worries; doubtless he, too, had his own little secrets. But, by and large, there was nothing that they did not know about each other. She glanced through the plane window: dark forests and pale grassland stretching as...

  13. 8. My Experience as a Writer

      (pp. 277-281)
      Elizabeth Fallaize

      When Simone de Beauvoir undertook a lecture tour of Japan with Sartre in the autumn of 1966 she had long been a writer with a substantial international reputation. She had published four novels and three volumes of her autobiography, as well asLe deuxième sexe(The Second Sex) and a number of other philosophical essays. All her major work had been translated into Japanese, and the Japanese translation ofLe deuxième sexehad been a best seller only the previous year. Beauvoir has described in her memoirs the warmth of the welcome that she received from her Japanese readers.¹ The...

      (pp. 282-302)
      Simone de Beauvoir

      Jean-Paul Sartre spoke to you about literature in general. He told you what all writers have in common; for them it is a question of communicating “the lived sense of being-in-the-world” by giving as a product an object which is a singular universal: their oeuvre.¹

      In order to round off his talk, I thought that it would be interesting to choose a specific example, and I chose the one that I know the best, my own. So I am going to speak to you, along the lines laid out by Jean-Paul Sartre, of my own undertaking, of my own experience...

  14. 9. Short Prefaces to Literary Works

      (pp. 305-310)
      Eleanore Holveck

      During the thirteen years when these short prefaces were written, 1964 to 1977, Simone de Beauvoir produced an astonishing amount of work. She finished the memoir of her mother,Une mort très douce(A Very Easy Death) (1964) and the fourth volume of her autobiography,Tout compte fait(All Said and Done) (1972); two works of fiction,Les belles images(1966) andLa femme rompue(The Woman Destroyed) (1968); and her essay on old age,La vieillesse(The Coming of Age) (1970). She visited the Soviet Union and Japan; 1967 found her traveling to the Middle East during the Six-Day...

      (pp. 311-314)
      Simone de Beauvoir and JANELLA D. MOY

      The stories you are about to read were written down in France, nearly three hundred years ago, by a very learned old gentleman. He wore a white wig, and his name was Charles Perrault.¹ He didn’t make up the stories himself, though. They were already old when he found them, so old that no one can tell their age. What is more, they had traveled by word of mouth so far around the globe—from Ireland to India, and all through Europe and Asia—that no one is sure where they first started. A thousand years ago in China, grandmothers...

      (pp. 315-321)
      Simone de Beauvoir and JANELLA D. MOY

      So often of late, while walking through this new Paris of freshly whitened façades where a stream of traffic flows along the road between hedges of parked cars, I find myself pausing to ask: What did all this look like in the days when I was young? How I longed to bring back from memory a picture as vivid as one of the illustrations inVotre Maison,¹ the old farmhouse transformed into an elegant villa—before and after. This desire of mine was suddenly fulfilled when the photographs Gisèle Freund made during the thirties were placed in my hands.²


      (pp. 322-323)
      Simone de Beauvoir and JANELLA D. MOY

      This book is the true story of a youth that is consumed in a potash mine in Alsace twenty years ago.¹ With fascinating precision, it introduces us to the techniques of an exhausting and dangerous job that—at least to my knowledge—has never been described. But its value surpasses, and by far, that of a simple document. In a darkly passionate tone, the author reconstitutes an entire human experience for us—the experience of a “wood-louse of a man who scrapes at the salt nine hundred meters down.” He tells us of his fatigue, his fear, his resignation, his...

      (pp. 324-326)
      Simone de Beauvoir and JANELLA D. MOY

      Historyis Elsa Morante’s latest novel.¹ However, don’t expect to find in these pages glorified accounts of ancient or modern crises that have rocked the world. True, each chapter begins with a summary of world events, but the author does not see History as the upheavals reported in newspapers and described in books. For Morante, History is the hidden repercussion of these events in the hearts and bodies of the anonymous individuals who suffer through them, usually without understanding what is taking place.

      The central character of this story—most of which takes place between 1941 and 1947— is Ida,...

  15. 10. Notes for a Novel

      (pp. 329-354)
      Meryl Altman

      “In my young days, I wrote a great deal: but nothing that seemed worthwhile to me,” wrote Simone de Beauvoir in 1979, introducing her earliest completed novel manuscript when it appeared asQuand prime le spirituel— almost forty years after Gallimard and Grasset had rejected it.² And when biographer Deirdre Bair asked her about a “collection of loose papers dating from 1928,” which appears to include at least part of the manuscript you are about to read, she responded (according to Bair) “I am astonished . . . I wrote little more then than crude, confused blunderings, all of which...

      (pp. 355-378)

      “In my young days, I wrote a great deal: but nothing that seemed worthwhile to me,” wrote Simone de Beauvoir in 1979, introducing her earliest completed novel manuscript when it appeared asQuand prime le spirituel— almost forty years after Gallimard and Grasset had rejected it.² And when biographer Deirdre Bair asked her about a “collection of loose papers dating from 1928,” which appears to include at least part of the manuscript you are about to read, she responded (according to Bair) “I am astonished . . . I wrote little more then than crude, confused blunderings, all of which...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 379-384)
  17. Index
    (pp. 385-408)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 409-410)