Salammbo Press, £10, 110pp. £9 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Thérèse and Isabelle, By Violette Leduc, trans. Sophie Lewis

 

Violette Leduc, described as "France's greatest unknown writer", has been posthumously stalking me for nearly a decade now. In 2003, I was asked to write the introduction to a reprint of her bestselling autobiography, La Bâtarde, alongside the preface by Simone de Beauvoir who, for a while, was Leduc's mentor. What a "lucky strike" (as Freud remarked when he discovered the unconscious) it must have been for Leduc, who was broke, unknown and thought herself plain, to have France's most formidable female intellectual tell the world she had a great talent.

Then in 2006, keen to help pull a genius like Leduc out of obscurity, I agreed to write the introduction to a reprint of The Lady and the Little Fox Fur (1967), her bittersweet novella about a dispossessed old woman who finds herself forming a relationship with everyday objects as she walks the streets of Paris.

Now Salammbo Press has published a classy new translation of Leduc's 1954 masterpiece on the tyranny of love, Thérèse and Isabelle: the first uncensored, unabridged version in English. This is the manuscript Gallimard refused to publish in its original form in 1954, fearing that Leduc's sexed-up love affair between two adolescent girls at a French boarding school would "call down the thunderbolts of the law". As de Beauvoir saw it, Leduc's tongue had been cut out.

Why exactly was Thérèse and Isabelle considered so shocking? After all, nearly 30 years earlier, Georges Bataille had published in France The Story of the Eye, a philosophical, pornographic, surreal tour de force involving necrophilia, coprophilia and a severed eyeball. Compare this kind of caper to the sort of things Thérèse and Isabelle think and say to each other: "I wish you would look at me when I'm looking at you", "the fleshiness of her tongue frightened me", and then the bald assertion that "her strength made me sad".

If sexual intimacy is graphically described, it is not exactly obscene. It seems as if the female libido that drives the narrative in Thérèse and Isabelle – "sex was filling our minds" – made Gallimard uneasy. Yet in her own words, Leduc was attempting "to express as exactly, as minutely as possible the sensations of physical love". Unlike Bataille, and de Sade for that matter, Leduc does not just subject the reader to a relentless choreography of sexual positions. Her female protagonists experience sexual love as a "devastating enchantment"; they have opinions, problems and even parents. Leduc wote about her possessive mother in all her work, and seemingly never escaped her grasp.

I suspect that Leduc's sometimes hypermanic and metaphor-laden prose has actually been done a few favours by Sophie Lewis's clever deadpan translation. It has found language that stands up to the original, audacious French without being allusive or coy.

Deborah Levy's new novel, 'Swimming Home', is published by And Other Stories

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here