Salammbo Press, £10, 110pp. £9 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Thérèse and Isabelle, By Violette Leduc, trans. Sophie Lewis
Friday 16 March 2012
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
filmFilm producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
voicesJust when you thought you could find a man, get married, and have a baby by the age of 35... it turns out you’re too late, says Grace Dent
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
musicAs Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their classics, why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for 20 years?
theatreAuthor Daniel Rosenthal recalls the mishaps that almost brought the curtain down on the likes of John Gielgud and Diana Rigg
lifeAs the Royal Mail plans to phase out deliveries on two wheels, it's no wonder posties are in a spin
musicThe 21-year-old beat Ella Eyre and Chlöe Howl to win the honour
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
Arts & Ents blogs
The desolation of the Weinstein brothers: Film producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
Christmas songs: the best and the worst
X Factor winners: Where are they now?
Your Money, Money, Money please - Abba ask fans for £195 pledges on direct-to-fan website
Lost Peter Sellers films Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia Is Good for You hailed as the movie equivalent of 'finding Dead Sea Scrolls'
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute in Soweto
- 2 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 Is Facebook making us forget? Study shows that taking pictures ruin memories
- 5 Australia incest case: Severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- < Previous
- Next >