WHEN THINGS OF THE SPIRIT COME FIRST - FIVE EARLY TALES
Simone de Beauvoir
De Beauvoir's first fiction, previously unpublished in English, is certainly a sign of work to come; but it's no mere juvenilia. In five separate but loosely connected tales (some of the characters know each other and show up in one another's stories), de Beauvoir chronicles the early lives of five women--most of whom become casualties, in one way or another, of French society's emphasis on "things of the spirit" (religiosity, piety, aestheticism, respectability) in preference to the "real world." Marcelle, a dreamy and devout little girl who offers her life to "a young fair-haired God," grows up to be victimized and deserted by her gigolo/husband as she acts out her spiritual piety in decidedly fleshy appetites. Chantal, in temporary exile from Paris as provincial schoolteacher, creates herself a sensitive persona devoted to beauty and the free spirit--but a real-life crisis caused by her fakery exposes her perfectly conventional narrow-mindedness. Lisa, a student at a Catholic boarding school in the briefest of these tales, is torn and finally baffled by her own body's insistent undermining of her struggle to be properly soulful. Anne is stifled into the "peace" of resignation and death by the combined efforts of her proper mother, her aesthete"lover," and her romantic friend (the phony Chantal again, whose existential "bad faith" breeds disaster everywhere). So only the autobiographical Marguerite--younger sister to deserted Marcelle and to the dead Anne's Swinburne-reading lover--successfully throws off her family's dedication to "the Christian virtues": introduced to Paris low-life by Marcelle's reprobate husband, Marguerite at last sees through even his tarnished luster to "look things straight in the face, without accepting oracles or ready-made values." Deceptively simple tales told with remarkably clear-eyed moral vision and pungent irony: a worthy opening to a shining career.