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Feminist Writings$

Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret A. Simons, and Marybeth Timmermann

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039003

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039003.001.0001

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Introduction

Introduction

Chapter:
(p.173) Introduction
Source:
Feminist Writings
Author(s):

Margaret A. Simons

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252039003.003.0022

Abstract and Keywords

In her 2011 introduction to Beauvoir’s foreword to the 1977 American edition of Elsa Morante’s History: A Novel reprinted in our 2011 volume of Beauvoir’s literary writings, Eleanore Holveck criticizes Beauvoir for failing to appreciate Morante’s achievement in “one of the finest novels to come out of World War II.”...

In her 2011 introduction to Beauvoir’s foreword to the 1977 American edition of Elsa Morante’s History: A Novel reprinted in our 2011 volume of Beauvoir’s literary writings, Eleanore Holveck criticizes Beauvoir for failing to appreciate Morante’s achievement in “one of the finest novels to come out of World War II.”1 Holveck provides helpful background: Morante (1912–85),2 she explains, “was born in Rome to a poor Sicilian father, a clerk, and a Jewish mother who taught school. Beauvoir and Sartre traveled to Rome every year after World War II and usually saw Morante and novelist Alberto Moravia (1907–90), her husband from 1941 to 1963.3 Morante’s first major novel, Menzoga i Sortilegio (House of Liars) (1948) received the Viareggio Prize; she wrote short stories, poems, and the well-received L’Isola di Arturo (Arturo’s Island) (1958).”4

Holveck’s criticism comes in response to Beauvoir’s observation in the 1977 English version of the foreword that true history for Morante is “in the hearts and bodies of the anonymous individuals who suffer through [it],” to which Holveck remarks, “but I am neither so sure about the anonymity nor that Beauvoir gives sufficient credit to Morante’s achievement.” In fact, Beauvoir did not describe the individuals as “anonymous.” A comparison of (p.174) the 1977 English version of the foreword with the original French text newly translated here, reveals that the earlier translator added the word, “anonymous,” and deleted the surname of the novel’s protagonist, Ida Ramundo, thus assuring her anonymity.

So Holveck’s criticism in this case applies to the translation rather than to Beauvoir’s interpretation. Does the original French text also contest Holveck’s charge that Beauvoir fails to give “sufficient credit to Morante’s achievement”? Holveck lauds as Morante’s “greatest achievement” in the novel her depiction of the life of the child Useppe: “the true story is the birth and death of Useppe Ramundo. From his first movements in his mother’s womb, ‘the little blows he gave seemed more information than protest: I inform you that I am here and, in spite of everything, I’m coping and I’m alive. … What are you scared of? You’re not alone.’”5 According to Holveck, “Useppe incarnates the joy of human existence, la joie d’exister that Beauvoir describes so movingly in The Ethics of Ambiguity as the concrete flesh and blood thickness of the world that underlies all political activity and that should be its final goal.6 Morante’s ability to re-create the world from a child’s viewpoint is unmatched and magnificent.”7 Holveck concludes by situating Morante’s achievement in the context of Beauvoir’s defense of philosophical literature. “Morante’s novel,” Holveck writes, “truly represents Beauvoir’s position in her 1966 essay “Que peut la littérature?” (What can literature do?) based roughly on Leibniz, that the world is one totality and that each point of view on that same world expresses itself, communicating with all the others, through literature.”8

Here, once again, the original French text shows Beauvoir—in passages deleted, paraphrased, or mistranslated in the 1977 version of the foreword—recognizing Morante’s achievement in the novel. Against the Italian critics who reproached Morante for not having chosen heroes who understand events and participate in them lucidly, Beauvoir explains that for Morante, “every life, even the most humble, is a human adventure that is unique and complete.” Beauvoir defends the “abundance of details” that “might seem tedious at first,” as necessary “to anchor us in this foreign reality,” and she praises Morante’s rendering—and denouncing—the “fabulous aura” of the little boy’s “awestruck love for his elders.” Beauvoir concludes much as Holveck does, with an appreciation of Morante’s ability to “make us feel the irreducible uniqueness of each human existence,” through literature and not “abstract reasoning”—although Beauvoir quotes here not from her own work cited by Holveck, but from Sartre’s famously abstract Critique of Dialectical Reason.

(p.175) Notes

(1.) Eleanore Holveck, Introduction, in Simone de Beauvoir, “The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 309.

(2.) Holveck offers the following note: “Various dates are given for Morante’s birth. I am using the one from Alberto Moravia and Alain Elkann, Life of Moravia, trans. William Weaver (South Royalton, Vt.: Steerforth Press, 2000), 134.

(3.) Holveck inserts the following note: “Typically, in an interview Moravia (Life of Moravia, cited above, ibid., 242) mentions only Sartre and Camus, and Beauvoir mentions only Moravia in Force of Circumstance, trans. Richard Howard (London: Penguin, 1968), 109.” Holveck notes later in her Introduction that “Alberto Moravia commented that Elsa Morante ‘considered herself the greatest writer—as all writers do,’ which obviously irritated him; he complained of her ‘constant, obsessive affirmation of her own personality and independence’ (quoting from Moravia, Life, 210, 213).” (Holveck, Introduction, 310).

(4.) Holveck, Introduction, 309.

(5.) Elsa Morante, History: A Novel, trans. William Weaver (New York: Knopf, 1977), 77–78.

(6.) Simone de Beauvoir, Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Citadel, 1976), 135.

(7.) Holveck, Introduction, 309.

(8.) Ibid., 310.

Notes:

(1.) Eleanore Holveck, Introduction, in Simone de Beauvoir, “The Useless Mouths” and Other Literary Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 309.

(2.) Holveck offers the following note: “Various dates are given for Morante’s birth. I am using the one from Alberto Moravia and Alain Elkann, Life of Moravia, trans. William Weaver (South Royalton, Vt.: Steerforth Press, 2000), 134.

(3.) Holveck inserts the following note: “Typically, in an interview Moravia (Life of Moravia, cited above, ibid., 242) mentions only Sartre and Camus, and Beauvoir mentions only Moravia in Force of Circumstance, trans. Richard Howard (London: Penguin, 1968), 109.” Holveck notes later in her Introduction that “Alberto Moravia commented that Elsa Morante ‘considered herself the greatest writer—as all writers do,’ which obviously irritated him; he complained of her ‘constant, obsessive affirmation of her own personality and independence’ (quoting from Moravia, Life, 210, 213).” (Holveck, Introduction, 310).

(5.) Elsa Morante, History: A Novel, trans. William Weaver (New York: Knopf, 1977), 77–78.

(6.) Simone de Beauvoir, Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Citadel, 1976), 135.

(8.) Ibid., 310.