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La Batarde by Violette Leduc

La Batarde (original 1964; edition 1966)

by Violette Leduc

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414742,946 (3.9)18
"An obsessive and revealing self-portrait of a remarkable woman humiliated by the circumstances of her birth and by her physical appearance. La Batarde relates Violette Leduc's long search for her own identity through a series of agonizing and passionate love affairs with both men and women. When first published, La Batarde was compared to the work of Jean Genet for the frank depiction of sexual escapades and immoral behavior. A confession that contains portraits of several famous French authors, this book is more than just a scintillating memoir - like that of Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski, Leduc's brilliant writing style and attention to language transform this autobiography into a work of art."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
Title:La Batarde
Authors:Violette Leduc
Info:Dell (1966), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:20thcentury, french, france, outofwedlock, mothersanddaughters, lesbianism, lesbian, bisexuality, sexuality, sex, masturbation, women, menandwomen, lovers, teachersandstudents, society, prejudice, adolescence, bildungsroman, firstperson, xx

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La bâtarde by Violette Leduc (1964)



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Showing 4 of 4
This is Leduc's most famous book, a memoir of her life up to the end of the Second World War, the point at which she's just about to meet Simone de Beauvoir and get her encouragement to publish her first novel, L'Asphyxie.

We get to see her early childhood, living in poverty in northern France with her mother (a domestic servant made pregnant by a member of the family she was working for) and grandmother; the sudden shift in her early teens to being middle-class and going to boarding-school, when her mother marries; the 20s and 30s when she's a young office-worker and then a journalist in Paris; and her surprising career as a black-marketeer smuggling Normandy butter and meat to Paris during the war.

As you would expect, Violette's love-life plays quite a part in the story: there's a reworking of the affair with her classmate "Isabelle" already used in the suppressed first chapter of Ravages (later published as the novella Thérèse et Isabelle); there's her more serious relationship with "Hermine", a young teacher at the school, who lives with her in Paris for some years after they both leave; there's the slightly ambivalent friendship with "Gabriel", which seems to have nothing obviously sexual about it until they impulsively decide to get married in 1939, and almost immediately regret it. And there's the even more complicated friendship with the gay writer Maurice Sachs, who seems to have been her main literary mentor before she met Simone de Beauvoir. And all kinds of random encounters with strangers, male and female, where she deliberately obfuscates things to leave us wondering whether she's telling us about this to show how much enjoyed flirting and felt validated by other people's sexual interest, or whether she was just having lots of casual sex.

There's certainly a great deal of insecurity and self-doubt on display in the book, lots of accounts of her messing up at work, or getting commissions to write articles and not having a clue where to start, but there's another, contradictory, sense of her as a competent, self-assured person, fond of dressing up in good clothes and getting her hair done by the best Paris coiffeurs, writing fashion articles that brought her a good stream of freebies from the couturiers she mentioned in her columns, running her rather dangerous butter-racket successfully for a couple of years without getting caught, and so on.

Before reading this, I had an idea in my head of Leduc as a kind of female version of Genet, but that's a bit misleading. She had a difficult start in life, but no more so than most of her contemporaries who lived through the First World War, and the improvement in her mother's fortunes seems to have given her the chance to fill most of the gaps that war and poverty left in her early education. As a (mostly-)lesbian in 1920s and 30s Paris, she hardly comes into the category of "sexual outlaw" — who wasn't, in those days? — and by working in publishing and journalism she had built up a pretty good network of literary contacts, even before meeting de Beauvoir and Sartre. The problems she had to overcome to become a writer were obviously more psychological than social — none the less real and difficult for that, of course.

Anyway, a fascinating book, much funnier than I was expecting, but emotionally trying sometimes as well, of course. And a very interesting experiment into techniques for writing honestly about yourself — maybe not always completely successful, but successful often enough to keep us interested in how she does it. ( )
  thorold | May 28, 2020 |
The first half of this book is one of the most beautiful and textured accounts of childhood I've ever read, the second half suffers because the personal traumas are so abstract, I don't know why she's crying, there's a "quest for elegance" that follows our narrator through different dept. stores looking for a blouse, a woman screams "I'd kill myself if I had a face like yours!" (I liked that part though.) Still: beautiful, funny, vivid, occasionally pretentious biography of a woman who spent the first forty years of her life just hanging out before becoming a writer. My kinda gal! ( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
I enjoyed reading Leduc's story of her life through childhood, school years, early working life and the World War II to becoming a writer. ( )
  mari_reads | Jul 21, 2018 |
Je ne m'en souviens plus très bien ,mais je me souviens que le livre est tragique, rude, et qu'il pratiquait une franchise et un "Famille, je vous hais" peu courant à l'époque de sa parution.
  briconcella | Mar 8, 2007 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Violette Leducprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beauvoir, Simone deForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alexanderson, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brackx, AnnyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coltman, DerekTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cornips, ThérèseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jansiti, CarloIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levy, DeborahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riva, ValerioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Santillán, María HelenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tiel, WalterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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My case is not unique: I'm afraid of dying and distressed at being in this world. I haven't worked, I haven't studied. I have wept, I have cried out in protest.
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'I came into the world, I vowed to entertain a passion for the impossible,' writes Violette Leduc in her autobiography. 

The details of her life are stark and troubled, her rendering of them sensuous, lyrical, intensely alive.  Born in Arras in 1907, the illegitimate daughter of a servant and the son of the house, her inheritance from her mother was sense of terrible guilt and of her own 'unforgivable face'.  And yet it was her mother's love she craved, a craving and refusal that marked her life.  When her mother married, Violette chose to go away to boarding school, but her love affair with another pupil and then with Hermine, her music teacher, led to expulsion.  Years in Paris with the devoted Hermine, marriage to the masochistic Gabriel, an existence on the fringes of the Parisian artistic life follows, and finally her meeting with the Wildean figure, Maurice Sachs.  It was he who persuaded her to write and in 1945 this extraordinary and flamboyant woman published her first novel, L'Asphyxie, acclaimed by Camus, Genet, de Beauvoir and Sarte.  

La Bâtarde, her most famous book, was published in France in 1964 and in Britain in 1965.  In the preface to it, Simone de beauvoir writes, "The richness of her narratives comes from the burning intensity of her memory. . .everyone she meets is an object for her attentive observation. . .they grip us and they did her."
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