Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Toad and the Beaver ("A Dangerous Liaison" by Caroline Seymour-Jones

I never quite felt the same about Sartre after reading his autobiography "Words" many years ago. A slender volume full of bile and bitterness. I preferred the life (and love) affirming existentialism of Camus to Sartre's squalid misanthropy.

"A Dangerous Liaison" focuses on Sartre's relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. What a creepy duo. The patron saint of feminism pimping for the existential hero. Sartre quickly lost interest in sleeping with the relentlessly intellectual (and frequently unwashed) De Beauvoir - so she began sleeping with him by proxy. Their modus operandi was for her to identify a vulnerable young student, sleep with her and then pass her on to Sartre. The book goes into forensic detail about Sartre's peculiar bedroom habits - let's just say he preferred passive victims to active engagement. Most of these girls (and there were dozens of them) were young students usually far from home – looking for a parental figure, or swayed by the fame of their seducers. Unlike his nemesis Camus, Sartre didn't relish the cut and thrust of adult relationships.

This doyen of authenticity and enemy of “bad faith” also collaborated with the German occupation; and later refused to criticise Stalin or the Soviet system – despite all the evidence – until the Russian tanks rolled into Budapest. Also, he and De Beauvoir conveniently abandoned their Jewish girlfriend Bianca Bienefeld in 1940. No doubt Satre’s contempt for bourgeoise morality made these stances easier for him.

The book quotes John Huston's famous description of Sartre: "He was small, stocky, and as ugly as a human being can be. His face was lined and swollen, his teeth yellow, and to top it all up he squinted.” His own awareness of his physical shortcomings may explain his appetite for female reassurance - but no matter how many princesses this frog kissed, no magic transformation took place.