Mad in Pursuit (La folie en tête)

I’m tired of discovering amazing women writers then browsing used bookstores pretending there’s a chance to find a stray copy of their work. Leduc is a new favorite with the double burden of being both woman and French, so having to suffer the pain of translation may have sapped history’s ability to keep her in memory.

Her pal Jean Genet said, “She is an extraordinary woman. She is crazy, ugly, cheap, and poor, but she has a lot of talent.” And yet she was mostly overlooked during her lifetime, only achieving crumbs of fame with the first part of her autobiographical La Batarde (1964). Mad in Pursuit was part two (1970), picking up after WWII was over and detailing her creative struggles, continuing adoration of Simone de Beauvoir, describing life as a middle-aged single woman, claiming a desperate love for Jacques (gay factory-owning businessman who privately published some of her work).

Waiting for Simone de Beauvoir, her punctuality is oh too familiar:

I was early. I am always early. I waste my time with an excess of punctuality… I am early, I wait, I am nonexistent. It’s not boring, I nibble at myself. I imagine other minutes between the minutes, other seconds between the seconds. I double the money of the time that is rotting me minute by minute, second by second. An insect advances slowly across my grave: the needle of the clock. I am early, I spin time out, I have time to sell.

She watches mothers with their babies and muses on what her life would have been like:

Our daily lives were too different. I could never enter theirs. I am a little more than they are and yet much, much less: a writer steering her way, a woman crazy with love, a crackpot refusing to follow her madness to its conclusion… They were living, they weren’t writing. Their walk, their outing was enough for them. Whereas I was exploiting them, since I had gone looking for them, since I am now describing them. To write is to inform against others.

The reality of being alone as an old woman:

I walk, I look for trees with bark twisted into strange shapes; clouds stretch themselves in the sky: sensual delights. They keep me company, they are all I have. I have an appearance of happiness, I have an illusion of foreboding when the stay a little longer than usual over me. I am less abandoned than I thought before. I wait for them, I observe them, I compare them, I interpret them… I should lose my reason if I didn’t have you, little white clouds. I should go home dull-eyed, leaden-footed, bent-backed. Old women, so unfortunate, still have aspirations. Is she cold? Is she e’soo co’d? my mother would say to me when I was little, as she pulled on a sixth woolly. What made me warmest of all? That excision of the letter l from the word ‘cold.’ Is she co’d, is she e’soo co’d, I repeat along the roads while no one in the world looks out for me.

Her descriptions of writing:

Finding the exact word means concentrating oneself into a single point, but it also means wandering through labyrinths of impotence.

And my writing? It saps me. What does it inspire in me? Laziness, hollow hours, excuses for lazying my life away. I am literature’s parasite. I must write. Then I change my mind. I spend my time at the cinema, in empty churches, in grimy little parks. I run away from my exercise book. It is my refuge. Yet I search for places where I can take refuge from it. I neglect it without abandoning it entirely. I am sickened by it all. I ought to be making a new life; all I do is write about my past life. I sink further and further into the silt of my past.

How innocent. How ignorant. I write… I write three notebook pages a day. It’s too much and it’s not enough, that’s the root of the problem and there I am chained to my anxieties, there I am coveting the sweeper’s broom, the street cleaner’s wheeled bin… I admire them: they have a job… I stagnate in Paris, I am wasting my time in Cocteau’s country house. ‘How well you will be able to work here!’ Yes, if work meant unloading sacks of flour from morning till night. I’m not ambitious, and yet I have great expectations when I write: I live with the hope of placing the mind-blowing word exactly in the place that awaits it. I can’t find it, I splatter about in my sweet whipped cream… Write? I haven’t the time. The setting sun races bleeding down the sky and carries me with it. Why, why add my name to the list of authors who are not read?

Ah, Violette, you are read, you are adored. (Translated by the excellent Derek Coltman.)