This is the work Maurice Sachs was writing while holed up with Violette Leduc in Normandy during WWII, Leduc voicing her caution that he was being hard on Cocteau in his reminisces. Since we have Sachs to thank for pushing her to write her own autobiography, I felt required to read his.
While doing a quick search about their relationship, I stumbled on horridly misogynistic Harold Acton’s 1966 NYRB review of Leduc’s work wherein he states (among vicious rips on Leduc’s prose): “The insistence on ovaries throughout this tome is a leitmotiv which eventually gets on one’s nerves to such an extent that one sympathizes wholeheartedly with her friend Maurice Sachs when he explodes: ‘Your unhappy childhood is beginning to bore me to distraction. This afternoon you will take your basket, a pen, and an exercise book, and you will go and sit under an apple tree. Then you will write down all the things you tell me.'”
But back to Sachs. This book, compared to Leduc’s masterpiece, is a tepid bath swirling with soap scum and the occasional rubber ducky. We follow his progress through life, from his childhood yearning to be a girl, his family losing its fortune, realizing his preference for boys, his desperation to become a writer, sudden conversion to Catholicism and entry into a monastery, departure into army life, life as an art dealer, years living in New York (where he acquires and abandons a wife, then departs with boyfriend to France), life in Paris then the provinces mostly in poverty, etc.
An invocation at the beginning:
May this book ultimately free me of my first self so that when I have completed it I can exclaim: Here is a life over and done with! It has been lived, confessed, expiated; I say farewell to it in order ot begin another in accord with the ideal I have conceived in misfortune, the result of all my follies.
On how writing can help one’s sanity:
It’s extraordinary how it drains off your moods; the composition of a novel clears your mind! You sweat out your bitterness exactly the way you sweat out your acidity when you do calisthenics. Doubtless that’s why everyone writes today, as a form of hygiene…
I was pleased by what he said about my own city after a visit in the 1930s:
When autumn came, we set out on my second lecture tour. It brought us, after several intermediary stops, to San Francisco, where I would rather end my days than in any other city. Here are the seven hills of Rome, and a bay that stands comparison with Rio’s. The glowing skies, the forests of mimosa that grow down to a sea incredibly bluer than the Mediterranean, a mild climate, a wildly luxuriant flora that blossoms in a thousand ravishing gardens, and below them, a port, last guard of the West and already partaking of the Oriental mystery: everything continues to make San Francisco a city without a peer.