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Castor and Poulou: The Trials of Twinship Nancy Huston W hen two people are in love, they soon become as one; the only question is— which one? —Anonym ous Adage H AVING SPENT the last couple of years exploring the lives and works of a dozen or so writing couples, I have encountered the theme of oneness many times and under many guises, and been struck by the fact that it is the men, far more often than the women, who value the idea of fusion (albeit of a singular variety)—the women tending to insist on communication rather than identity. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, who formed what was doubtless the most famous writ­ ing couple of all time, had extremely complex attitudes towards the min­ gling of their minds and bodies—attitudes which can be deduced as much from their novels and philosophical treatises as from their autobiograph­ ical writings. Beauvoir wrote far more voluminously about her inner life than did Sartre (whose single slim volume Les Mots stopped at ado­ lescence), but it is far from certain that her several tomes of memoirs are more accurate accounts of it than her novels. Reconstituting one’s past history several decades after the facts, one is necessarily “ writing for the plot,” and Beauvoir’s ostensibly factual version of her motivations and feelings is probably at least as fictional as, say, L ’Invitée or La Femme rompue. Simone de Beauvoir perceived Jean-Paul Sartre both as a god and as her twin; from the day she fell in love with him until the day she died, she strove to safeguard this double conviction, despite its internal contradic­ tion. How did she come to hold it? Raised in the “ bonne bourgeoisie parisienne” and given a Catholic education, she received early recognition for her brilliance. From the outset, she valued her intellect and associated it with her father; thus was laid the ground for what can surely be called, despite all Freud’s dis­ claimers, an Electra complex. A fertile breeding-ground for hysterical, anorexic, and artistic tendencies in women, the Electra complex, unlike the Oedipus complex, has little or nothing to do with incestuous desire. In both the Oedipus and the Electra complex, the mother is Body and the 8 W i n t e r 1989 H u ston father is Mind, Word, Law, God. The young girl therefore has no wish for physical union with her father, but rather for intellectual union; she aspires to join with him in the supercilious repudiation of all things female—and especially (but the term is redundant) the female body. Beauvoir writes that for her father, “ I was neither a body nor a soul, but a mind. Our relationship took place in a limpid sphere where no con­ flict could occur. . . . He had unreservedly given over to my mother the task of looking after my organic life and supervising my moral instruc­ tion.” 1Elsewhere, she recalls that “ Daddy used to say: ‘Simone has the brain of a man. Simone is a man.’ And yet I was treated like a girl” (.Mémoires 169). The conviction that to the extent that women have brains they are men was to remain with Beauvoir for the rest of her life. Upon reaching adolescence Beauvoir stopped believing in God, much to her mother’s distress, and it was at this time that she first formulated her ideal of marriage-as-twinship: I wanted everything to be held in common between husband and wife; each should fulfill, with respect to the other, the function of exact witness I had previously attributed to God. This precluded loving someone who was different: I should marry only if I met my double, more accomplished than myself . . . I never saw myself as becoming the compagne [female companion] of a man: we would be two compagnons [male companions]. (Mémoires 202-3) Beauvoir is thus quite explicit about the fact that in her projected marriage of true minds, the twins are male—and I would be very sur­ prised if I were the first to have thought of playing on her nickname and Jean-Paul Sartre’s, Castor and Poulou...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 8-20
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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