Simone de Beauvoir (edited by Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann): 'The Useless Mouths' and Other Literary Writings

Gems and oddities from Simone de Beauvoir

Colin Nettelbeck


‘The Useless Mouths’ and Other Literary Writings
by Simone de Beauvoir (edited by Margaret A. Simons and Marybeth Timmermann)
University of Illinois Press (Footprint Books), $69 hb, 408 pp, 9780252036347


Let the potential reader be warned from the outset: the editorial perspective of this anthology of Simone de Beauvoir’s literary writings is disturbingly unsettled. If the intended audience is the ‘Beauvoir scholars’ alluded to in the jacket blurb, one cannot but imagine their irritation at the scores of quasi-Wikipedic notes covering almost every person mentioned in the text, and providing such information as ‘Brittany is a region in northwestern France with a distinct Celtic heritage’, or ‘The Champs-Elysées (Elysian fields) is a famous boulevard in Paris’. If the target is, rather, a culturally tabula rasa (freshman student?) readership, then the introductory essays for the Beauvoir texts are surely pitched too high, for many of them are scholarly, sophisticated, and thought-provoking. To account for these discrepancies would require an article of its own. Even then it would be hard to explain an editorial position that allows Proust to be presented as a ‘French modernist author best known for his monumental work, À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time) characterised by an exploration of memories through free association reflecting Proust’s interest in Freud’s analytic method’.

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Published in March 2012 no. 339
Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, where he held the A.R. Chisholm Chair of French. He taught previously at the University of California (Berkeley) and Monash University. He has written extensively about twentieth-century and contemporary French literature, cinema, and cultural history, with special focus on the French experience of World War II. His most recent book is Dancing with de Beauvoir: Jazz and the French, published by Melbourne University Press in 2004. His essay ‘Kneecapper: a Trip to Happiness’ (published in the Autumn 2011 Meanjin Quarterly) was shortlisted for the 2010 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. He was awarded second prize in the 2012 Calibre Prize for ‘Now They’ve Gone’.

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