By Simone de Beauvoir, Anne Deing Cordero, Margaret A. Simons, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS Copyright © 2009 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved.
September 1 – October 4, 1939
I had breakfast at ten o'clock at Rey's. For the first time in many days I was in a really good mood as I felt my entire life around me all settled and happy. The newspapers printed Hitler's demands without commentary or emphasis on the disquieting nature of the news. There was no talk of hope either. I didn't know what to think. I went toward the Dôme with nothing to do, in a quandary. There were few customers. I had barely ordered my coffee when a waiter announced: "They've declared war on Poland." One customer was reading Paris-Midi. Others rushed over to him and also to the newspaper stands, where Paris-Midi had not yet come in. I got up and ran back to the hotel to wait for Sartre. People hadn't heard the news yet; they walked around just as cheerful as a moment ago before the news. No one at the hotel, I went upstairs, read Marianne Magazine to while away the time. There were moments when it struck me: That's it, we are at war! I went out again, a few people were carrying Paris-Midi; others stopped them, asking to read the headlines. I returned to the hotel with the single idea of waiting and seeing Sartre again, immediately. He arrived at noon. We went to get his musette bags and shoes in the cellar. I noticed our skis in a corner; it broke my heart. José was looking very drawn. Sartre asked me to meet him at half past two and I went by taxi to meet Sorokine. We went to the Murat, where we ate pastries. The place was deserted and somber. Mobilization had not yet been ordered. Why? We would prefer to know once and for all. I made conversation with Sorokine without too much trouble; my mind was almost blank, from time to time I fell into a daze. We went out to check on the news. There wasn't any. I left Sorokine and went to the Viaduc Café, below the Passy metro station. Passy was completely deserted. All the homes were closed up and not a single soul in the street, but an unending line of cars passing on the quay, crammed with suitcases and sometimes with kids. I even saw some sidecars. Sartre arrived with his musette bag—mobilization had been ordered. The newspapers announced it would begin tomorrow. That left us a little time. We went to our hotel. But Sartre was afraid he would be late reporting to his assembly point. So we left without his bag and went by taxi to the place Hébert; it's toward the Porte de la Chapelle, a little square rather difficult to find. It was empty. In its center was a post with a notice "Assembly Point No. 4" and standing below the sign two policemen. We walked around them a while. Someone had just pasted notices on the wall; we went over to read: an official appeal to the people of Paris, marked with blue-white-red stripes across it, and more modest, the mobilization order in force beginning at zero hour, September 2. Sartre was playing "Mr. Plume mobilized." He walked up to the policemen, showed his draft papers, and modestly requested to be sent to Nancy. "Come at midnight if you like," said the policeman, "but we can't send a train just for you." We agreed to report back at five o'clock in the morning. We left on foot and headed toward the boulevards of Montmartre. We bought a knife from an awful-looking bearded woman and I ate a little at the Dupont; I didn't feel emotional but had difficulty eating. We went by metro to the Café Rey, then continued on foot to the Café Flore. Sonia looked smashing with a red kerchief in her hair, and Agnes Capri like a breath of spring with her shepherdess hat that flaunted a big white ribbon; a rather hard-faced woman had tears in her eyes. Optimism was giving way somewhat. "This time it looks more serious," observed a waiter. But people were still cheerful. We were tired. My mind was still blank, but I had a headache. We walked up rue de Rennes. The church tower of St. Germain-des-Prés was bathed in beautiful moonlight and could be mistaken for that of a country church. And underlying everything, and before me, an incomprehensible horror. It is impossible to foresee anything, imagine anything, or touch anything. In any case, it's better not to try. I felt frozen and strained inside, strained in order to preserve a void—and an impression of fragility. Just one false move and it could turn suddenly into intolerable suffering. On rue de Rennes, for a moment, I felt I was dissolving into little pieces.
Nighttime—I was afraid of the night even though I was so tired; I didn't sleep right away, but didn't think anything, a kind of obsessive horror—we set the alarm for three o'clock in the morning. Moonlight was flooding the room. Suddenly, a loud scream—I went to the window, a woman cried; people gathering, sound of feet running, an electric light in the night. I fell asleep.
We got up at three o'clock in the morning—suitcases, musette bags in disarray—we quickly dressed. Sartre was obstinately chewing on one of his fingernails. We walked to the Dôme. Silence, it was a very balmy night. Both the Dôme and the Rotonde were dimly lit. The Dôme was quite noisy, many uniforms. On the terrace, two officers flanked by two whores, one of them humming a tune to herself without thinking; the officers paid no attention to them—laughter and shouts inside. We had coffee. A taxi took us to the place Hébert through the mild and empty night. The square, bathed in moonlight, was empty except for the two policemen. It was like something out of a Kafka novel. We felt that Sartre was making a totally individual move, free and gratuitous, which nevertheless implied profound inevitability [fatalité,] coming from inside, from way beyond men. In fact, the policemen treated this little man with his musette bags, who wanted to leave, in a friendly yet indifferent way. "Go to the Gare de l'Est," they told him, almost as though they were addressing a maniac. We went toward the Gare de l'Est by walking along the tall iron bridges spanning the railroad tracks. It was dawn, the sky turned red. It was amazingly beautiful. The station was almost deserted; one train was scheduled to leave at 6:24, but it seemed that Sartre would be the only one on it. In the end he took the 7:50 train. We spent a while on a terrace on this early mild and almost cheerful morning—if only I could keep from thinking of Bost, it would be tolerable, but I couldn't. Sartre repeated that he, Sartre, was not in danger, that it would be just a separation. We talked some more at the station, separated by a chain; then he was gone, first his back, then his neck disappearing. I left quickly and walked. It seemed to me that as long as I was walking I would be all right, but that I should never stop. Such a beautiful autumn morning, almost like the happy beginning of a new school year, the boulevard Réaumur, Les Halles, the smell of carrots and cabbages—I stopped at the Dupont St. Michel and started to write. When one is writing, one doesn't think either. The Luxembourg Gardens, Montparnasse; I stopped at the hotel again. A letter from Kos., while providing a welcome distraction, irritated me. I thought long about how to answer it. I got obstinate about this little incident; it preoccupied me. I started to write, then noticed Gérassi; I was happy to be able to talk to someone. I was half-asleep. We had lunch together at the Coupole. Sorokine had left Paris. She sent only a brief letter by pneumatic dispatch. I ate, went to the Dôme and wrote letters, then took the metro to go to a movie house on boulevard Rochechouart where I saw Trafic d'armes [Arms Traffic]; not particularly good and too short. It was five o'clock when I got out, glad to have an appointment at half past seven; it sets a boundary. I feel the need to keep some directions in time and space. L'Intransigeant talked about vague diplomatic maneuvers: Poland is resisting, the Reich is intimidated. For a second I felt hope, without joy, harder to bear than stupor. When I got out of the movie, the air over Paris felt heavy. On the streets people talked little. I stopped by to see Toulouse—in a café, on one of the boulevards, I wrote to her, then made this diary entry. Tomorrow I need to wake up and think things out, but for today I am saved by my deep stupor—sleep.
On boulevard Montparnasse, the bookstore Tschann had put a small handwritten sign in the window: "French Family—one son served in 1914, etc.—will be mobilized on the ninth day."
Gérassi thought it was useless to fight as a soldier; he would agree to five months' instruction if they would make him a commandant. I made him angry by telling him that he certainly wouldn't be a commandant.
I walked back to Montparnasse. On the avenue de l'Opéra people were lined up waiting for gas masks. I went up to Gérassi's and dozed off, completely exhausted. Like a maniac I thought of my disagreement with Kos. because that was the only point that I could hold on to and act on in the present. When Gérassi got home, he said with much pathos, "Let's see if you are a woman with heart ... Ehrenbourg is finished"; Ehrenbourg no longer eats, sleeps, and all because of the Soviet treachery; he may even commit suicide—I wasn't really concerned by it. We went to dinner at the Breton crêperie on rue Montparnasse. We chose a little table at the window; it was pitch dark outside. Large posters with SHELTER written on them were posted on the wall across the street, whores walking the streets, and one or two blue-tinted lights could be seen—the air was sultry. The crêperie was short of supplies. It had run out of bread, flour, etc. I ate little. Tonight the cafés closed at eleven o'clock; no more nightclubs. We went for a quick walk. The idea of staying in my room was intolerable. I'll sleep at Gérassi's. I checked my mail. There was a letter from little Bost, who was bored to death—I think he is going to get killed, and it's so absurd and unjust, I broke down. I went back to the Gérassis'. We put a sheet on the couch downstairs. It took me a long time to fall asleep, but I finally did.
Sunday, September 3
I woke up at half past eight; it was raining. This time I was wide awake, I could not count on the dazed sleep that yesterday sustained me all day long; my first thought was: "It's true then"; immediately I felt the need for activity, I could not bear being idle even for a minute. Getting ready took a long time. I think that I'm not exactly sad or unhappy, I don't feel that the sorrow is within me; it's the outside world that's horrible. We turned on the radio. No response yet to the last communications from France and England; they are still fighting in Poland, there is no hope left. I went up to my place—no mail yet. Mail delivery is very irregular. I had my coffee at Rey's. It's unthinkable: after today there will be another day just like it and another and another, and even worse ones, because there will be fighting. Everything is frozen in me: remembrances, future, and even perception. Every time the body stops moving, looking or thinking, tears well up. What stops me from crying is the thought that afterward, I would have exactly as many tears to shed, while at other times one would like to deplete one's tears so that afterward one feels that something good has been done and a decision reached. I thought of Sartre and Bost, but in words and fixed images without expression. I didn't reread Bost's letter—I couldn't make up my mind whether to do some tidying up, or to go to the hairdresser where I would have to remain immobile for two hours. I thought I would be able to work, but not in my room, in a café. In any case, the problem is not the same as yesterday. Yesterday was just a matter of getting through the day, no matter how. Today and in the future it's a matter of trying to live appropriately. I am anxious to pick up my novel at Védrine's and I'll try to do so.
I read in Gide's Journal—time passed slowly. Eleven o'clock: last attempt made in Berlin, the response will be known today. No hope—impossible to concretely realize any hope. I couldn't even imagine being happy if I were told "There won't be any war," and perhaps I wouldn't be.
At noon I stopped by my room; a telegram from Védrine and a telephone call from Gégé. I called her back right away. I was extremely happy to hear her voice; it doesn't matter whom you see, what counts is the impression of having a well-organized society of people around you with whom you can meet, talk, and tell your troubles to. I walked over to Gégé's place. Distances have become so much shorter; half a mile walking means ten minutes being busy. Paris seems gathered in on itself and individualized. The city police have superb new helmets and carry their gas masks in little orange-brown pouches slung across their shoulders—some civilians also carry them. Many metro stations are chained off and huge placards indicate the nearest station that's open. The cars with their blue-tinted headlights seem to be decked out in enormous precious stones.
I went to see Gégé. She looked so cute in her pretty white blouse; Pardo was there and another fellow who had striking blue eyes; we chatted a while, about Poupette, about vacation—relaxation. We went to the Dôme, where Gérassi was eating chicken with rice. All four of us had lunch together. Pardo was betting against Gégé and me that there would be no war; my neighbor, an Englishman, said the same thing. In the meantime, the rumor was spreading that England had already declared war. Our discussion took place in a state of vague hopefulness or at least uncertainty. Gégé is leaving Paris to go to the Limousin region on Tuesday. She has only 2,000 francs to support her family. She told of her vacation in Porquerolles, her visit to La Grillère, and the difficult return from Limoges to Paris. It had been an unending series of trains and cars loaded down with mattresses. Near Paris there had been few cars and only men traveling alone who had been called up. The blue-eyed fellow arrived and Ella Pardo; he vaguely tried to defend the USSR. The Dôme put up heavy blue drapes for the blackout. Suddenly, at half past three, Paris-Soir announced, "England has declared war at eleven o'clock. France will follow suit at five o'clock in the afternoon." A tremendous shock despite everything—again, like a flash, the idea "Bost is going to get killed." I returned to my place in tears and like a maniac busied myself tidying up my room; Sartre's pipe, his clothes. I know for sure that I would not live if he were to die, which almost gives me a sense of peace, while in Bost's case the idea is unbearable and mixed with a sort of remorse to survive him.
I calmed down and went out. The streets had a serious air about them. On the place Montparnasse, a scuffle. A woman, I think, had called some fellow a foreigner, and he yelled at her. The people protested; the municipal guard intervened and grabbed the fellow by the hair—protests from the crowd—the guards got confused and told the people to move along. In general, the crowd seemed hostile to this hostility against "the foreigner." I went to the Café Flore and wrote to Bost.
Gégé arrived at six o'clock in the evening. She was upset and had tears in her eyes. Ella Pardo also joined us. She talked to me about her separation from her friend whom she had left suddenly in the middle of the street, unable to go to the station with him. Pardo joked and laughed; some people at the Café Flore were still saying that they didn't believe in the war; but they said it with somber faces. I made Gégé talk about the people at the Flore; impression of being connected to everyone. Amidst the moving and milling about I felt no personal life, only the community, which lives in itself as in primitive societies. We went to the restaurant St. Pères, where we saw Sonia and a great many fellows from the Flore. We sat in a back room where I experienced a terrible moment while ordering pâté and Beaujolais; at that instant, my individual life returned; I thought I was going to scream. There we met a fellow from Hachette, Philippe Aberi (?), a Greek, very sure of himself. They were talking rubbish about politics. Pardo tried to support the USSR, saying that it was a Machiavellian plan intended to incite a revolution and bring about the victory of the party. We left. Aberi told about his work at the press service Hachette with the mobilized fellows, requisitioned trucks, and women who cry. All the bookstores in the different metro stations have been closed down. He got maudlin while looking at a couple: "These simple people, it must be so difficult for them to leave their women"; the imbecile! We went up a dark rue de Rennes with Gégé and sat down at the Dôme; the night was pitch dark. A policeman was arguing with the manager, who was adding still more thick blue drapes so that no light at all could penetrate to the outside. Beautiful sky over Paris and in the darkness the marvel of colored lights and the purple and blue headlights of the cars. Pardo came back, along with Pozner, a young and likable soldier. Bustle, fever, and disorientation at feeling so strongly linked to all these strangers. And constant horror of gasoline set aflame, poisonous gas, mustard gas, and Bost in all of this. We noticed Pierre Bost, who knew nothing we didn't know already. In the morning we had noticed Téssaide at the Dôme, and the Hungarian. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Wartime Diary by Simone de Beauvoir, Anne Deing Cordero, Margaret A. Simons, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir. Copyright © 2009 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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