In 1947, Simone de Beauvoir met Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Nelson Algren in Chicago, and it was love at first sight. A passionate affair ensued, spanning twenty years and four continents in an era when a transatlantic flight took twenty-four hours and overseas telephone calls were a luxury. A Transatlantic Love Affair collects more than three hundred love letters written in English by de Beauvoir to Algren.
Unique among the prolific correspondence de Beauvoir conducted throughout her life, these letters involved someone not at all of her world. De Beauvoir was forced to explain to Algren everything that usually went without saying: her background, her life in Paris, and the political situation in Paris. The result is a cross between a personal memoir and an insider’s intellectual history of Left Bank life in postwar Paris, populated with luminaries including Albert Camus, Truman Capote, Colette, Alberto Giacometti, Margaret Mead, and Richard Wright.
Written as she was working on The Mandarins , America Day by Day , and The Second Sex , the letters provide a new backdrop for those now classic works. Recently on the bestseller list in France, these frank, tender, and often humorous letters reveal an unusual portrait of the “Second Simone.”
|Publisher:||New Press, The|
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About the Author
Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) is best known for her existentialist and feminist writing, including The Second Sex , The Mandarins (winner of the Prix Goncourt), The Coming of Age , and America Day by Day. Editor of the monthly Paris review Les Temps Modernes with her lifelong companion, writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, she met Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Nelson Algren (1909-1981), author of Never Come Morning , The Man With the Golden Arm (winner of the National Book Award), The Neon Wilderness , and A Walk on the Wild Side , in Chicago in 1947.
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SYLVIE LE BON DE BEAUVOIR
Simone de Beauvoir's letters to Nelson Algren, written in English, were acquired by Ohio State University, at a public sale; she kept those Algren wrote to her. This chronicle of a "transatlantic love affair" is unique among the prolific correspondence that Simone de Beauvoir conducted throughout her life, for it involved, for once, someone from a wholly different orbit. Her other regular correspondents were always like minds, close even before becoming intimate, all springing from a "shared world." Their writings reveal differences, but within a chosen kinship. Her letters to Algren, however, reflect not an encounter with someone similar--as was the case with those to Jean-Paul Sartre, for example--but a meeting with someone totally "other." The explanation for this transcends the differences of nationality and the trite categorization of the two protagonists as "foreigners," as stereotypes of "the American male" and "the French woman"; rather, this difference in their nationalities serves as a simple and perceptible symbol of a more fundamental "alienness" that both separated and fascinated them.
The unanticipated arrival of this boor, this alien being, into her universe in 1947 forced Simone de Beauvoir to re-examine all that usually "went without saying": the obvious, the assumptions, the things taken for granted, the familiar realities of the world she shared with her old friends. Would she have felt the need to introduce these realities to Cocteau, Gide, Colette, as if they were Martians? Would she have introduced herself, filling out herbackground, her past, her life in Paris? No, this was completely part of her existence as a woman and a writer. There was no need to recount to them the 'Nazis' arrival at La Poueze, Giacometti, the frenzied rehearsals before one of Sartre's opening nights, the uncontained joy when Paris was liberated, her literary likes and dislikes, Camus, Koestler, Dullin, her love of hiking, her horror of the emptiness of family, the "existentialist" clubs, Pierre Brasseur, the political meetings .... But Midwesterner Nelson Algren may as well have come from another planet; he needed to be taught everything, to have everything explained, to be initiated. She could no longer fall back on unspoken understandings, shared assumptions, anything tacit or implicit. They were trying to bridge lightyears of distance. Of course, there were things that did bring them together, not least the fact that they were both writers. The deep bond that this created between them was as powerful and vital as the work they both lived for. But it also highlighted their dissimilarities; looking at their consciences, their experiences, their respective hopes as writers, what did they concretely have in common? The barriers seemed insurmountable, far wider than a mere difference in culture.
When things no longer go without saying, when the reassuring familiarity of the world has vanished, all that remains is the nakedness of pure presence. We are left with two individuals, a man and a woman who love, but do not know, one another. They imbibe the potion, then look at one another, only to ask: who is this standing before me? An entrancing, exhilarating, unsettling experience. What so enthralled Simone de Beauvoir when she began each letter to Algren must have been the stimulating distance he created between her and her self, the need to begin anew on virgin territory. A fresh start, totally exposed and without a safety net, as hazardous as a transatlantic flight between Paris and New York, back then. Their love lived and died by the airplane. Their affair was conducted, from beginning to end, to the drone of the engines of the "Comets" that flew the Atlantic, an exciting, perilous adventure in those far-off days. The fear of fatal crash, the anguished pangs of love--impossible to untangle one from the other.
It was Algren who brought this shared journey to an end. It was he who decided to re-establish the insurmountable distance between himself and Simone de Beauvoir, first in 1950, then, forever, in 1964. Why? Readers can only interpret, guess, speculate. The explanations and rationalizations lie somewhere beyond reason in the essential incompatibility of their substance, being fundamental choices, subjective make-up--little matter how it is expressed. Simone de Beauvoir with her "talent for happiness," Algren victim of a neurotic fear of failure. In the end, his loathsome twin, "the man in the starched detachable collar like Hoover's," the inflexible and deathly automaton riddled with resentment overpowered the "nice man," the "nice local youth," lively, gay, and warm. A terrible, pitiful, and tragic end.
The U.S. edition of Force of Circumstance was published in 1965. In it, Simone de Beauvoir briefly touched on her relationship with Algren, its meaning, and the painful dilemmas posed by its very nature. "I hope that you will not be unpleased by what I tell about you because it was written with all my heart," she wrote him. He responded angrily, with repeated bitter, hateful public comments. Followed by silence, unbroken until he died in 1951 under circumstances fraught with symbolism so heavy that even a novelist would have hesitated: the lonely death at home of a reclusive writer whom no one could be bothered to bury. "Algren's Body Unclaimed!" screamed the headline in one newspaper. Given his furious rejection of her, de Beauvoir was surprised to learn that Algren had kept all her letters.
She later agreed to their being published, provided that she were given the final say regarding form and translation. Until such time, she forbade any use of her letters or quotation from them. It is this project, which she did not have the time to pursue, that I took up and completed. I was motivated not only by the intrinsic interest of the letters themselves, but the difficulty of ensuring, from so far away, that her express wishes be respected: the unscrupulous plundering of her manuscripts, poorly protected in open archives, that began during her lifetime merely intensified after 1986. Self-proclaimed "authorized" biographers, journalists, researchers, and academics, relentlessly ferreting out any unpublished material in both the United States and France, have indulged in literary piracy and unauthorized use, perpetuating an endless stream of inaccuracy and distortion. What Simone de Beauvoir so feared came to pass: she was made to say just about anything. Problems with deciphering her difficult handwriting were worsened by misunderstandings, both deliberate and inevitable. The results of such incompetence, inexperience, or malice are amazing. When "beloved" is coldly transcribed as "blond," who only knows what else has been done to less innocent words and phrases? There was a crying need to establish a definitive authentic text once and for all, to offer an exact reading. The same could not be done for Algren's replies, which Simone de Beauvoir kept all her life and are now in my sole possession. Reading them proved invaluable to me; his letters provided a very necessary counterpoint, for hers would otherwise have suffered some diffuse distortion, no matter how benevolent the approach taken. Though I had originally hoped for the publication of the cross-correspondence, this project did not prove possible. When necessary, I have added whatever explanations -- Algren's responses, descriptions of daily occurrences or important milestones--are needed to ensure continuity and intelligibility.
translated from the French by Kate LeBlanc
JANUARY 9, 1908: Simone de Beauvoir born
MARCH 28, 1909: Nelson Algren born
JANUARY: de Beauvoir arrives in the United States
FEBRUARY: Algren and de Beauvoir meet for the first time in Chicago
APRIL: de Beauvoir spends three days in Chicago
MAY 1: Algren comes to New York with de Beauvoir
MAY 10: Algren gives de Beauvoir a silver ring
MAY 17: de Beauvoir leaves America
SEPTEMBER 11: de Beauvoir arrives in Chicago
SEPTEMBER 14: de Beauvoir returns to Paris
MAY 8: de Beauvoir arrives in Chicago
MAY 14: de Beauvoir and Algren leave for a trip to Mexico
JULY 3: de Beauvoir returns to Paris
LATE OCTOBER: de Beauvoir moves to 11 rue de la Bucherie
America Day by Day published
MAY 7: Algren arrives in Paris
MID-SEPTEMBER: Algren returns to Chicago
The Man with the Golden Arm published and
wins the National Book Award
The Second Sex published
1950 JULY 8: de Beauvoir leaves for America
SEPTEMBER 30: de Beauvoir returns to France
OCTOBER 15: de Beauvoir flies to Chicago
OCTOBER 29: de Beauvoir returns to France
de Beauvoir begins affair with Claude Lanzmann
FEBRUARY 23: The Second Sex published in America
Algren remarries his ex-wife Amanda
LATE OCTOBER: The Mandarins published in France
and wins the Prix Goncourt
MID-AUGUST: de Beauvoir moves to 11a rue Schoelcher
Algren divorces Amanda
The Mandarins published in America
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter published
de Beauvoir's relationship with Lanzmann ends
The Prime of Life published
MARCH: Algren visits Paris
AUGUST: de Beauvoir leaves for Cuba
SEPTEMBER: Algren returns to America
Force of Circumstance published
Contact between de Beauvoir and Algren ends
MAY 9: Algren dies
APRIL 14: de Beauvoir dies;
she is buried wearing Algren's ring
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR IN THE UNITED STATES
* Invited to speak at a number of American universities, Simone de Beauvoir traveled across the United States from January through May 1947. In February, she arrived in Chicago, where she looked up the writer Nelson Algren at the suggestion of a friend. Algren showed de Beauvoir the underside of the city, taking her to Polish bars until she left by train for Los Angeles. De Beauvoir described the meeting in Force of Circumstance:
"When you get to Chicago, go and see Algren for me," a young intellectual called Nelly Benson had told me when I was having dinner with her in New York. "He's an amazing man, and a great friend of mine." I have given a faithful account of my first meeting with him in America Day by Day, our evening in lower depths of the city and the following afternoon spent in the bars of the Polish district; but I did not mention the complicity that immediately sprang up between us, nor how disappointed we were not to be able to have dinner together: I was obliged to accept an invitation from two French officials. I called him before I left for the railroad station; they had to take the telephone away from me by force. On the train to Los Angeles I read one of his books and thought about him; he lived in a hovel, without a bathroom or a refrigerator, alongside an alley full of steaming trash cans and flapping newspapers; this poverty seemed refreshing, after the heavy odour of the dollars in the big hotels and the elegant restaurants, which I found hard to take. "I'll go back to Chicago," I said to myself; Algren had asked me to, and I wanted to; but if we found this parting painful already, wouldn't the next one hurt us even more? I asked that question in the letter I sent him. "Too bad for us if another separation is going to be difficult," he answered.
Sunday evening, 23 Fevrier 1947
(on the train to California)
Dear Nelson Algren,
I'll try to write in English. So, excuse my grammar, and if I do not use the words in the right meaning, try to understand. My writing is so bad, too, and then I write in the train.
When leaving you, I went to the hotel, and I had the article finish, not too well I think, but it does not matter. Then I had a dinner with these French men and I hated them because they were hateful, and because they did not let me have a dinner with you. After phoning to you, they put me in the train, and lying on my berth I began reading your book and I read it until I slept. Today, I sat near the window looking at the landscape and reading it. It was a very quiet day, and before going to sleep I have to tell you I really liked the book very much, and I have thought I liked you very much too. I think you felt it, though we spoke so little. I am not going to say thank you any more, because it does not mean much; but you have to know I was happy, being with you. I did not like to say good bye, perhaps not to see you again in my whole life. I should be pleased to come back to Chicago in April, and then I should speak about myself, and you would speak about yourself. But I don't know if I'll have enough time. And then, I ask to myself: if it was unpleasant for us to say good bye, yesterday, will not it be worse saying good bye when we shall have spent five or six days together and surely be quite good friends? I don't know.
Anyway, good bye or farewell. I'll sure not forget these two days in Chicago, I mean I'll not forget you.
S. de Beauvoir
* February 23, 1947--By return mail, Algren expressed regret that de Beauvoir had checked Out of her hotel without picking up the books he had left for her at the front desk. It was clear that he was immediately taken with her. He was amused at the contrast between their instant connection and his complete ignorance about who Simone de Beauvoir was and what her thinking and writing meant to the world; he knew nothing about her, in fact, beyond what he learned in a New Yorker article about existentialism.
New York, 15 March 1947
Coming back from a trip in California I just find your letter and the books. You know, I looked for these books in all the desks of the Palmer House, and I was very sad, not finding them, not only because I wished to read them, but because it was a gift from you and that made them very precious to me. So now I am very glad for the books and very pleased with the letter too.
I do not know yet if it will be possible to come to Chicago in April. I have many lectures to give all around New York. But anyways, I am pretty sure now to come back to America next year. My friends here in Los Angeles are selling the subject of my last novel to a producer, I am very happy with it. I could come back for a long time and I'll manage to stay a while in Chicago. Are you really intending to come to Paris? I should like to show it to you. I should like first of all to get your own book, I mean, your novel. Try to find it for me, please.
I had a very beautiful time in California. I saw San Francisco and wonderful landscapes and some nice people, and I met here my best girl-friend whom I did not see since a whole year, when she left Paris to marry an American man. I could read a little, I read Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Come Home Again, which I rather like. But I did not forget the Chicago Bowery, the little Polish bars, the cold wind; I'll never forget them.
Good bye. I am happy to have met you and I am sure we'll met again, this year or next year.
S. de Beauvoir
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, The College, 24 Avril 1947
I have come back to New York and given lectures in the surrounding colleges and universities, and now I have two weeks more to spend in New York. I am leaving America by airplane on the 10th of May; I should not like to leave without seeing you again. But it is really very difficult for me to go to Chicago; I have articles to write and discussions with people, and two lectures in New York. Would not it be possible for you to come between the 27th April and the 10th May? We could see much of each other and speak together quietly. If it would be possible, I could call you at any time you would suggest and discuss the exact day together. If it is impossible, I'll try to come for two days. Answer to me. And please try to get your novel for me. I saw one copy yesterday with a very bad picture which did not look like you at all. I was tempted to steal the book but I could not.
Good bye. I shall be very happy seeing you again.
S. de Beauvoir
* April 54, 1947--Back in New York, de Beauvoir called Algren. After some hesitation, and because the situation with Sartre necessitated prolonging her stay in the United States, she decided to see Algren again in Chicago.
Our first day together was very like the one Anne and Lewis spent together in The Mandarins; embarrassment, impatience, misunderstanding, fatigue, and finally the intoxication of understanding. I was staying in Chicago only three days; I had a great many things to settle in New York; I persuaded Algren to go there with me--it was the first time he'd been in an aeroplane. I went around arranging things, shopping, saying goodbye; at about five in the afternoon I came back to our room and we staying with each other until morning. People would often talk about him to me; they said he was unstable, moody, even neurotic; I liked being the only one who understood him. If he was sometimes blunt and rude, as people claimed, it was certainly only as a defense. For he possessed that rarest of all gifts, which I should call goodness if the word had not been abused; let me say that he really cared about people. (Force of Circumstance)
De Beauvoir returned to Paris on May 17.
K.L.M. Royal Dutch Airlines, Newfoundland
Saturday afternoon, 17 Mai 1947
My own nice, wonderful, and beloved local youth, you made me cry once more, but these were sweet tears as everything which comes from you. I just sat in the airplane and began to read the book, and then I whished to see your handwriting, and I came to the first page, regretting not to have asked you to write anything on it, and there it was, the tender, loving and lovely lines you had written for me. So I put my forehead against the window and I cried, with the beautiful blue sea below me, and crying was sweet because it was love, your love and my love, our love. I love you. The taxi driver asked me: "Is he your husband?" "No," I said. "Ah! A friend?" And he added with a very sympathetic voice: "He looked so sad!" I could not help to say: "We are very sad to part. Paris is so far." And then he began to speak very nicely about Paris. I am glad you did not come with me. At Madison Avenue and La Guardia, there were people I know, with French voices and French faces, the worst French voices and faces, which can really be very bad. I was a little groggy, not even able to cry then, just groggy. Then the airplane went away. I love airplanes. I think, when you are at a high pitch of emotion, it is the only way of travelling which fits with your own heart. Airplane and love, the sky and the sadness and the hope were one only thing. I thought of you, remembering carefully everything, and I read the book which I like yet better than the other one, and we had whisky and a nice lunch: creamed chicken, chocolate ice cream. I thought you should have liked so much the landscape, the clouds and the sea, the coast, the woods and villages--we saw the ground very well and you would have smiled with your warm, beautiful and childish smile.
When we arrived above Newfoundland it was already the end of the afternoon, though only 3 P.M. in New York. The island is very beautiful, all dark pines and sad lakes, with a touch of snow here and there. You would like it, too. We landed and we are to stay here for two hours. Where are you, just now? Maybe in an airplane yourself. When you'll find our little home, I'll be there, hidden under the bed and everywhere. Now I'll always be with you. In the sad streets of Chicago, under the Elevated, in the lonely room, I'll be with you, my beloved one, as a loving wife with her beloved husband. We shall never have to wake up, because it was not a dream; it is a wonderful true story which is only beginning. I feel you with me, and where I shall pass you will pass, not the look only but all of you. I love you. There is no more to say. You take me in your arms and I cling to you and I kiss you as I kissed you.
Sunday, 18 Mai 1947
My precious, beloved Chicago man,
I think of you in Paris, in Paris I miss you. The whole journey was marvellous. We had nearly no night since we went to the East. At Newfoundland the sun began to set, but five hours later it was rising in Shannon, above a sweet green Irish landscape. Everything was so beautiful and I had so much to think that I hardly slept. This morning at 10 (it was 6 by your time), I was in the heart of Paris. I hoped the beauty of Paris would help me to get over my sadness; but it did not. First, Paris is not beautiful today. It is grey and cloudy; it is Sunday, the streets are empty, and everything seems dull, dark, and dead. Maybe it is my heart which is dead to Paris. My heart is yet in New York, at the corner of Broadway where we said good bye; it is in my Chicago home, in my own warm place against your loving heart. I suppose in two or three days it will be a bit different. I must be concerned again by all the French intellectual and politic life, by my work and my friends. But today I don't even whish to get interested in all these things; I feel lazzy and tired, and I can enjoy only memories. My beloved one, I don't know why I waited so long before saying I loved you. I just wanted to be sure and not to say easy, empty words. But it seems to me now love was there since the beginning. Anyway, now it is here, it is love and my heart aches. I am happy to be so bitterly unhappy because I know you are unhappy, too, and it is sweet to have part of the same sadness. With you pleasure was love, and now pain is love too. We must know every kind of love. We'll know the joy of meeting again. I want it, I need it, and I'll get it. Wait for me. I wait for you. I love you more even than I said, more maybe than you know. I'll write very often. Write to me very often too. I am your wife forever.
I read the whole book and I like it very much. I'll have it translated, sure. Kisses and kisses and kisses. It was so sweet when you kissed me. I love you.
Wednesday, 21st of May 1947
My beloved husband,
Paris was so sad and unpleasant that I went away this afternoon. I did not go very far, perhaps twenty miles or so, but it seems very far, indeed; it is really the country, with birds singing, green meadows and woods. It is hardly a village, just some little houses scattered among the trees. I shall stay here about two weeks in a nice little blue and yellow inn. Just now it is about seven o'clock, the sun is slowly setting, and I am sitting in a little garden in front of the house, with a very pleasant view all around me and a warm breeze blowing. I feel very happy here, and very close to you. I came here because I needed rest, sleep, and peace; I wish to begin to work again, to read and to have time for leisure, for thinking and remembering. I met some friends during these days, but nearly everybody seemed cold or at least very cool. I am afraid you have spoilt me, being so warm and generous and loving. Maybe I was cool and cold myself; it all seemed a rather tedious dream and I did not care much for anything nor anybody. Yesterday evening, nevertheless, my heart melted a little as I was sitting at a terrace on the boulevard Saint-Germain; the leafy trees, the evening light were very beautiful and I thought I should be so happy to show you the streets of Paris; I felt Paris was waiting for you and I began loving it again with and for you.
I have brought your book to Gallimard; they will read it during these two weeks and tell me if they intend to have it published. If not, I'll look for another publisher. Anyway we are going to print a piece of it in the Temps modernes? I begin to wait with much impatience for a letter from you; from Paris they'll send it here. Maybe I'll get it within two or three days. You must write to me very often, my beloved friend and lover my dearest husband; for we must not feel apart from each other. On the contrary, when we'll meet again in nine or ten months, we must be closer, more intimate yet than when we have parted. We must try to live these months together, in spite of Atlantic Ocean and the wide plains between us. I deeply regret your not being able to read French books. Why do not you try to learn? You could know me and my life much better. I'll send you my books if you hope you could do something with them.
Just now I am reading Kafka's Diary. I have read all his other books and I like them very much. Do you like them? I know you do not like the country very much. Nevertheless, I should like to have you here, in the little garden in front of the blue and yellow inn. I see you sitting near me, smiling to me. How much I love this smile! Did you think, two weeks ago, you should so nicely smile in a French little garden, in a French loving heart? Here you are, my beloved one, smiling to me and loving me while the cuckoo is singing nearby. And I smile to you and love you, in the French garden and in Chicago too; I am in our Chicago home as well as you are in France with me. We have not parted and we'll never part. I am your wife for ever.
Friday, 23 Mai 1947
It is nice to write to you from this little room. It is 5 P.M., the sun shines very softly above the village and the green hills; my window is open and the table is against the window, so I am in the landscape, being in my own room. It is a very old French scenery. At one mile from this inn is Port-Royal-des-Champs, the famous monastery where Pascal lived a long time; Racine was educated there and you can see nearby a little path where he used to walk, hearing the birds singing--he even wrote a poem about it, a very bad poem which is printed on some square stones people have put all along the path. I have spent two very quiet days since I wrote to you from the garden. I went to bed at ten, and as there was no nice man to prevent me from sleeping, I slept until twelve the next morning. So today I am fed up with sleep. But I needed it badly. At twelve I have a lunch--very good and fresh food, with French red wine--then I walk a little in the country, and I come back to my room and I read or I try to write a little. At eight I have my dinner and then I sleep. You see, it happens very seldom to me to live this way but I just needed it. I have read a novel of Carson Mac Cullers; I was pleased to read an American book, but it was not good at all. I read Kafka, too, as I told you. I thought I really should like you to read all you can find of French modern literature: The Stranger of Camus, The Flies and No Exit by Sartre have been translated. And, too, some articles by Sartre and by myself in Partisan Review and other magazines. Mary Goldstein will be very much pleased to get them for you, I am sure. You must, my dearest husband, you must try to get something of my French life as I tried to live your Chicago life with you. Will you?
I write to you with the little red bright stylo you have given to me, and I have your ring at my finger. It is the first time I ever wore a ring and everybody in Paris was very amazed, but they found the ring beautiful. I wait
eagerly for a letter. I miss you, you know. I miss your lips, your hands, your whole warm and strong body, and your face and your smiles, your voice. I miss you. But I like missing you so hard because it makes me feel strongly that you are not a dream, you are real, you are living, and I'll meet you again. A week ago we were yet together in the New York room. It seems long before meeting you again. I kiss your dear face, your sweet lips with the most loving kisses.
Here are little flowers of France I just gathered for you.
Saturday, 14 Mai 1947
Dearest N. Algren,*
I got your letters today, the little yellow letters, and I was very happy. The letters look like yourself, both sad and gay, and loving in a clumsy, awkward way, so genuine too. You say I feel what is genuine and what is not, and I am very proud of your saying so. I think I felt at once how genuine you were yourself, and it was the beginning of my liking you so much, and afterwards of my love for you. All is genuine in you, words and behaviours, love and hate, pleasure, pain; your whole life is genuine. And living with you I felt genuine myself; everything was all fight because everything was true. I am happy if you felt I was still present in the little Chicago home; I'll never leave it until we'll go together to New Orleans. I think you too have got some of my letters now, the one I wrote from Newfoundland and the wire from Paris and perhaps one or two more.
Today I tried very hardly to work. I read all I had written six months ago about women. It does not look bad. But it is very difficult to begin to write again. Just now I do not see exactly why anybody should ever write again. Just now I do not see exactly why anybody should ever write anything. The world just as it is is so big; it exists and needs no words. I remember Chicago, I see the green French landscape. What else? But I'll begin again tomorrow; I hope I'll be more successful. I must be.
Write often, very often. Your yellow letters were such a joy. I like writing to you. I hope you can read what I write? I should write more nicely in French, but I think my English is good enough to make you feel how I love you, and it is the most important thing. I love you, my crazy, nice man.
Mon bien-aimé, I send this letter only today because Sunday and yesterday it was "Pentecôte" (how do you say it in English?) and the postman did not come. I begin to come to life again, I begin to be able to work, for instance. I feel a little as if I had been sick this whole week; I was so dreamy, everything seemed unreal around me. I don't know how many times I told me again and again our Chicago-New York story, from your first kiss in the airport to your last smile at the comer of the street. I know all of this story by heart, every smile and look and kiss and word, and I am never tired of brooding on it for hours and hours. My dearest one, if you felt how much I miss you, you would become so proud and conceited that you would not be nice any more.
I am going to Paris today to see some friends and, first of all, I'll go to the hotel, hoping to find a letter. Write to me very often, please. I'll go on writing myself. I love you so warmly, so deeply that I am a little amazed at it. I did not think it could happen to me now. Well, it happened and I am glad of it, though it is pain too. Oh! I should like so much to be near you, to feel your shoulder against my cheek and your arms tightly enclosing me --and you should look at me, I should look at you, and we should know all there is to know and be so happy.
* N. Algren is the name of a Chicago local youth who happens to be my beloved friend and lover, my one-week and forever husband.
Thursday, 19 Mai 1947
As soon as I arrived in Paris, I jumped from the train into a taxi-cab, and from the taxi-cab I rushed upstairs to see if there was a letter from you--there was not and I was very sad, but I knew you were not guilty for it. The only thing is, Chicago is too far away, the airplanes fly too slowly. Nevertheless, my beloved one, it is sad not to know what happened to you since the other Sunday. I remember you were to see your sister, and maybe you went to the horse races with her, but what else? I think you have lost money at the horse race. I should like so much to know things about you, little things, day after day.
Paris was beautiful. You must come to Paris as soon as you have money for the airplane. I'll have money for living in Paris together. My beloved husband, don't frown and look concerned about taking my money. I'll take yours if it happens I need your money to see you. What is yours is mine and what is mine is yours as long as we love each other. Come, come to Paris; we'll be happy there as we were in New York. I should love to show Paris to you. These are not empty words, I don't say empty words, you must know. I should give much, much more than money to have you in Paris with me. Don't forget I love you, my beloved Chicago local youth.
So, Paris was beautiful. It was blue and warm, with leafy green trees, nice smells, fine women dressed in gay summer dresses, and lovers kissing each other in the streets, and people looking happy. I went with friends to the Place du Tertre in Montmartre. Do you know this place? It is wonderful. You may have your dinner in the open air, while people play nice bad music, you eat very good food with very good wine, feeling the sky above your head and the big city at your feet. We'll go there together. Then we went down the hill, walking and talking and we stopped in a very nice bar. There was a piano and scotch-and-sodas. It was open on the street, and full of people talking brightly to one another as they never do in America. A crazy woman came in, a very crazy one. She was rather old and very ugly but with much make up on her face, red and pink and blue and white, and a huge straw hat on her painted hair. She began to dance, pulling her shirt above her knees and exhibiting poor sad legs and naked thighs and she said sad, crazy obscenities. I stayed there until people told us to go away, it was time to close the bar, then we went down to Saint-Germain-des-Prés where I live, crossing Paris, walking while the dawn began to appear. It was beautiful, dawn arising above the Seine, it was dark blue, it looked like a country dawn and yet it was Paris. Then I went to bed and slept, and I thought of you, my beloved one, whishing to have parted with you this Paris night.
The next day I came back to my blue and yellow inn. I can write now and I work very much. Friends come and see me very often, We talk and talk. I should like to speak to you about them, but it is difficult in letters and writing in English, and chiefly I whish to feel I am yet all alone with you for some while. I am afraid my writing and my English are worst than ever today, because it is late, I write from my bed and being very sleepy. I should like to dream of you but I don't do what I whish with my dreams.
I love you and I kiss you passionately.
Monday, 2 Juin 1947
This time the letter was there and I ran to my room and I read it, and my heart was beating fast because I could feel with my fingers this bit of paper which you had touched with your fingers. I was very happy, and yet there is a sadness in letters: in fact our fingers did not meet. I read the letter many times, but I could not have you (not even the Tiger) suddenly appearing in the room. Thanks for the books. I have read Sanctuary and the Kouprine too. You are really a nice man, but I like your letters better than any book. Tell me things about your life, how you swam in the morning, what kind of bones you have eaten. Everything is important for me.
I am in Paris for a whole week. There are people I must see, and I must take care of Les Temps modernes. Paris is very, very hot now during the day; the nights are warm too, but very sweet and beautiful; you may have dinner outside, in gardens or on little places, and afterwards take long walks in the streets which are full of people and very gay. In the morning, the street where I live is very gay, too; there is a market there and women buy fish and meat and cherries and vegetables, making much noise, speaking and arguing and laughing. All is very expensive yet but there are things to buy nevertheless and it seems very gay when you think of the time the street was empty. I love to follow this noisy, lively street in the morning. Then I go to the Café des Deux Magots and I write. Now I write to you and afterwards I'll work for two or three hours. I begin to like it again, but not enough.
Yesterday morning I went to the first presentation of a very good French movie,4 the best I have ever seen I think. It is a very simple story, but beautifully told and full of meaning: it is about two very young boy and girl loving each other during the 1914-1918 war. The boy is seventeen years old, the girl twenty and just married to a soldier she does not love. The war is a kind of holiday for the childish lovers, but then their love is crushed by grown-up people, they are too young to struggle, they have to part and the girl dies. Everybody had a lump in the throat when they gave the lights again. I hope you'll see it once. I think they do a very good job in the French movies just now. It is much more daring and human and true than Hollywood.
Life is very interesting here, but a bit difficult, a bit sophisticated, maybe, for many reasons. It is difficult to speak to you about it, because I had so little time in Chicago to explain things to you. Next year it will be different. We'll spend a long time together, and I'll not allow you to be busy, busy, busy, always running to some zoo; I'll have you sitting near me for hours and hours as in New York and we'll talk and talk and talk. I wish so strongly to have a deep intimacy with you, I wish we shall know each other as well as we love each other. I need it. Yet love is the most important thing, and it is knowledge too. And I feel proud of you and me; we are really smart people because we did so much with the short time we had. I remember as you told me the first night in the cab: "We have no time to waste." And I had just the same words on my lips: "No time to waste." Well, we have wasted nothing. It does not seem to me we had just a week together. I feel I am tied to you by hundreds and hundreds of ties, and they will never be broken.
My dearest friend, my beloved lover, you gave much to me and you go on giving much even being far away. Thinking of you makes me peaceful and happy. I should like to tell you with kisses how dear you are to me. I love you.
14 Wednesday, 4 Juin 1947
My beloved husband,
I was so glad today when coming downstairs I found your letter--such a nice letter. Reading it, it seemed to me I heard your dear teasing voice and I saw your warm smile; you were near me and we spoke gaily together. It becomes really pleasant to write letters when you get answers quickly enough and a true conversation becomes possible. You don't seem far at all just now. I feel you love me just as well as if you were looking at me, and I feel you feel I love you. Dearest, I am happy, feeling it. You don't know yet, I did not know myself how much happiness you can give to me. The whole day was sunny, bright, wonderful because I received this sweet letter in my heart. I am even jealous at our writing such nice letters, it is not fair. I cannot say what I wish, writing in a foreign language. You can be witty and describe things and tell stories in the best way. And I can just write a broken childish English, yet I am not so stupid, you know. I am afraid you are going to feel yourself so much smarter and more clever and interesting than I am and to have some haughty contempt for my clumsiness.
Dearest, It is midnight--here in Paris it is midnight, but what time does it mean in Chicago? Dinner time, I guess. What are you doing just now? Eating a dish of bones? I am in my room; it is really a very lousy room; I should be ashamed to show it to you. The walls are pink--that is nice--as pink as a tooth-paste, but the ceiling is so dirty, the room so small, and nothing cosy or nice in it-it needs a good housekeeper-man to give it something womanly and appealing. Yet I like this lousy room where I lived during the whole war cooking noodles and potatoes, and I cannot go away, which would be the only sensible thing to do.
I do not feel sensible at all this night, I feel unhappy. Let me cry a little. It would be so fine to cry in your arms. I cry because I do not cry in your arms; this is not sensible at all, because if I were in your arms I should not cry. It is stupid to write love letters, love is not something you can put in letters, but what is to be done when there is this dreadful Atlantic Ocean between you and the man you love? I should like to send you something, but what? Even flowers fade away when you send them, you cannot send kisses, nor tears. Only words, and then I cannot write in English. What a smart man you must be to have your girl crying for you through the whole Atlantic Ocean! You may be very proud, indeed!
I am too tired and I miss you too much. You know, it is very hard to come back. It is very difficult for me to go through this coming back. There is something so sad in France, yet I love this sadness. And then America was holidays. I did not ask anything from myself; here I have something to do, I do not know exactly what, neither if I am able to do it.
I had a strange evening and I drank very much, to help, and I feel strange yet now. I told you about a very ugly woman who was in love with me. I remember: we were in the twin beds in New York, and we spoke about this woman and I could see your dear face, I was happy. I had dinner with her. Four days ago I met her. She was spying me (she told me herself), and then she came to the café where I sat and she was shaking in her bones while speaking to me, and I told her I should have a dinner with her. She gave me the manuscript of a book she is writing and it is a diary in which she tells everything about her love for me. It is a wonderful book. She is a very good writer; she feels things deeply and tells them with wonderful words. So it is very upsetting to read her diary, specially when it is about yourself. I have a kind of admiration for her, and much friendship; but I see her about once a month when I stay in Paris. I don't really care for her and she knows it. What is strange is she can talk very freely about her love for me and discuss it as if it were a disease. Nevertheless, you can guess that to spend an evening with her is not a very easy thing. She always takes me to one of the best restaurants in Paris and she orders champagne and the most expensive dishes and I speak much and much, telling stories and trying to be gay and casual. And she drinks very much, and after dinner we go to some bar and she becomes very pathetic and I feel awful and then I say good bye and she goes away, crying, I know, and hitting her head against the walls and thinking about killing herself. She does not accept to have one friend, except me. She lives alone from morning to morning and sees me six times a year. I hate leaving her in the streets, alone and hopeless and thinking of death. But what may I do? Too much kindness would be the worst of all. Anyhow, I could never kiss her and that is the question. What may I do?
This morning I went to the Temps modernes and I gathered a lot of manuscripts which I read during the day. One of them was a strange document: the life of a prostitute written by herself, My God! To think this is the way the world appeared to her for her whole and one life and she will die without knowing anything else! It is terrific! She writes in such a genuine and crude way it is nearly impossible to print the story. But that is something one could cry about rather than about one's own petty worries. Yet it is very funny too in many ways.
My beloved one, I go to sleep now. It helped me much to write to you. It helps me much to know you are living and waiting for me and we'll be happy again, loving each other. You told me once that I was more important to you than you to me. But I do not think it is true any more. I miss you and love you and I am your wife as you are my husband. I'll go to sleep in your arms, my beloved one.
Saturday, 6th June 1947
It is awfully raining this morning in Paris, and there is a strike in the railways so I don't know how I may come back to my little country home. I should like to come back and rest and work after these days in Paris. I had a kind of depression Wednesday night when I wrote to you, but now it begins to be better. First, I can work again and it is much for me. I think I was wrong to try at once to write the book about women which I began before going to America--it is dead for me just now; I cannot begin again where I left just as if nothing had happened. I'll write it later on and now I want to write about my travel, I should not like this travel to be lost; I must keep something of it, with words if nothing else is possible. I shall speak of America, but about myself, too; I should like to describe the whole experience of"myself-in-America' altogether; what means arrival and departure and passing by, and the attempt to look at things, to get something of them and so on. And at the same time I'll try to get the things themselves. Do you see what I mean? I am afraid I don't explain very well, but I am very interested by this purpose.
I had some pleasant time in Paris. Yesterday morning Sartre took me to the studio to see the projection of a feature whose script and dialogue he has written, and which Delannoy is shooting just now. I think it will be a very good movie. I told you that the French movies are getting better and better because people try really to say something in movies, to express a peculiar view of life as we do in our books. What was very interesting there was to see the feature before it has been all put in the right order and cut off where it must be; the shooting is not yet over, so you can really see the work, the different ways of shooting a scene and all the problems arising when you have to make the last choice. Then I knew many of the actors and it is always very funny to see in their movie personnality such or such young man or woman you use to meet in the cafes of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Then in the afternoon I went to a cocktail party at Gallimard's, my publisher. He has won so much money now by exploiting the poor writers that he gives cocktails each week. It was the first time I went there; there were hundreds of people in the gardens and the big rooms and I met nearly all the friends I had not seen since my departure and they were very warm and gay, asking questions about America and telling funny things about life in Paris during these months. We took an appointment to meet again in the night. So about midnight I went to a very crazy but funny place where the young French so-called intellectual people dance and drink with very pretty pseudo-intellectual gifts. It is a long cave under a little bar, a rather dark cave with reddish walls and ceiling, little tables and stools and hundreds of people dancing where there is place only for twenty of them. But it is nice because boys and gifts were dressed in a very fancy way, with many colors, and they dance in a very fancy way too; some boys have brain and some gifts very good faces. Music was nice too; they play better than most of white people in America and it means so much for them. I like chiefly the young man with the horn. He is an interesting guy, being by profession an engineer (so he wins his money), being a very good writer too and playing horn with passion, though he has a heart disease and may die by playing too much. He has written a terrific book, pretending that it was written by an American Negro and that he only translated it; he won a lot of money this way, because the book was very obscene in a sadistic way and people like it. Well, we drank a little and talked much and listened to the horn and looked at people dancing (I cannot dance myself, I never liked it). It was a nice evening, though I should not care to see these people again before a rather long time. I should not care to see them but I like to know they are living in France, in Paris, writing books and listening to jazz and looking at the same streets I look at, and seeing the same sky I see.
I think I'll live this way for a month, coming from the country to Paris once or twice a week and writing the book about America and writing to you, too. I wait for the letter number four, now. I hope I'll get it next Monday. I hoped a little I should get it this morning, but I was mistaken. Write to me and mail your letters rather twice a week than once, my beloved one. I spoke to many people about your book, and it seemed to me I was secretly pressing your hand and smiling at you. It is noon in Paris, eight o'clock in Chicago. Maybe you are swimming. Or you have put on the "peignoir" and you make yourself busy in the kitchen. Maybe you sleep. I should rather think you sleep and it is very easy to come near you and to kiss you awake. I kiss you and kiss you again.
Thursday, l2th June 1947
No letter from you. More than a week without any letter from you. I could stand much more without suspecting you do not write to me. We told each other: "I shall not lose you; you shall not lose me." And I believe in you, knowing you believe in me. I know you do not forget me. Nevertheless, it is sad. When I arrive in Paris, first of all I rush to my hotel to find a letter from you; the little box was empty yesterday, it was empty this morning and remained so the whole day.
I spent three days in the country; I went by a taxi-cab, which was a bit expensive, but very nice. I saw nice French villages, little roads and woods and valleys; I liked it. Then I worked pretty well. I am interested by this book about America; it will be a long job, because I can never write quickly; and what I intend to do is rather difficult. I do not know yet if what I have done is good or bad, but I go on, and I feel pleased during it. So for three days I worked very much. And yesterday I came back to Paris.
This evening I am giving a party! I invited about twenty friends and we'll drink to my coming back from America. (Going away from America, dearest, but they think "coming back from.") I have found a nice little cave where people will dance if they choose. We'll have many fine jazz records, and a little orchestra. I bought a lot of bottles of whisky, cognac, gin, vodka, and I dressed as smartly as I could with the Mexican dress I bought in New York and which you liked, and the little glass-necklace you liked. I look elegant, though you told me I never could be elegant. Dearest, how gladly I should let the people away, and break the bottles, and tear off the Mexican dress if you just came in my tooth-paste pink room! Dearest, it will happen. We'll see each other's face again and I'll have your lips kissing my lips, and I'll hear your beloved voice. It will happen. But not to night, so I'll go to the party. I hope I'll enjoy it. I'll tell you in my next letter.
I have three publishers interested in your book. I am sure it will take some time before getting a sure answer. But I am sure, too, we'll get it. And maybe you'll have some French money this way.
Paris was nice today. On the little places around Saint-Germain-des-Prés, there were lots of painters sitting in the open air and painting trees, or churches, painting the little places. They were not good painters (I do not know why, but they never are) but they looked very happy and you felt happy yourself looking at them. How is Wabansia Avenue, dearest? Please write to me. Speak to me, smile to me, kiss me. I love you.
Here are little photos from New York with Wright.
Friday, 13 Juin 1947
So yesterday morning, the letter was there, brightly red and blue and white as a French flag. It was a nice long letter and I was very pleased: you can read it four or five times without knowing it by heart. You really are a nice man. The party was a regular failure. But I enjoyed it because I always enjoy everything. The cave was really fine, big, and dark with a nice bar, and the records were good; we had plenty of gin, whisky, cognac and the guests were well chosen. Yet it was a failure. I guess people drank too much and they do not know how to drink. I drank much myself but I remained all right. While after two hours there were boys and gifts sleeping, crying, and chiefly vomiting in every corner. I helped them to vomit, I gave them handkerchiefs to cry, I was very busy, but it was a pity. The musicians fell dead drunk since the beginning, so we had no guitar, no piano, no horn. About ten of us remained in good health and the party went on until five in the morning; but nobody was very lively except myself. At five, Paris was very fine, it was a pleasure to walk in the dawn.
I must say, when I saw people afterwards, they all told me they enjoyed the party very much too, even the sleeping, crying, vomiting ones said so. So, maybe it was not such a failure, after all. I had forgotten my bag in the cave. The next morning, I went to the hotel to which the cave belongs and I asked for my bag. The woman of the hotel gave it to me, then she asked, "Did you not find an eye?" It was very unpleasant to hear, I was very scared. I said "no!" And she said, "One of the young men came this morning and said he had forgotten his eye on the bar near the pot of flowers; we did not find it. He has a glass eye and he took it off in the night to show it to a friend, then he forgot it." So it was nothing very terrific, after all, but just a moment, the whole world had seemed very strange to me.
I was glad to hear about the phoney blonde and the Tiger and Mademoiselle G. Glad to know you work to your novel. Make it good. I am not sure I like the rifles you propose for your book? anyway I think the second one would be better, though a bit Célinish indeed. Maybe you'll find something really good one of these days.
Since you are interested in existentialism, I'll tell you Camus, the one who wrote The Stranger, has just published a very interesting book. It is called La peste. It is in fact the story of the occupation of Paris by German soldiers, under the cover of the story of the plague in Oran. He describes the dreadful disease, the loneliness of the city where it happens and whose doors are closed by fear of contagion, the fear of some people, the courage of others. And through all that he tries to find the meaning of human life, the reasons and the way of accepting it. I do not agree with everything, but he writes the finest French language and some parts of the book are really moving and speak to the heart.
I am very proud because I received some letters of American people congratulating me for the article you read in the Sunday Supplement, and which the gendarme despised so meanly. I am proud because they seemed to think I had understood something about America. You know, I am absolutely decided to come back to America for a long time next year. I know I can contrive it, it is something really sure. So even if you cannot come to France, God and the horses not helping you, we'll have a fine time together. Maybe we'll buy a car to sell it back afterwards, or we'll go by planes and buses through the country. And we'll stay a good time in New Orleans. I feel very excited when I think of it. I should like so much to have a real travel with you. If you enjoy everything as you did in the plane and in New York, it must be a real fun. You are very funny, you know, and besides loving each other we'll be able to laugh a good deal together, which is a good thing to do. Loving each other and laughing, it would be a nice way of travelling.
Now it is Saturday evening, I am back to the country, it is raining and there is a loud wind, I like it. What about my English? Is it very weak? And do you like my writing? Well, sure my English is good enough to allow me to tell you I love you. And sure you can read it. Dearest, I kiss you with many long loving kisses.
What People are Saying About This
It was obvious that Simone de Beauvoir was crazy about Nelson Algren: She laughed at all his jokes, even though she didn't always understand. And some were pretty bad. In Chicago, Paris, and other such exotic outposts, they danced a goofy, delightful pas de deux. But I had no idea her feelings ran so deep until I read these passionate and revelatory letters. Boy, oh boy.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
don't read in one sitting. pick it up every now and then and get absorbed in as love affair.