Simone de Beauvoir

2 January.

Yesterday we had dinner with Colette. The poor child had taken a very great deal of trouble, and nothing went right. I looked at her through Maurice’s eyes. Her apartment certainly lacks charm. She scarcely possesses any ideas of her own, even for her clothes or her furniture. Jean-Pierre is very kind; he adores her—a heart of gold. But it is impossible to know what to talk to him about. They never got out; they have few friends. A very dismal, very narrow existence. Once again, and with terror, I asked myself, Is it my fault that the brilliant fifteen-year-old schoolgirl has grown into this lifeless young woman? It is a metamorphosis that happens often enough, and I have seen plenty like it: but perhaps each time it was the parents’ fault. Maurice was very cheerful, very friendly all through the evening, and when we left he said nothing about them. I imagine that did not stop him from thinking, however.

I thought it strange that Maurice should spend all yesterday at home and the evening at Colette’s with me. A suspicion came into my mind, and I have just telephoned Noëllie’s apartment: if she had answered I should have hung up. I got her secretary. “Maîtresse Guérard will not be back in Paris until tomorrow.”

What an utter simpleton I must be! Noëllie was away, and there I was, acting as the stopgap. I choke with rage. I feel like flinging Maurice out—finishing with home for good and all.

I went for him furiously. He replied that Noëllie had gone because he had decided to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with me.

“Oh no! I remember now: she always spends the holidays with her daughter, at her husband’s place.”

“She had only meant to stay four days.” He gazed at me with that sincere look that comes so easy to him.”

“In any case you worked this out together!”

“Obviously I spoke to her about it.” He shrugged. “A woman is never happy unless what she is given has been violently wrenched from another. It is not the thing in itself that counts: it is the victory won.”

They had settled it together. And it is true that that spoils all the pleasure these days have brought me. If she had reacted strongly he would certainly have yielded. So I am dependent on her, upon her whims, her magnanimity or her mean-mindedness-upon her interests, in fact.

They leave tomorrow evening for Courchevel. I wonder whether my decision was not utterly mistaken. He is only taking a fortnight’s holiday instead of three weeks (which is a sacrifice, he pointed out to me, seeing how passionately he loves skiing). So he is spending five days longer than he had planned with Noëllie. And I lose ten days alone with him. 

The Woman Destroyed

She will have ample time to get around him entirely. When he comes back he will tell me that everything is over between us. I have put the finishing touches to my own destruction! I tell myself this with a kind of heavy inertness. I feel that in any case I am done for. He is kind and tactful with me; perhaps he is afraid that I will kill myself—which is out of the question: I do not want to die. But his attachment to Noëllie does not lessen.

15 January.

I ought to open some canned food. Or run myself a bath. But in that case I should go on pursuing my thoughts around and around. If I write it fills up my time; it lets me escape. How many hours without eating? How many days without washing? I sent the daily woman away; I shut myself up; people have rung at the door twice, telephoned several times, but I never answer except at eight o’clock in the evening, when it is Maurice. He rings me up punctually every day, speaking anxiously.

“What have you done today?”

I reply that I have seen Isabelle, Diana or Colette; that I have been to a concert—to the cinema.

“And this evening, what are you doing?”

I say I am going to see Diana or Isabelle, that I shall go to the theater. He presses me. “You’re all right? You sleep well?”

I reassure him, and I ask what the snow is like. Not terribly good; and the weather is nothing much either. There is gloom in his voice, as though he were carrying out some tolerably dreary task there at Courchevel. And I know that as soon as he hung up he goes laughing into the bar where Noëllie is waiting for him and they drink martinis, talking twenty to the dozen about what has happened during the day.

That’s what I chose, isn’t it?

I chose going to pieces: I no longer know when it is day and when it is night: when things are too bad, when it becomes unbearable, I gulp down spirits, tranquilizers or sleeping pills. When things are a little better I take stimulants and plunge into a detective story—I have laid in a stock. When the silence stifles me I turn on the radio and from a remote planet there come voices that I can hardly understand: that world has a time, set hours, laws, speech, anxieties that are essentially foreign to me. How far one can let oneself go, when one is entirely alone and shut in! The bedroom stinks of stale tobacco and spirits; there is ash everywhere; I am filthy; the sheets are filthy; the sky is filthy behind the filthy windows: this filth is a shell that protects me; I shall never leave it again. It would be easy to slide just a little further into the void, as far as the point of no return. I have all that is needed in my drawer. But I won’t, I won’t! I’m forty-four; it’s too early to die—it’s unfair! I can’t live any longer. I don’t want to die.

The Woman Destroyed is published by Pantheon Modern Writers, and is available for purchase here.

Background illustration by Marcela Gutiérrez