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The Encomium of Xavierre

Simone de Beauvoire is primarily known for two things: the first is being one of the first and most important of the modern feminists the second is being the life long partner of one of the most important Existentialists-Jean Paul Sartre. She was also, however, an novelist and an existentialist herself. In fact, her writings are partly inspired by the cafe discussions between herself, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. It is probably facetious to say that either one of them were more important to Existentialism than the others as it would be nigh impossible to sort out when, amid all of those conversations, the genesis of one idea took place.Simone de Beauvoir was also a novelist, she applied her theories of existentialism to her characters’ voices and in thought. I can’t decide if this is a cheap way out or not. On the one hand it’s easy, too easy to do this. You don’t have to write proofs or large philosophical explanations, you can just have a character say something and that’s it–because it’s fiction. On the other hand, to do this well is very difficult. By “well” I mean without sounding heavy handed or preachy about it. It’s easy for a person to tell when another is trying too hard to be profound or intelligent for merely intelligence’s sake and it always sounds pretencious. 

Beauvoir captures this well. When the characters sound pretencious and we don’t like them for it, it is because they are supposed to sound like that. It’s a fine line to walk and perhaps that is what makes the technique so effective. For this we have the novel “She Came To Stay.”

“She Came To Stay” is a fictionalization of the relationship that the author had with Sartre and another woman prior to the advent of WWII. It centers around a playwrite Pierre, his girlfriend Francoise, and the woman they invite into their relationship Xavierre. While the they are supposed to share their love, it’s not a mutually sexual relationship. Instead it is only Pierre that involves herself with Xavierre in that respect, but given the alleged openness Francoise is permissive of them. Most of the novel involves long discussions on the nature of time, consciousness, and a certain absurdity of life as a looming war encroaches upon them.

Xavierre is the youngest of the three. She is around the age of 17, while Pierre and Francoise are around thirty. The latter two are both employed Pierre as the playwright Francoise as a novelist. Their maturity often runs into conflict with the impertinence of Xavierre who cares little for time, appointments, or consequence. This leads to numerous conflicts as Pierre begins to adopt a possessiveness over Xavierre and Francoise alternates between jealousy over the Pierre’s affection toward Xavierre and hating the young girl for being so solopsistic in her own life. Xavierre herself alternates between extremes: she either totally throws herself into something or acts under such a sublime apathy that it is almost infuriating to see her not care about the importance of the world around her. For instance she regards the upcoming war as something that will be an inconvenience in her life. At the end of the book [spoiler alert], Francoise finally succumbs to her hate for the girl after an affair she had with Gerbert (a relatively minor character who was involved with Xavierre) becomes exposed that she turns up the gas in her room, while disengaging the meter that would turn it off. In effect she desires her death through suffocation-a death that she will be entirely able to get away with given the emotional instability of Xavierre as well as a rather public suicide note that she later recants.

Xavierre is portrayed as being the antagonist of the plot. It is she, according to Francoise that has driven apart the idyllic relationship between herself and Pierre. Instead I offer, that it is not Xavierre but both Francoise and Pierre that were the true villains of the story. To understand this rather controversial point of view, I offer a couple of points that should illustrate why this is the case.

The first is the age difference. Francoise was initially fascinated by Xavierre’s temperament and it was her that invited Xavierre into the life of the Parisian bohemians in the first place. This temperament never changed, and it is indicative of her youth. She didn’t care about the future indicating once that she only cared about the present. Of course she did, she’s still a teenager. Her seeming maturity on some subjects is only because the consequences didn’t matter to those specific situations. Her go ahead and do it attitude is only beneficial in some situations while Pierre and Francoise seem to think that this doesn’t apply in all situations they are of course correct. Without the extra decade of life experiences Xavierre cannot know correct behavior in all situations. She’s a kid and for them to expect her to act as an adult is their fault not hers.

The second is Pierre. While Francoise seems to think that they can introduce a third into their relationship and still maintain equilibrium she is deluded. Pierre’s desire for the Xavierre is veiled by his intellectualization of her. That he desires her is no secret but he lacks honesty about it in order to shield Francoise from the obviousness of the issue. Pierre is going to be temporarily attached to Xavierre for the simple fact that she is new. Indeed, that is the fascination with the character from their entire circle at first. She’s new, but once her quirks-originally interpreted as being eccentricities-lose their shine she’s is viewed as a pest. Perhaps Pierre’s willingness to involve himself in the threesome is based on the idea that he can openly have an affair that isn’t even really an affair given the permission he has to do it. No matter what is motive is, his behavior toward her is anything but altruistic. At no point does he ever truly regard Xavierre as an equal. She’s something to be owned and molded into a follower of his, an object that is supposed to worship him. When she bucks away from him, falling into the arms of Gerbert, the obsessiveness that he portrays, pacing back and forth in Francoise’s apartment, the inability to discuss anything else aside from the wonderment at whether they are necking or having sex, culminating in his looking through the key hole of her apartment. The moment Xavierre shows any independence he immediately becomes angry with her. The final straw comes when he accuses her of being possessive, seeking to control him; this of course is more revealing about his character than anything else. It was his wish to control her, to own her love for which he did not reciprocate at all. He knew she wanted to sleep with him but he dangled that in front of her for months stringing her along. Her reaction of being angry with him is perfectly normal, as all she did was begin to move away from him and his possessiveness didn’t allow him to do so.

Francoise: Francoise’s anger at Xavierre is both reasonable and unreasonable at the same time. The jealousy is reasonable, Pierre has eyes for a yonger woman now, but in reality: what did she expect? Again I find the fault with Pierre on this one, if he had just gotten on with it and slept with her he would have tossed her away and that would have been the end of it. The trouble with Francoise is that she is the architect of the whole situation, she propses the tripartate relationship knowing Pierre’s desires. For what reason could she have in doing this? Xaveirre is taken on by Francoise as a project. She wants to educate the girl, wants to bring her into the social set of the theater scene, wants her to love Pierre just as she does; in other words she wants Xavierre to become her. Why Francoise didn’t propose the sexual relationship between the three of them, seems like an odd ommission on her part given the intimate lesson she could have provided in that sphere.Francoise’s main problem was that she was initially enthralled with the prospect of educating the young girl into becoming her while at the same time ignoring the concept that this other person possessed her own consciousness that wanted to exercise it’s own freedom. When it did, is precisely when Francoise began to hate her. Perhaps like Dr. Frankenstein, Francoise did her job only too well.

In conclusion Xavierre is the victim here. Thrust into a world she is not prepared for, carried by two people with ill designs on her, that she reacts with disdain and cynicism toward their value systems may be interpreted as annoying but valid.

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