Part 2. Chapter 1.
‘Could I see your latest canvases? I’d like to very much,’ said Pierre, ‘It’s such a long time since I’ve seen anything of yours. Françoise told me that you’d changed your style.’
‘I’m in the very middle of a transition.’ said Elisabeth, with ironic emphasis. Her pictures! Pigment spread on canvas so as to give the appearance of pictures; she spent her days painting in order to convince herself that she was a painter, but it was still nothing but a lugubrious game.
She took out one of her canvases, put it on the easel, and turned on a blue light. There, that was all part of the ritual! She would show them her fraudulent paintings and they would bestow fraudulent praise on her. They would not know that she knew: this time they were the dupes.
‘Well yes, that’s a radical change!’ said Pierre.
He studied the picture with a look of genuine interest. It was a section of a Spanish arena with a bull’s head in one corner, and rifles and corpses in the middle.
‘That’s not in the least like your first sketch,’ said Françoise.
‘You ought to show that to Pierre too, so that he can see the development.’
Elisabeth took out her ‘Firing Party’.
‘That’s interesting,’ said Pierre, ‘but it’s not as good as the other. I think you’re quite right to avoid any kind of realism in the treatment of such subjects.’
Elisabeth turned searching eyes on him, but he seemed genuinely sincere.
‘As you have seen, this is the line along which I’m now working,’ she said. ‘I’m trying to use the incoherence and freedom of the surrealists, but by giving them direction.’
She took out her ‘Concentration Camp’, ‘Fascist Landscape’, and ‘The Night of the Pogrom’, which Pierre studied approvingly. Elisabeth threw a puzzled look at her pictures. After all, taking all things into consideration, wasn’t it only a public that she lacked to become a real artist? Didn’t every exacting artist regard himself in private as a dauber? The real artist is one whose work is real. In a sense, Claude was not completely wrong when he panted to have his play put on. A work of art only becomes real by becoming known. She chose one of her most recent canvases. ‘The Game of Massacre’. As she was putting it on the easel, she caught a look of dismay which Xavière had directed at Françoise.
‘Don’t you care for the picture?’ she said with a surface smile.
‘I don’t understand anything about it,’ said Xavière apologetically.
Pierre turned to her quickly with an uneasy look, and Elisabeth felt a sudden wave of anger. They must have warned Xavière that this was part of the evening’s entertainment, but she was beginning to grow impatient, for her slightest whim was accounted more important than Elisabeth’s entire fate.
‘What do you say to this?’ she said.
It was a daring and complex painting which called for considerable comment. Pierre glanced at it hastily.
‘I like it very much, too,’ he said.
It was obvious that he only wanted to get it over and done with. Elisabeth took away the canvas.
‘That’s enough for today,’ she said. ‘We musn’t make a martyr of this child.’
Xavière cast a saturnine glance at her, she understood perfectly well that Elisabeth was not blind where she was concerned.
‘You know, if you want to put on a record,’ said Elisabeth to Françoise, ‘you can easily do so. Only take a fine needle, because of the tenant below.
‘Oh, yes!’ said Xavière eagerly.
‘Why don’t you try exhibiting this year?’ said Pierre, lighting his pipe. ‘I’m sure you’d interest a large public.’
‘It’s not the right moment,’ said Elisabeth. ‘In these uncertain times it would be madness to launch a new name.’
Simone de Beauvoir,1908-1986 L’invitée, 1943 She Came to Stay
Publisher: ©Editions Gallimard, 1943. Secker & Warburg and Lindsay Drummond, 1949. Translated by Yvonne Moyse and Roger Stenhouse
image: 1. Simone de Beauvoir. Saint-Germain-de-Prés, Paris, c. 1946.