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Memory Troubles

Remembering the Occupation in Simone de Beauvoir's Les Mandarins

Susan Rubin Suleiman

Critics generally agree that Beauvoir's novel Les Mandarins, which won the Prix Goncourt in 1954, is an important work of historical fiction, chronicling the lives and loves of left-wing intellectuals in Paris during the years following World War II. In this essay I argue that Les Mandarins is as much about the war as about the postwar, and that its meaning for contemporary readers was deeply linked (even if not in a fully recognized way) to memories of the troubled period of the Occupation. I develop the concept of “ambivalent memory,” as it refers in particular to two of the most problematic aspects of that period: the role of the Vichy government in the persecution of Jews, and the ambiguities and disagreements concerning the Resistance. More generally, the novel raises questions about memory and its inevitable obverse, forgetting. It is from our own contemporary perspective, heavily informed by concerns over memory and World War II, that this aspect of Les Mandarins comes to the fore.

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An Exchange of Gifts

Feminism for History

Susan Rubin Suleiman

Since Aspasia’s home is in Budapest, I will begin by evoking my love affair with that city. But ‘love affair’ is not exactly the right phrase, for my affective ties to Budapest are more of the familial than the erotic variety: born and raised there until the age of ten, I am a daughter of the captivating lady on the Danube. Budapest, in my imagining, is female, perhaps because it is so closely associated with my mother; not for nothing did I subtitle my book Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook.