Busy Beavers

Beavers cropped

By Nick J Webb [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

It’s no wonder Alice snaps at her father-in-law during a boozy dinner and welcome home for Philippe, the estate manager’s son. Roughly 39 minutes into Tu seras mon fils, vintner Paul de Marseul insults his son as he frets about the inferior nez his grandson will inherit from him before the baby has even been conceived. He then offers to share his almanac, complete with info on the most fertile season to speed things along. Martin’s wife puts him in his place with a line about their sex life that gets the job done.

To say On baise comme des castors is a crude but apparently not uncommon expression in France. Generalize, though, about references to beavers (subtitled as “rabbits”) and you’re on your way to a serious misinterpretation of Simone de Beauvoir, literary firebrand and first lady of modern feminism in France.

Assuming that writer Jean-Paul Sartre, founder of Existentialism and political activist, addressed his romantic and intellectual partner as Le Castor because of her sexual propensities wasn’t all that illogical. After all, the pair was notoriously unfaithful to each other during the course of their long partnership with some hyper funky relationships between Sartre, Beauvoir, and several of her students, but all this has little to do with the sobriquet. Travel down to page five of Paysages sartriens, a useful guide provided by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, to discover the loftier genesis of her surnom, but take your time as you do. For Sartre, writing in a public place was an intellectual necessity as the map of their favorite hangouts attests. He wanted to work au milieu de la foule, a far cry from Proust and his cork-lined room constructed to silence a noisy world.

It’s worth noting that Sartre eventually left those cafes and decamped to an apartment on rue Bonaparte and his widowed mother in 1945, the year following the first production of his play No Exit. This time I tried not to leap to any conclusions about L’enfer c’est les autres and the noisy cafes he abandoned. Here’s Sartre himself on his thematic intentions for Huis Clos.

— Linda

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