SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR
“MISUNDERSTANDING IN MOSCOW”
BRIDGE TO THANKS, MILAN, (1965) 2021, pp. 133
While the war continues in all its ferocity in Ukraine and has almost completely gone off the radar of the Italian election campaign, if it were not for the looming energy crisis, I would like to talk about this book, which I happened to read thanks to my wife, and reflecting another period of war, which abound in human history. It is peace that is a short interlude between two wars.
It is a short novel that tells an episode in the story of Nicole and André, two retired French teachers, who in 1963 in full de-Stalinization, but still in the midst of the “cold war”, make a trip to Moscow to visit Masha, daughter first bed of André, who married a Russian.
The two narrating voices are the alter egos of Simone de Beauvoir, considered the founder of feminism, and of the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who had a relationship that lasted over 50 years without ever becoming an official marriage, very open, but lived with great emotional and erotic participation.
The novel did not become part of the collection of short stories “Una donna spezzata” (1967), “for reasons not entirely clear, probably not literary, given its undoubted quality”, as the flap on the cover states. So the novel remained completely unknown.
The editor of the edition, Isabella Mattazzi, in her interesting “Post-faction”, clarifies that from 1965 to 1967 Simone de Beauvoir rewrites the text passing from two symmetrical narrative voices to one, the female one. It seems to me a more than enough reason in the path that leads to “The age of discretion”, the already known version of the novel.
“Between one text and another the misunderstanding disappeared. Moscow has also disappeared. There remains only the age of the sunset of the two protagonists, André and Nicole, an element strongly present in both texts and which has now become the time of discretion ”, says the curator in the Afterword. In the two versions the historical and political context jumps, very present in this first version with André’s commitment to the French left and with all the emphasis placed on his “impotence”. Skip the reference to the looming dangers of atomic escalation. In the second version, only the sadness of old age remains, which is a dominant theme: in particular in the figure of Andrè worried about giving his daughter Masha a bleak image: “an old pensioner who hasn’t done anything”.CopyAMP code.
Yet this intertwining has its strength: the loss of youth also weighs on the disappointment of fallen political hopes. The USSR at the time in the European left had lost its “revolutionary” charm.
The second version favors the female point of view, which is represented here – not only for Andrè – but also for Nicole by a loss of the body. In the episode in which a young friend of André’s is introduced to her: “For her, he was a boy, young and attractive; for him, she was as sexless as an eighty-year old woman ”. It is here on the strictly erotic side that the misunderstanding in the couple emerges. The story is apparently banal: Andrè decides with Masha to stay in Moscow for about ten more days (as a father he is all intent on recovering the relationship with his previously neglected daughter), but he thinks he has communicated it to Nicole, who has no trace. of this communication.
Nicole feels that she is neglected, unloved, she is furious because Andrè has avoided being alone with her: “she continued to never be able to be alone with him”. Simone de Beauvior has a great ability to describe the misunderstanding: each of the two does not feel understood by the other, he would like to communicate and cannot. The description of the misunderstanding is masterful as anyone who has experience of long-term intense relationships knows well, in which each one attributes the responsibility of the misunderstanding to the other. Here there is a particular element: that of the “Oedipal triangle”, which emerges with power and with the particularity of being observed from all vertices, not only from the classic Freudian one of the son. It is the theme of the “third person” between the spouses, first apparently harmless (“a third person between them didn’t bother them”) and then more evident, even if seen from Nicole’s female point of view, when she talks about her son. distant male. Nicole feels the presence of Masha badly between her and André, but takes for granted the presence of her son Philippe of her. André replies: “Why is he my son? in any case it is a third among us “.
The novel ends with a new balance of the couple, which I leave to the reader’s curiosity, but I anticipate that the theme is old age, the dominant one in the second draft.