“Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir” by Deirdre Bair
From the Preface
Whenever I meet someone new and tell them that I have written biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, their first question is usually “What made you choose those subjects?” I’ve honed a ready answer over the years, one designed to be brief and polite and to let me change the subject. “They were remarkable people,” I say. “Truly extraordinary. Great privilege to have known them.” Most of the time I don’t get away with it, and the question that routinely follows is “What were they really like?” That one is never easy to answer.
I was bombarded with remarks along the lines of “Weren’t you awestruck, terrified, humble, wowed”—you pick the adjective here—“to be in the presence of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir?” Yes, I admit; yes, I felt all those emotions and many more besides.
But the questions persisted, and I began to think that perhaps—someday in the far distant future—perhaps I might write a little book, a “book about the writing of the books.”
My writing life began as a reporter for newspapers and magazines. Even though it was the era of the New Journalism, I never adopted those techniques and kept myself scrupulously out of everything I wrote.
Simone de Beauvoir—because Simone de Beauvoir appeared to be the only contemporary role model who had made a success of both her personal and her professional lives, and I was searching desperately for someone to tell me how to do the same.
I wrote those two biographies during the most eventful years of my own life, and to write about Beckett and Beauvoir meant that I would have to write about myself as well.
How then to construct my story? Of my three subjects—Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and myself—the first two became much easier to remember and recount after I waded through the ceiling-high stacks of boxes of papers in my storage room, what the neighbors call our local fire hazard. Everything I needed to jog my memory was there, from interview transcripts to news clips, photos, and correspondence; looking through this material helped me to remember how the decisions I made when writing the biographies were rooted in the facts. A central tenet of my writing credo is that if memory is to serve as one of the two basic pillars of support for any biography, it must be coupled with fact. But what about me and my story? Where would I find the facts of my life to balance my memories?
I solved that problem when I found boxes I had entirely forgotten, those containing what I called the Daily Diaries, or as I abbreviate them here, the DD. It was a shock to find the big red “page-a-day” books where I wrote down everything and anything connected with the work I did for the biographies. I did not remember how much detail I had confided to those notebooks, everything from capsule profiles of the people I met, to long philosophical meditations on my life, to the wide, colorful range of emotions (negative as well as positive) I felt for my subjects. Here was the record of the several selves I would have to portray in this book, from the neophyte to the mature woman who reads these journals now with a deep appreciation for how those experiences helped her to become who she is today. That would be the most important self, the one who explains every step of the process.
With the DD in hand I could buttress and fortify so many aspects of the shifting and varied self who displayed her emotions and passions those many years ago. Applying the filter of time to these in-the-moment accounts lets me be present but also lets me distance myself, and to create another self, one better suited to a dispassionate telling of the most objective tale possible. Once I mined these layers, I knew I could write this curious hybrid of a book, a “bio-memoir” that does indeed tell my story, but only as it first tells the story of my subjects and how I wrote their books. (Pg.xii)