Parisian Lives
National Book Award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair explores her fifteen remarkable years in Paris with Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, painting intimate new portraits of two literary giants and revealing secrets of the biographical art.In 1971 Deirdre Bair was a journalist and recently minted Ph.D. who managed to secure access to Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett. He agreed that she could write his biography despite never having written--or even read--a biography herself. The next seven years of intimate conversations, intercontinental research, and peculiar cat-and-mouse games resulted in Samuel Beckett: A Biography, which went on to win the National Book Award and propel Deirdre to her next subject: Simone de Beauvoir. The catch? De Beauvoir and Beckett despised each other--and lived essentially on the same street. While quite literally dodging one subject or the other, and sometimes hiding out in the backrooms of the great caf�s of Paris, Bair learned that what works in terms of process for one biography rarely applies to the next. Her seven-year relationship with the domineering and difficult de Beauvoir required a radical change in approach, yielding another groundbreaking literary profile. Drawing on Bair's extensive notes from the period, including never-before-told anecdotes and details that were considered impossible to publish at the time, Parisian Lives is full of personality and warmth and give us an entirely new window on the all-too-human side of these legendary thinkers.

Parisian Lives Details

TitleParisian Lives
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 12th, 2019
PublisherNan A. Talese
ISBN-139780385542456
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Biography, Cultural, France, History

Parisian Lives Review

  • Niklas Pivic
    January 1, 1970
    Earlier this year, Michael Peppiatt’s The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists was published; the book displays namedropping and some Parisian familières, and ended up as quite the end note of what can be written about celebrities, and Paris. It is the kind of book that most people will forget about when asked of their favourite autobiographies, six months after having read it.Enter Deirdre Bair.I did not know of her before reading this book; I’d not even read her biography on Earlier this year, Michael Peppiatt’s The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists was published; the book displays namedropping and some Parisian familières, and ended up as quite the end note of what can be written about celebrities, and Paris. It is the kind of book that most people will forget about when asked of their favourite autobiographies, six months after having read it.Enter Deirdre Bair.I did not know of her before reading this book; I’d not even read her biography on Wikipedia.“So you are the one who is going to reveal me for the charlatan that I am.” It was the first thing Samuel Beckett ever said to me on that bitter cold day, November 17, 1971, as we sat in the minuscule lobby of the Hôtel du Danube on the rue Jacob.The start of the book is catchy without trying to be too engaging. It’s clear that the writer is both experienced and knows rhythm; if writing a book is similar to pacing oneself for running a marathon well, this one holds up almost throughout.Almost.Somewhere between meeting Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, there is a lull. It is slight, and on the whole can be forgotten. This is my only complaint about the book, and mind you, I’m reviewing an uncorrected advance copy of the book.Au contraire, Bair writes of her own family in a commendable way, never delving into the sappy or drab. Professing the same kind of verve, she describes her own problems with deciding to become a biographer without knowing how to become one. She even asked Beckett how to, in a roundabout way:All this went through my mind in a matter of seconds as I dropped my head into my hands and said, “Oh dear. I don’t know if I’m cut out for this biography business.” His demeanor changed immediately, as did his tone of voice. “Well, then,” he replied, “why don’t we talk about it?”Reading about Bair’s conquests with Beckett, it’s easy to want to read her book about him. What makes it even more interesting is how Beckett didn’t let her behind the scenes of his machinations:Beckett was famous for never interpreting, analyzing, or explaining anything about his writings, particularly the plays. Although he would discuss modes of interpretation, MacGowran said, Beckett always fell back on the same final comment when questions got too close to the one he hated most: “What did you mean when you wrote X?” He brought such discussions to a quick end with “I would feel superior to my own work if I tried to explain it.”It’s clear to the reader—without Bair trying to blow her own trumpet—that the author has jumped through quite a few hoops to have her Beckett biography published, by Jove. It’s even impressive that she contacted Richard Ellman, who’d had his own Beckett biography published before Bair did hers:Richard Ellmann, then at Yale, told me he would never grant me an interview because if he had anything to say about Beckett, he would write it himself.It’s easy to think back to those days when readers were everywhere, publishing houses possessed greater cultural power than they do today, and how authors were discussed by multitudes of people while they were writing novels. It’s also, sadly, easy to consider how Bair was subject to abject sexism, which led to rumours being spread, which, in turn, nearly led to her book not being published.A cadre of Beckett specialists—the “Becketteers,” as I called them (all references to Mouseketeers are intentional), white men in secure academic positions of power and authority—formed my primary opposition. They were representative of a larger struggle in academia between the establishment and the perceived threat of women like me and my Danforth GFW colleagues, who were now competing for the same academic positions as the usual male candidates.For the Becketteers in particular, I was a brazen example, the “mere girl” who had “invaded the sacrosanct turf of the Beckett world.” One or two younger members who were brave enough to speak to me privately asked if I was completely ignorant of the pecking order, while in public they shunned me so they could “keep on the good side of the powers that be.”One of them surreptitiously motioned for me to join him as he sneaked behind a pillar in a hotel lobby at a Modern Language Association conference. “You are a pariah and I can’t be seen talking to you,” he said with a swagger, clearly feeling brave for engaging in this little clandestine conversation. His childish glee left me (unusually) speechless and unable to think up a quick riposte.When I found my voice, I said I did not understand why I was being ostracized, since my two publications about Beckett had been received positively within the academic world. “Yes,” this man said, “in the academic world. But that’s not the Beckett world.”Then, Simone de Beauvoir.I love this part from Bair’s initial meeting with de Beauvoir:I began to make stuttering conversation, starting with my thanks that she would give me time on her birthday. Her quizzical look as she replied let me know I was not making a very positive first impression. “Why not?” she said. “What is a birthday anyway but just another day?” I didn’t know what to say to that, but she didn’t pause long enough to let me answer as she asked, “Shall we get to work?”I had assumed that this was to be a brief getting-acquainted session and I had not brought anything with me; I had no notebook or tape recorder, and I had not prepared any questions. My only preparation had been to practice how to tell her, in my best French, that I had to go home on the twelfth to teach during the spring semester and would not be able to begin serious interviews until at least the summer, and then only if my schedule allowed enough time for me to prepare myself with serious reading and research during the term.I stammered something about how I did not wish to impose upon what I was sure would be a festive evening, so I had not brought any work materials with me. She snorted in derision. There was to be no celebration, she told me; her friend Sylvie would be coming later with something for dinner, but until then we should probably get started. I fished in my bag for something to write on and could find only my date book, so I pretended it was a notebook.I got a reprieve of sorts from asking questions because she launched right in to tell me how we were going to work: “I will talk, and I will tell you what has been important in my life—all the things you need to know. You can write them down, but you must also bring a tape recorder, and I will have one, too. We can discuss what I tell you if you need me to explain it, and that will be the book you need to write. That will be the one you publish.”I remember clearly how I lowered my head into my hands and said out loud, “Oh dear.” I had the sinking sensation that the book was dead and done before I even got started. “What is the matter?” she demanded. “What is wrong?” I was so flustered that I could not think in French and asked her if I could reply in English. She said of course, because she read and understood the language far better than she spoke it. “That is not how I worked with Samuel Beckett,” I told her, and then I proceeded to explain how he had given me the freedom to do my research, conduct my interviews, and to write the book that I thought needed to be written.I told her how we had agreed that he would not read it before it was published, and I even told her how he had said he would neither help nor hinder me, which his family and friends interpreted as his agreement to cooperate fully. I told her that, having worked in such extraordinary circumstances, I didn’t see how I could work any other way. I hoped that she would be generous and gracious enough to give me whatever help I asked for, but that she would also allow me the independence to construct a full and objective account of her life and work.The following paragraphs didn’t surprise me in the least, given that de Beauvoir’s one of the most notable existentialists:And so we began. I thought I would ease into my questioning by asking about her earliest childhood memories, but she went first because she wanted to thank me. “Women come from all over the world to write about me, but all they want to write about is The Second Sex.”Here she pounded one fist into the other open hand as she said, “I wrote so much else. I wrote philosophy, politics, fiction, autobiography . . .” She seemed to be pausing to catch her breath after every genre, and then she said, “You are the only one who wants to write about everything. Everyone else only wants to write about feminism.”It threw me off-balance, but I did not have the luxury of reflecting on her generous appraisal until after I left, when I grasped the truth in it. During the 1970s and 1980s she had been slotted into the niche of feminist icon—all well and good, but she did not want to be there in perpetuity. Aware of her many different contributions to culture and society and extremely proud of them, she wanted posterity to acknowledge all her accomplishments.I adore this quote from Beckett to Bair after she’d mentioned the “Becketteers”:I talked so much that my wineglass was left mostly untouched, but it was getting late, so I started to gather my things.Until then he had not said anything specific about the Becketteers’ behavior, but I think he was alluding to it when he volunteered one of the last things he ever said to me: “You must never explain. You must never complain.”Indeed, there have been many times since then when I have been ready to lash out in retaliation for a bad review or an unkind comment, but every time I have remembered these words and I have never explained and never complained.I also loved what Bair wrote about writing a biography and trying to stay level-headed in some way:Joyce provided an example (one that he cribbed from Flaubert, but never mind) that I followed for everything I wrote: “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” (I did keep myself refined out of existence, but I was never indifferent and didn’t bite my nails; I just picked at my cuticles.)Pascal had the perfect pensée to help me open up and confide my own experiences to the permanence of print. When he thought about how his life was “swallowed up . . . in the eternity that precedes and will follow it,” he “[took] fright.”When I began to write biography, I was, like Pascal, “stunned to find myself here rather than elsewhere . . . Who sent me here? By whose order and under what guiding destiny was this time, this place, assigned to me?” It led me to ask myself what had ever made me think that Samuel Beckett “needed” a biography and I was the one to write it?Saint Augustine provided the answer for what drew me to Beauvoir: I had become “a question to myself. Not even I understand everything that I am.” And Rousseau gave me hope that sustained me during each biography, but especially within this bio-memoir: “My purpose is to display a portrait in every way true to nature, and the person I portray will be myself. Simply myself.”If I managed to do that, then I have succeeded, and I am content.In regards to this book, I hope Bair is more than content. She should be, I think. Then again, I was born just before her Beckett biography was published. This book contains many pointers to what a writer—biographer or not—should consider.First and foremost, this book is a tale of the ups and downs of writing about human beings, and what those human beings bring to the table while and how you write about this. This is a laudable and highly recommendable memorial of extraordinary times in the life of a very considerate and apparently skilled biographer.
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  • Rose
    January 1, 1970
    "Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir" is a beautifully written book that pulls you in slowly but deeply. It isn't just about writing about two famous authors but the memoir writer's life as well and what it takes to be a biographer. I would recommend this book to fans of Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, as well as biographies in general.I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased "Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir" is a beautifully written book that pulls you in slowly but deeply. It isn't just about writing about two famous authors but the memoir writer's life as well and what it takes to be a biographer. I would recommend this book to fans of Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, as well as biographies in general.I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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  • Aria
    January 1, 1970
    Dnf ~ p. 75 or 78.
  • Marvin Fender
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book from the Goodreads Giveaway program. The stories told in this biography/memoir/creative process compilation is very unusual and entertaining. I really like good biographies and memoirs that are told well and have enlightening information and this book delivers. Ms Bair has a very wonderful way of keeping a vast amount of history and personal information flowing and compelling you to read further. You also find empathy for her and her subjects caught in a candid look at a I received this book from the Goodreads Giveaway program. The stories told in this biography/memoir/creative process compilation is very unusual and entertaining. I really like good biographies and memoirs that are told well and have enlightening information and this book delivers. Ms Bair has a very wonderful way of keeping a vast amount of history and personal information flowing and compelling you to read further. You also find empathy for her and her subjects caught in a candid look at a living persons intricate life. "Parisian Lives:" is a remarkable and enjoyable look a three very interesting and colorful people plus a lesson in how absorbing and consuming a biographers life can be. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes biography and writing done superbly.
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  • Paul Myers
    January 1, 1970
    Deirdre Bair's memoir is the interrelated stories of writing biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir and Bair's own journey of discovery while launching her academic career, a process often in conflict with her success writing biographies that became blockbuster successes. It is a fascinating tale of how to research and write biography while observing that the process of researching and writing about great writers itself brings stunning growth and insight to the author. The reader Deirdre Bair's memoir is the interrelated stories of writing biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir and Bair's own journey of discovery while launching her academic career, a process often in conflict with her success writing biographies that became blockbuster successes. It is a fascinating tale of how to research and write biography while observing that the process of researching and writing about great writers itself brings stunning growth and insight to the author. The reader gets to share in this journey of personal revelation.What Bair achieved by writing great biography was to reach rather different heights from the rather pedestrian hills of normal academic life, even that of life at a top university. That is mostly because the biographies themselves turned out to have such reach.The stories relating to both Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir are different but equally compelling. These stories are page turners, full of fascination. The saga of the McGreevy letters illuminating troubling aspects of Becket's sexual tensions and conflicts reads like the high-stakes drama it was. If there is one surprising thing, it is the smallness of so many people in the entourages surrounding the towering personalities--and some of the large and generous personalities in the same social solar system. A lot of these mini-tales make amusing reading about human vanity; others provide gripping reading. This is about research in the real world of challenging people, not turning the pages in the special collections reading room.There is an undertone throughout that Bair clearly delineates. One is the extensive sexual harassment she encountered, which although distasteful she swats away. The other is gender discrimination of men's privileged position and women being out-of-their station. Less raunchy and distasteful but potentially more invidious. So Bair seems to be navigating continuously between the crashing breakers of one and the whirlpools of the other -- therefore the odyssey.The final chapters of the Beauvoir story, and Jean-Paul Satre, are riveting, shocking, and will change how one looks at these two luminaries. In Beauvoir's case, her work is a substantial accomplishment above and beyond her personal shortcomings and gives her legacy the greatness that her growing reputation is earning her work. But for the two existentialists, when the candles burned brightly, they burned.And of course lots of lovely vignettes about Paris, a city of burning candles.
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  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    This was a Goodreads giveaway that, quite frankly, I entered because of Parisian and Simone de Beauvoir being in the title. After finishing it, I'm embarrassed I knew so little beforehand about Samuel Beckett, nor claimed his name as being the biggest reason for my entering. Still, truth be told, the second half of the book which focused almost solely on De Beauvoir held me captivated until the very last page in a way the Beckett section did not. The Beckett section, while mostly interesting, This was a Goodreads giveaway that, quite frankly, I entered because of Parisian and Simone de Beauvoir being in the title. After finishing it, I'm embarrassed I knew so little beforehand about Samuel Beckett, nor claimed his name as being the biggest reason for my entering. Still, truth be told, the second half of the book which focused almost solely on De Beauvoir held me captivated until the very last page in a way the Beckett section did not. The Beckett section, while mostly interesting, was a bit bogged down in parts when filled with what seemed to be Bair's regrets and the feeling that the author was trying to prove to herself and her critics that all she did was above board. In contrast, her reminisces of De Beauvoir felt less self-conscious.Overall, this bio-memoir reminded me, nostalgically, of the thoughtful memoirs/biographies read in my early women's studies courses years ago as an undergrad; with so much talk by Bair about the stirrings of feminism and consciousness raising (by a white upper middle class woman) amongst the sexist 1970s and 1980s.3.5
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  • Paul Wilner
    January 1, 1970
    Engaging account of the author's successful bearding of two literary giants, with autobiographical diversions into the pettiness and sexism of literary and academic politics. I came away with the feeling that she may have respected Beckett more as an artist but connected with de Beauvoir, for all her difficulties, more as a person. That said, it was a bit disappointing not to see more material on each of their actual work, which is mentioned in passing, in Beckett's case, and focused primarily Engaging account of the author's successful bearding of two literary giants, with autobiographical diversions into the pettiness and sexism of literary and academic politics. I came away with the feeling that she may have respected Beckett more as an artist but connected with de Beauvoir, for all her difficulties, more as a person. That said, it was a bit disappointing not to see more material on each of their actual work, which is mentioned in passing, in Beckett's case, and focused primarily on "The Second Sex'' for deBeauvoir. I know she has a massive, award-winning biography of Beckett out - I just checked it out from the library - and I'm sure this material is dealt with in depth there. But it would have been worth seeing more of it here, in both of their cases, along with more serious quotation of their actual words, which is what drew everyone's attention, including Bair's, in the first place. Still, worth reading for the depictions of the authors, the complex tasks of the biographer, and her honest accounts of her own struggles. But...the prose is pedestrian, off-putting when you consider the artistry of those she is writing about, which perhaps presages some of the critiques that have been made against her biographies, particularly of Beckett.
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  • Marietje
    January 1, 1970
    How does an author go about writing a biography of a well known subject, while refraining from judgement, creating controversy, maintaining a good working relationship with the subject and the people around them? In this "bio-memoir Deirdre Bair relates her experiences, struggles and reactions while first compiling the biography of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir.It was a revelation for me to see how much time, money, effort and negotiating goes into the research for a biography. This is a How does an author go about writing a biography of a well known subject, while refraining from judgement, creating controversy, maintaining a good working relationship with the subject and the people around them? In this "bio-memoir Deirdre Bair relates her experiences, struggles and reactions while first compiling the biography of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir.It was a revelation for me to see how much time, money, effort and negotiating goes into the research for a biography. This is a book about Bair herself, not about Beckett or de Beauvoir. I read it as a personal memoir , and as such it is engaging, honest and important.I received this book in a giveaway, and I am glad to have read it.
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  • Michaela
    January 1, 1970
    ---Full disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. --- Interesting idea, but sadly it didn't do anything for me. I just couldn't get interested in her experience as it was described. While reading I thought if it had been stripped down more & turned into a couple of magazine articles I'd have enjoyed it more. Before dnf'ing I skipped toward the back to see if maybe reading about her other subject would be any more interesting, but no. Although I'm let down this didn't work ---Full disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. --- Interesting idea, but sadly it didn't do anything for me. I just couldn't get interested in her experience as it was described. While reading I thought if it had been stripped down more & turned into a couple of magazine articles I'd have enjoyed it more. Before dnf'ing I skipped toward the back to see if maybe reading about her other subject would be any more interesting, but no. Although I'm let down this didn't work out for me, I did put it in a Little Free Library for other readers.
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  • Jeimy
    January 1, 1970
    I was not expecting to enjoy this as much as I have, but it was interesting to learn how Bair's unconventional approach to biography writing, brought her fame (and infamy) after years of painstaking research into Beckett's life and how that acclaim led her to write a biography about de Beauvoir as well.
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  • Jen
    January 1, 1970
    DNF. Read 100 pages, skimmed rest.
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