The Mandarins is Simone de Beauvoir’s fictional account of the upper echelons of the political left in post-war Paris, a group that she knew personally.
The book follows two middle-aged characters, writer Henri Perron and psychotherapist Anne Dubreuilh.
The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir
Leonard M. Friedman, trans. Regnery, Gateway, 1956. 610 pp. 1956 bestseller #9. My grade B.
Henri and Anne’s husband, Robert, were active in the French resistance.
After the war, they work to create a socialist movement separate from the Communist Party and find the ambiguity of politics a greater moral challenge than fighting the Nazis.
Anne is more interested in people than politics, but finds working with war-scarred minds depressing.
On a tour to learn American psychoanalysis techniques, she meets a Chicago writer she thinks is the love of her life.
Their affair fizzles to friendship on his part, misery on hers.
Sooner or later, each of the characters faces a decision: Do I continue fighting, though I’m no longer sure I believe in what I’m fighting for?
The Mandarins should still be read, but it won’t find many takers.
Beauvoir’s novel is too intellectual, the narrative too dispassionate for today’s America.
Even its seamy elements, like the vigilante justice meted out to former Nazi sympathizers, would seem tame to Americans raised on high-definition crudity.
© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni