July 18th in (Feminist) History


CaptureOn this day in 1900 was the birth of
Nathalie Sarraute, a Russian-born Jewish lawyer and writer who lived and practiced law in France, but was forced to quit practicing law due to her religion. She was born Natalia Ilinichna Tcherniak in Ivanovo, Russia, the daughter of Pauline (a writer) and Ilya (a chemist). After the divorce of her parents, she spent much of her life traveling between Russia and France, but in 1909 she moved full time to Paris with her father.

Nathalie studied at the Sorbonne, with a focus on law and literature; she was especially interested in contemporary literature and was influenced by Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. She went on to study history at Oxford, and sociology at a school in Berlin, before she eventually became a lawyer when she passed the bar exam in France. She married Raymond Sarraute, a fellow lawyer, in 1925 and eventually they had three daughters together.

At first she both practiced law and worked on her writing; her first book, Tropismes, was written in 1932 and published in 1939; it was a series of memories and brief sketches, an early example of the usual style and tone of her work. Unfortunately, the advent of World War II changed the direction of her life rather drastically. In 1941 she was barred from working as a lawyer due to the anti-Jewish laws of the Vichy regime; the “French state” which ruled after France had been defeated, and collaborated with Nazi Germany. Nathalie went into hiding for her safety and even attempted during that time to divorce her husband to protect him from persecution. This never went through, however,  and they remained together in the end.

Following the war, she focused entirely on her writing and wrote several books, including her most popular, which is Portrait of a Man Unknown in 1948. It was referred to by Jean-Paul Sartre as an “anti-novel” and along with her follow-up, Martereau, was highly praised in literary circles, though it did not do as well with the public. She is also well known for her essay, L’Ère du soupçon (The Age of Suspicion), in 1956, which was a prominent manifesto for the “nouveau roman literary movement”. As a result, Nathalie became one of the prime figures of this movement and trend in writing (which aimed towards changing the traditional narrative models), along with others like Claude Simon, Michel Butor, Robbe-Grillet, and Marguerite Duras. In 1963, she won the Prix international de litterature for her novel The Golden Fruits, and that same year she began writing plays; eventually she would write seven in total, including Le Silence, Le Mensonge, and Elle est la. 

Nathalie died in Paris, France in 1999, at the age of 99. Her novels have been translated into more than 30 languages, despite the “difficulty” attributed to her experimental style. 

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