Hélène Bessette, never sold

On the cover of her first book, Hélène Bessette (1918-2000), wanted a headband: “ For sale “. At the time (1950s-1960s), it didn’t work. The New Attila is gradually reissuing its complete works.

illustration by Slevenn

To At the end of the 1990s, on the landing door of a small apartment in Le Mans, is fixed a printed business card: “ Hélène Bessette – from Gallimard “. The old lady who lives there added by hand: Please do not defame “. Most of the time, when her son Patrick rings, she doesn’t answer. After his death in 2000, he found his notebook: The guy pretending to be Patrick came over again. We can say to ourselves that she is crazy – it’s true, at this moment in her life she is crazy – but this ghostly side of beings has also always been her vision of things. Most of the time, people do not really exist, they are content to embody social roles, to pronounce the sentences that are expected of them and to run after the rattles that are shaken at them. This she wrote in her books, and she was not forgiven. She dies alone, recluse, guilty unrepented of a “ poetic attack premeditated.

The combination had however everything to work. The old-fashioned novel, my wife is gone, my dog ​​is sick, it’s the same thing all the time, it’s over. When Bessette entered the scene, shortly after the end of the war, the novel was fifty years behind poetry which, since the beginning of the XXe century, with free verse, cast off the moorings. We must therefore do the same in the novel, replace the violins with submachine guns, say things as they are: “ Ugly are the tired workers. Badly fed, badly dressed Algerians are ugly. Ugly narrow typists. Ugly patched maneuvers. Ugly prostitutes without make-up. Sleepy. The badly awakened old used prostitutes. Ugly wine merchants with blotches. Fattened butchers are ugly. Ugly scruffy janitors 1. »


Finally, something new ! exclaimed Raymond Queneau upon receiving the manuscript of Bessette’s first novel, Lily is crying, published in 1953. The case seemed to be off to a good start, probably not the fortune, but enough to feed his kid and afford a decent room. Well, that didn’t work at all. Despite the relentlessness of Gallimard, who published up to three of his novels in eighteen months, and the praise of the best French writers of his time, the flop was absolute, resounding, total.

Well, that didn’t work at all.

It’s because, to love Bessette, you have to put up with being mistreated. Her voice is that, sometimes sour, sometimes mocking, of a woman who groans, complains, kicks back at the condition imposed on her. Sometimes she parodies the bourgeois psychological film, with the eyes of the kid who doesn’t know that the emperor must not be naked. When the good Ida is run over by a car, her boss spills the beans: “ We who thought / That Ida was like us / What am I saying ? / was ours 2. »

His material is the shards projected by his unhappy life as an institute without a vocation, who was fired from the National Education after petitions from parents who reproached him for being dirty, and who left to do housework and then all the jobs. , waitress, concierge, babysitter, in Switzerland or in England. Shards that she cuts out and glues together, accumulates, twists, repeats five or ten times so that we hear. So that we receive his anger, his misery, his suffering, his laughter and his intelligence in the face of adversity – a way of gaining the upper hand over what would crush him.

The result is a “ unsold literature “. She says that. You are going badly, howls the Editor who neglects his expression, influenced by “the jargon” of young literature. You are bad. You push laziness a bit too far. And how do you go about writing ? I do not understand anything. WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTION ? – I do not have any’INTENTIONcries the author. [……] – Come, don’t cry, said the merchant, suddenly softened, and when you’ve made a fortune with YOUR novels, we will get married, OK ?Okay, answers the novelist who smiles through her tears.
and :

It’s for me the only way to get the edition 3. »
Always it took.

Laurent Perez

1 Tower (1959), reed. The New Attila, 2021.

2 Ida or delirium (1973), first reissued in 2018 at New Attila, available in Points-Seuil, 2020.

3 MaternA (1954), reed. Leo Scheer, 2007.

Hélène Bessette, never sold