Divorcing: a classic novel about misogyny that was almost lost to it | Books

Divorcing is Susan Taubes’s solely novel. Revealed in 1969, and now reissued by NYRB Classics, it is about rather more than the breakup of a marriage. Maybe it is generally about misogyny and the way it can discourage and deaden a intelligent girl. It’s also about being haunted by the ghosts of the Holocaust and the ghosts of a marriage. And it is about the sort of rupture, each private and historic, that can’t be neatly resolved, not in life nor in a novel. “What’s the correct method to get rid of a wedding ceremony robe one can’t give to one’s daughter or daughter-in-law?” the lady on the centre of the ebook wonders. “No correct method.”

The ebook is witty and despairing in equal measure, formally elegant in its modernist layering of time and place – I want I had learn it a long time in the past. Maybe had I completed so, I’d have filed it on my shelf between two poets – Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton – and the thinker Hannah Arendt. The daughter of a psychoanalyst and granddaughter of a rabbi, Taubes, born Judit Zsuzsanna Feldmann in Hungary, was a scholar of philosophy and faith and wrote her dissertation on Simone Weil.

Vulnerable and valuable work … Susan Taubes.
Weak and helpful work … Susan Taubes. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Ethan and Tania Taubes

Set within the US, Paris and Budapest earlier than the second world battle, Divorcing is narrated by a girl who is outwardly useless. She has been decapitated by a passing taxi on a road in Paris. “It occurred so immediately, and moreover my thoughts was on one thing else on the time. However it’s fairly sure I’m useless. It’s within the newspaper.” What sort of useless appears to be the query – in spite of everything, she could be very alert to the circumstances she narrates. However who’s she?

The formidable feminine protagonist on the centre of this quick however epic quest for allusive freedom is Sophie Blind, born in Budapest, now residing in New York. She is within the throes of divorcing her oppressive, mental huge beast of a husband, Ezra Blind. Really, it was arduous for him to persuade her to marry within the first place. “She at all times stated no; to all males; to Ezra. Her look, her stroll, the way in which she dressed, spoke, or stored silence, said it clearly. She was ready for another person. Or maybe for no man.”


But there are different individuals from whom she wants to separate. Corresponding to her self-involved, Freudian father, whose technique for parenting is to clarify the Electra advanced to his younger daughter, as if it lined all the pieces she wanted to know. There may be additionally her bewildering, absent mom, who managed to save her fur coats from the Nazis and who left the household house to reside along with her lover.

Most urgently of all, Sophie Blind, mom of three spirited, pleasant kids, wants to escape from the pervasive misogyny of her period. Like many ladies who’re always undermined, she feels each useless and alive concurrently. As Sartre confirmed us, she may have to reside with the existential penalties of her hard-won freedom. “Using up Broadway in a taxi, a free girl, if this second she is much less lonely than she had been with Ezra, does she miss the heavy outdated distress?”

Maybe that is the second to point out David Rieff’s calmly magnificent introduction to the brand new version of this weak and helpful novel. He’s obliged to give us some data that is surprising if, like myself, you may have by no means heard of Taubes earlier than. Rieff tells us that she killed herself two weeks after Divorcing was revealed. He makes it clear that his mom, Susan Sontag, was buddies with each Taubes and her husband, Jacob. It was Sontag who was known as to establish Taubes’s physique after her loss of life.

Susan Sontag and her son David Rieff in 1967.
Susan Sontag and her son David Rieff in 1967. {Photograph}: Everett Assortment/Rex Options

So then, having learn Rieff’s introduction first, I assume I began studying this novel in the identical method I learn Plath’s final poems in Ariel. How might the information of Taubes’s killing herself not give the work a cost, make it sadder than the humour and intelligence put to work in Divorcing would possibly counsel? The excellent news is that, even with out this information, it stands as an intriguing, distinctive, achieved, if at occasions uneven stretch of writing.

All the identical, I can’t assist noticing that the main feminine protagonist’s being useless from the beginning of the novel appears to invigorate the writing. Maybe Taubes felt psychically freer to write about awkward, humiliating, difficult emotions if she put them into the mouth of a useless girl. The ideas in her decapitated head are what give the novel its vitality.

It has to be on report that the 1969 evaluate of Divorcing, written by Hugh Kenner for the New York Times, was so condescending and ignorant that it would depart any feminine author feeling defeated. I presume that what should have made Taubes really feel much more hopeless was that the misogyny she had so astutely dramatised and critiqued in her novel was busy, as soon as once more, taking her writing down. It appears that what Kenner objected to in Taubes’s novel was the “modernity of cinematic dialogue” and “jump-cuts” and “the with-it cat’s cradling of girl novelists”. Let’s simply stick with the “cat’s cradling” for a second and ignore the poke at “girl novelists”.

In 1939, Taubes fled Hungary along with her father to the US, whereas a few of her kin perished within the focus camps. Right here is an instance of the cat’s cradling to which this critic refers, by which I believe he means the writer collapses the previous into the current to convey how trauma at all times pulls us concurrently between life and loss of life.

Being in America presently didn’t make the horrible issues occurring in Europe much less horrible. One heard about deportations already in Budapest; in Pittsburgh one continued listening to about loss of life trains, mass exterminations, circumstances within the camps. What was occurring far-off was nearer than the streets in Pittsburgh; the loss of life camps had been nearer and extra actual than the drugstores she handed which mocked her with the coloured photos of large sweet bars and ice cream sodas; maybe she herself was on a loss of life practice; maybe a machine-gun bullet simply pierced her throat; the streets she roamed between her block and East Liberty turned an unmapped limbo whereas she rejoined her actual or phantom self that remained on the opposite facet.

To whom does Sophie Blind’s physique belong? Her father, or husband, or to the rabbis? That is the query she asks of herself when she makes an look in a coffin in direction of the center of the ebook. I’m undecided she solutions it, however she is granted her divorce. And as a “memento” she retains her husband’s surname, Blind, “like from the battle”.

Half three of Deborah Levy’s residing autobiography, Actual Property, is revealed by Hamish Hamilton in Could.


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