Literary Musings

Writing for Madame: The Complex Friendship of Violette Leduc and Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir first met the French author Violette Leduc in 1945. At the time, de Beauvoir and her partner, Jean-Paul Sartre were the golden couple of Parisian intellectual circles, while Violette Leduc was a struggling writer mired in poverty.

Their first meeting, in the heady atmosphere of the Café Flore on the Left Bank, came only after Leduc had observed de Beauvoir and Sartre from a distance for several months, gathering the courage to introduce herself.

The resulting friendship seemed unlikely. Yet it lasted for several years, with mutual respect and admiration that survived Leduc’s unrequited attraction to de Beauvoir as well as the differing circumstances of the two women and their wildly diverging experiences of success. Read More→


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Jane Austen’s Love Life: Conjectures, Theories, & Evidence

Jane Austen’s love life has long been the subject of conjecture. Her purported romance with Thomas Lefroy, a young Irishman, for example, was the subject of the 2003 book Becoming Jane Austen, which was adapted to the middling 2007 film, Becoming Jane.

Sincere attempts have been made to sort fact from fiction when it comes to Jane Austen’s romances, and this excerpt from Jane Austen by Sarah Fanny Malden (1889) is an excellent endeavor.

This book is focused more on Austen’s work than on her life, with the exception of a handful of chapters, this being one of them. The publication was part of an Eminent Women series published by W.H. Allen & Co., London. Read More→


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What (Jane Austen’s) Women Want: Exploring Questions We’re Still Asking

If you’re like me, you’ve many times had to explain what Jane Austen is really about — you might find yourself explaining to friends who just don’t get it, that Austen is not all about finding a man who’s wealthier and more powerful than you are, to marry. This musing, pondering the question of what Jane Austen’s women want, is excerpted from The Austen Connection, reprinted by permission.

Sure, these novels follow the traditional Marriage Plot. These novels may have invented the plot as we know it today. As we’ve said before and will point out often in these letters, the stories also — while not technically Romance-genre stories — introduce, build on, and play off of our favorite Romantic Tropes, from the hate-to-love or friends-to-lovers storylines, to the Alpha male, forbidden love, and proximity plots. Read More→


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Reading and Revisiting Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby Stories

Literary Ladies contributor Marcie McCauley delves into children’s book author Beverly Cleary’s beloved character, Ramona Quimby, with this appreciation.

“The sight of that smooth, faintly patterned cloth fills me with longing,” writes Beverly Cleary, recalling an early childhood memory of Thanksgiving. At first, a moment of calm for the young girl: anticipating relatives seated around the dining room table. Then, activity: she finds a bottle of blue ink, pours some out, presses her hands into it, then “all around the table I go, inking handprints on that smooth white cloth.”

You might guess that the lingering memory would be the moment of discovery. Instead: “All I recall is my satisfaction in marking with ink on that white surface.” Read More→


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Growing up With Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in India

“Some books are so familiar, reading them is like being home again,” says Jo March, to her best friend, Laurie, as she picks up a volume of Shakespeare. That is exactly the kind of feeling that Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women evokes in me — a book that was a steadfast friend in my growing up years — one that I read and reread through my schoolgirl days in India.

Memories come back of lying on my stomach on a cold stone floor, on a hot summer day, with Little Women in one hand and homemade ice cream, tasting mainly of frozen Bournvita (an iconic nutritional beverage in India), in the other. 

Once the last cold bit of ice cream slid down the throat, it was time to find a cushion to rest one’s head on and be transported into the magical tale of the March sisters and Marmee, Laurie, the senior Mr. Lawrence, Papa March, Mr. Brooks, Professor Bhaer, Hannah, and the formidable Aunt March. Read More→


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