Death of Claire Etcherelli: how, with “Elise or real life”, this author with a singular career had been able to impose herself


Claire Etcherelli, in Paris, June 15, 1978.

Revealed by his novel Elise or real lifePrix Femina 1967, Claire Etcherelli, who was a precious collaborator of Simone de Beauvoir, died on March 5 at the age of 89.

The beginnings in the life of the young Claire are difficult. Born in 1931 in Bordeaux in a disadvantaged environment, where sadness obscures the future, the little girl, who is slow to attend school, loses her father very early – a resistant docker, he is arrested and deported. Orphaned at 9 years old, raised for a time in the Basque Country by her grandfather, the little girl, pupil of the nation, honest, scholarship holder, a chic boarding school in Bordeaux. But she is not happy there. Sensitive to the social barriers that exclude her, she cloisters herself in a “great enforced, bitter loneliness”from which she only escapes by writing, in search of the key to her “own complexity”. Because she does not find her place, neither in the well-to-do environment that she discovers, nor in her own from which she is now cut off.

Achieved by this “downgrading”, she decides by refusing to appear for the baccalaureate, stops her studies, marries, but divorces a year after the birth of her first child. Another will come, whom she still brings up alone. As she does not have the means for the dreams she cherished as a teenager, she takes the road to the factory as one sinks, the proletarian world seeming to her to be implacably harsh.

Dumbfounded by this “fatigue that annihilates the human being”, she discovers assembly line work at Citroën, before escaping from it, as a domestic worker, then admitted to an office job, in a travel agency since she has “spelling”. It is all this that feeds his writing. An asceticism that she has never sacrificed, a logbook from which she will not be inspired, but which represents the time of scales. from where is born Elise or real life.

Read our archive (1967): Article reserved for our subscribers Claire Etcherelli speaks

When Simone de Beauvoir discovered the novel as soon as it was published in the fall of 1967, she was enthusiastic – only Violette Leduc benefited from such support from the philosopher. For THE New Observer, she talks with Claire, questioning both work, which is repetitive and alienating, and the place of women in this spiral that leads to resignation. An unexpected visibility for a beginner who knows nothing of the world of letters.

Raw writing

But the adventure is even more beautiful. Her manuscript refused by the publishers she contacts, Claire Etcherelli was not resigned. With reason. Because Maurice Nadeau (1911-2013), who recently transferred his “Lettres nouvelles” collection from Julliard to Denoël, accepted it. And once again, he won one of the prestigious autumn laurels, since, in 1965, just before changing address, he had seen Things (Julliard), first novel by the very young Georges Perec, hailed by the Renaudot jury. Thus, on November 27, 1967, primoromancer, Claire Etcherelli becomes the winner of the Femina prize, of which, a few months earlier, she was unaware of the existence.

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