Beck, Béatrix 1914–
Beck, Béatrix 1914–
(Béatrix Marie Beck)
PERSONAL: Born July 30, 1914, in Vaud, Switzerland; daughter of Christian Beck (an author); married Naum Szapiro, 1936 (deceased); children: Bernadette. Education: Attended University of Grenoble.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, B. Grasset, 61 rue des Saints-Peres, 75006 Paris, France.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as a journalist in Paris, France, as a teacher in North America, and as a staff member of La Revue de Paris; private secretary to author André Gide, 1950–51. Jury member, Prix Fémina.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix des Neuf, 1951, for Une mort irrégulière; Prix Goncourt, 1952, for Léon Morin, prêtre; Prix du Livre Inter '79, 1979, for La décharge; Prix Fondation Delmas, 1979; Prix Pierre-de-Monaco, 1989; Prix Félix Fénéon.
Barny (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1948.
Une mort irrégulière (novel; title means "An Irregular Death"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1950.
Léon Morin, prêtre (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1952, reprinted, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1997, translated as The Passionate Heart, J. Messner (New York, NY), 1953, translated as The Priest, M. Joseph (London, England), 1953.
Contes à l'enfant né coiffé (title means "Tales of a Child Born with Combed Hair"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953.
Des accommodements avec le ciel (title means "Working Things Out with Heaven"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1954, reprinted, 1996.
Premier mai (novel; based on the film by Luis Saslavsky), Calmann-Lévy (Paris, France), 1958.
Krol (biography), Pierre Cailler Édituer (Geneva, Switzerland), 1958.
Balzac (biography), Hachette (Paris, France), 1959.
Le muet (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1963.
(Author of introduction) Honoré de Balzac, Le père Goriot, Livre de Poche (Paris, France), 1966.
Cou coupé court toujours (title means "A Neck Always Cut Short"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1967.
L'épouvante l'émerveillement (novel), Sagittaire (Paris, France), 1977.
Noli (novel), Sagittaire (Paris, France), 1978.
La décharge (novel), Sagittaire (Paris, France), 1979.
Devanceer la nuit (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1980.
Josée dite Nancy, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1981.
Don Juan des forêts (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1983.
L'enfant chat (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1984.
La prunelle des yeux (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1986.
(Editor and author of preface) Paulin Paris, Le roman de Renart, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1986.
Stella Corfou (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1988.
Un(e) (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1989.
Grâce, Maren Sell (Paris, France), 1990.
Recensement (short stories), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1991.
Vulgaires vies (short stories), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1992.
Une Lilliputienne (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1993.
Moi ou autres (short stories), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1994.
Prénoms (short stories), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1996.
L'île dans une bassine d'eau et autres contes choisis (short stories), École des Loisirs (Paris, France), 1996.
(With others) Des livres et vous, photographs by Henri Zerdoun, Editions Eboris (Geneva, Switzerland), 1996.
Plus loin mais où (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1997.
Confidences de gargouille (biography), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1998.
Guidée par le songe (short stories), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1998.
La petite Italie (short stories), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 2000.
Contributor to André Gide, Presses de l'Université Laval (Quebec, Canada), 1969; and Fåves à cowe di pèhon et autres textes, Société de langue et de littérature wallonness (Liège, Belgium), 1987.
ADAPTATIONS: Léon Morin, prêtre was adapted to film as The Passionate Heart, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, 1961.
SIDELIGHTS: Swiss author Béatrix Beck is a prolific, prize-winning novelist and short-story writer who has been publishing works since the 1940s. Her literary output falls roughly into two periods. In the first phase of her career, her work is strongly influenced by her life; in the second period, Beck shows an increasing love for wordplay and wit.
The daughter of novelist Christian Beck, Béatrix lost her father when she was only two years old. As a young woman, tragedy struck again when her husband died and she was left a widow supporting a child. To make ends meet, she worked several jobs and eventually became the private secretary to writer André Gide. The influence of her experiences on Beck's work can best be seen in her first novel, Barny, but carries through into more recent works, including her best-known book, Léon Morin, prêtre, published in English as The Passionate Heart. The story of a working-class priest who falls in love during desperate times, the novel won the prestigious Prix Goncourt and was adapted as an acclaimed film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.
In the late 1950s through the 1970s, Beck's fiction output decreased noticeably, but it revived in the 1980s. A woman in her seventies at that point, Beck's writing became increasingly sophisticated and complex. Symbolism, metaphor, impressionistic scenes, psychological depth, and considerable attention to language usage are readily apparent in works like Don Juan des forêts and Confidences de gargouille. In the former, for example, Beck recreates the Don Juan figure to employ religious symbolism in scenes of sexuality that become "a kind of pantheistic ritual," according to Sergio Villani in a World Literature Today review. Villani concluded that the work "is a novel which goes far beyond the grasp of the common reader." La prunelle des yeux features a doctor who aspires to be a writer even as he is becoming blind. Complicating matters is the doctor's somewhat erotic relationship with a young man who becomes his assistant and the problems it causes with the assistant's mother. Describing the work as "impressionistic" in many of its scenes, Patricia M. Gathercole wrote in World Literature Today of her fascination with Beck's use of dialogue and vocabulary, as well as how the growth of the characters provides "an insight into some of the problems of twentieth-century existence."
Stella Corfou is a complex novel about a character's evolution from a kind of savage forest nymph to an elderly, insane woman. The fifty-year leap between the two periods in Stella's life puzzled critics like World Literature Today contributor Villani. Commenting that it is as if those fifty "years of her life were insignificant," Villani was nonetheless intrigued by the author's use of language, which "delights the mind and shocks the soul." Susan Petit noted in her French Review assessment that the "novel is not simply a farce based on language, however, for one gradually realizes that Stella uses her verbal energy to counter a feeling of hopelessness."
Beck's delight in language is also evident in her short story collections, such as Vulgaires vies. In another French Review article, Petit commented that it "makes one see vividly how her tone has turned increasingly witty and her focus changed from recording the (somewhat altered) events of her life to manipulating language." Elements of fantasy imbue some of her later pieces, such as Une Lilliputienne, which features a dollsized character. Revealing that she uses language and wit not only to amuse readers but also to illuminate serious themes, Beck often writes about death, madness, and emotional crises. As Petit observed in a review of Confidences de gargouille for the French Review, "Under the most discouraging conditions, she has produced a fine body of work which is at once amusing, thoughtful, whimsical, heartbreaking, and profound."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
French Review, April, 1989, Susan Petit, review of Stella Corfou, pp. 900-901; April, 1992, Susan Petit, review of Recensement, p. 847; February, 1994, Susan Petit, review of Vulgaires vies, pp. 549-550; April, 1995, Jane Riles, review of Une Lilliputienne, pp. 902-903; March, 1996, Susan Petit, review of Moi ou autres, pp. 681-682; April, 2000, Susan Petit, review of Confidences de gargouille, pp. 1002-1003.
World Literature Today, spring, 1984, Sergio Villani, review of Don Juan des forêts, pp. 231-232; spring, 1987, Patricia M. Gathercole, review of La prunelle des yeux, p. 246; winter, 1989, Sergio Villani, review of Stella Corfou, p. 65; autumn, 1991, Danielle Chavy Cooper, review of Recensement, p. 663; spring, 1993, Judith L. Greenberg, review of Vulgaires vies, pp. 332-333; autumn, 1999, Gretchen Rous Besser, review of Guidée par le songe, p. 693; winter, 2000, Gretchen Rous Besser, review of Confidences de gargouille, p. 113.