Here’s something amazing I learned from Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, by Alice Kaplan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). Apparently, even Susan Sontag struggled against an inner Disney Princess!
The X Factor
With two books in print, life went on–the more and more dazzling public life, the secret inner life. Life and work were tightly combined, yet under the pile of manuscripts, cultural outings, and intellectual connections was a constant buzz of worry, a struggle that preoccupied her throughout the winter months of 1960, in her daily existence with [her lover] Irene and her son David. She called it “X”–the overwhelming desire to please, to appease, to see oneself through other people’s reactions, to spare other people’s feelings, to care what they think. Women, she decided, were X; America itself, with its cult of popularity, was “a very Xy country.” “X is the scourge,” she wrote in February 1960: “How do I really cure myself of X?” She made lists of X situations, X feelings, X characteristics, and finally connected her personal problem to a concept in existential philosophy: “X is Sartre’s bad faith,” (125-26).
My guess is that some (most?) of you women readers can relate.
In reading the section on Sontag, she reminds me of no one so much as Marie de l’Incarnation, or at least Natalie Davis’s perceptive portrait of her in Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995). Both of them left young sons behind in order to devote themselves to their vision of a worthwhile inner life and a legacy of religious or intellectual leadership, neither of which was compatible with the responsibilities of wives and mothers as they were understood in their own times.
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