The Ravishing of Lol Stein

ISBN: 0394743040
ISBN 13: 9780394743042
By: Marguerite Duras Richard Seever

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About this book

Lol Stein is a beautiful young woman, securely married, settled in a comfortable life--and a voyeur. Returning with her husband and children to the town where, years before, her fiance had abandoned her for another woman, she is drawn inexorably to recreate that long-past tragedy.

Reader's Thoughts

Suzanne Moore

Ever since her fiance left her for an older woman at a dance that was supposed to be a preliminary wedding celebration, I think Lol Stein began “walking” through life as a voyeur. She has been seeing her world through eyes of a outsider. In other words she is physically present, but not fully aware or participating in living her life. Obviously she sinks into depression after being jilted. Months later she is presumably rescued by the man she will marry, but this marriage turns out to be a loveless one. She sees herself in the role of wife and mother, but doesn't ever feel like it's who she is. Moving back to her hometown after being away for ten years strengthens the yearning she had for her first love who she has never forgotten. She takes to walking the streets downtown with hopes of running into him. Of course he no longer lives here, having moved away with the women he left her for. She does see an old friend, Tatiana, who happened to be her comfort the night her fiance disappeared. Talking with Tatiana, she learns that her friend, a married woman, is involved in an affair with Jack Hold (who narrates the story). She purposefully plans other solitary walks to coincide with Tatiana's rendezvous. It is now that her “self-voyeurism” (my own applied interpretation) is transferred to another. Lol, lies in a field of rye across from the building where Tatiana and Jack meet up and fixes her view on a window where she sees their silhouettes. It is Jack who notices her watching them and he makes it possible for her to see their tryst more clearly. Jack is definitely turned on by the thought of being watched and he begins to plan for a time he can get Lol alone. Lol and Jack eventually end up spending the night together in a strange town. Still Lol's “insanity” keeps her distant and unable to feel a connection. Her emotional baggage keeps her in a voyeuristic dream-like state. Jack tells the story of this scarred woman and leaves me with the impression that he is damaged in some way himself.Often when reading I recall a song that reminds me in some way of the story. With this book I kept hearing Bob Dylan's song “Love Sick.” These verses in particular complement the Ravishing of Lol Stein quite well … I’m walking through streets that are dead. Walking, walking with you in my head. My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired. And the clouds are weepingI see, I see lovers in the meadow. I see, I see silhouettes in the window. I watch them ’til they’re gone and they leave me hanging on … to a shadow.


Not worth the read. I read it as part of the '1001 Books You Should Read in Your Life' group and finished this one having no idea why it was on the list. The writing was erratic and long winded without much really happening at all in the book. I can kind of see the whole idea of women's liberation in it when taking into account the fact that it was written in the 60's but not much was said, only vaguely implied. Lol's character was developed significantly but she is so strange and wishy washy with only the explanation of cancelled engagement. I found her reactions to everything very hard to believe. Tatiana didn't make a whole lot of sense either. She has some strange love affair going on with the narrator and is pretty certain there is something going on between Lol and him but she just chooses to largely ignore it, while Lol and Tatiana's husbands are suspicious but don't do anything about what they suspect to be their cheating wives. In what odd, cryptic parallel reality is this? I also didn't understand why the weakest and most vague of the characters was chosen to be the narrator. I choose to believe that part of the problem was in a faulty translation and since I don't speak French, I can't do much about that. However, I believe the problem had to be a lot more than the translation to come up with something this weak and ineffectual.


Sample paragraph: "Lol dreams of another time when the same thing that is going to happen would happen differently. In another way. A thousand times. Everywhere. Elsewhere. Among others, thousands of others who, like ourselves, dream of this time, necessarily. This dream contaminates me." The three-star rating is not for readability.


I was really impressed by the first few chapters of this book, but after that... well, the writing made it difficult to follow. I like books that make me think or even one where I have to stop for a bit to consider, but I found myself re-reading pages I'd just read going "now who said this??" And yet... at times I really liked the narrator's way of telling the story. I liked when he would point out that he was trying to construct parts he couldn't know for sure. Probably what I need to do now (or someday kind of soon) is re-read the book. Now that I've worked through it once and understood some of the rougher spots, maybe I'd get a lot more from it.

Kaycie Hall

Before this I had only read Duras's The Lover (and in English). We translated the first page or so of Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein in a French to English translation class I'm taking at the University of Paris, and it reawakened my interest in Duras. I love her writing style--direct and to the point, leaving little to the imagination (or maybe everything if you choose to think there's something deliberately left to curiosity). I read this in French without the aid of a dictionary, and it's quite possible that I missed some of the subtleties, but I found this story to be really striking---Lol's being jilted while in college (middle school/early high school age in France) has left her cold and odd, despite the many years that have passed and the seemingly happy life she ended up having. I really loved that the story is told not by Lol herself, or even by her childhood friend Tatiana, but by her lover (and Tatiana's lover), who really only just met Lol. He, like the reader, really was an outsider looking in and incapable of truly understanding exactly what it was that afflicted Lol.


In a word: hypnotic. Yet also, startling. This was recommended to me by a creative writing professor I had in college, after reading a short story I wrote involving a female protagonist who was similar to Lol. There are moments when, as one reviewer said, Marguerite Duras puts such a spell on the reader with the way she uses language, that the reader almost feels "drugged". It's a haunting, erotic novel of intersecting characters driven by loss, obsession and voyeurism. Lol is shattered by a trauma that leaves a cut so deep, she can never pick up the pieces and become a whole person. Instead, she lives the shadow of a real life and lives vicariously through her voyeurism of Jacques & Tatiana. Meanwhile, through a deft shift in perspective, the reader also gets to glimpse a man's obsession and addiction to an elusive, enigmatic, 'damaged' woman/personality. As I remember it, there is nothing erotic about the love scene between Jacques & Lol when it finally occurs; it is, in fact, so unerotic it's startling & slightly disturbing. While there is a palpable attraction between these two characters, I interpreted it as the final manifestation of Lol's inability to feel. She may be able to live vicariously through others, but she cannot, or will not, allow herself to feel, experience genuine pleasure or any genuine emotion for that matter. The pain of her past has paralyzed her emotionally. When I think of Lol Stein, the words that come to mind are, 'fragility', 'instability' and 'paralysis'. As I said earlier, it's a hypnotic character study of a life defined and structured by tragedy and its aftermath, yet also a novel delving into the elements of attraction, obsession and possession.


"Mais si, Marguerite Duras, vous connaissez… l'apologiste sénile des infanticides ruraux", "la papesse gâteuse des caniveaux bouchés" qui n'écrit que "des romans de cul à l'alcool de rose"… "Marguerite Duras qui n'a pas écrit que des conneries, hein… elle en a aussi filmé !"


Beautifully written but not my cup of tea...too "modernist" ...resembles but does not reach, I think, some of the Woolf's best works, even resembling works like Mrs. Dalloway in theme and key scenes....I prefer Duras' more sustained pieces of fiction, the longer novels. However, it was worth reading after her reflections on writing in which she explains how she wrote the novel, and the importance of her writing place in process, which is reflected in the novel in terms of scenes within enclosures - hotels and ancient houses by the ocean (in Normandy, Northern France).


The writing of Marguerite Duras reminded me of movies such as 'Festen' and 'Melancholia'. It seems detached from reality, empty even, and the more you read, the more the whole book seems to disappear. 'Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein' is not an easy book to read, but it is a very strong intellectual stimulus. We are talking about an author who wrote a book that had a clear meaning, but then decided to scratch out all the words that assured some clarity.We are talking about a character that is called Lol V. Stein (not the most sexy name for a character) who likes to be the ignored corner of a triangular relationship. We are also talking about trauma without the presence of pain. In fact, what is this book all about? Lol is left by her husband, but seems to find a sort of perverted pleasure in him taking off with another woman. She then tries to recreate this whole scenario by manipulating the lover of her best friend, who also happens to be the narrator.I'll come back to this review after I've analysed this book in my French class, but for now, all I can say is that usually I have strong feelings after finishing a book. Either very positive, very negative or very neutral. This book is like the somewhat creepy, silent kid that was always in your class, the faux pas that did have a certain charisma. Very strange, very intruiging.


duras is incredible. this book messed me up, in all sorts of brilliant ways. i love it. i tell everyone to read it. the prose is beautiful; the story is miserably familiar in strange ways. i think you'll like it.


nope. i do not like marguerite duras. janet flanner, in the new yorker claims that her writing has a "shine like crystal." and that's probably true, if one is observing that it is as pointy and depthless as crystal, as chill and remote, as something that refracts emptily. ooooh duras BURN!!if this is a literary bodice ripper, i gotta say i prefer the crappy contemporary ones. this one isn't even intense with the taut tingling of repression, which also has its place and is something i can appreciate - it doesn't all have to be desperate passions and rending of garments, but this zombie vacuity does nothing for me - nothing nothing nothing. there is nothing at stake here, just people blinking emptily at each other, speaking words with no momentum behind them, frequently non sequiturs so it seems as though they are involved in separate conversations. lack of quotation marks so that when one character will reluctantly, languidly plop out a sentence, you sometimes don't even know which one is speaking, unless there is a back-and-forth, and then you can use context or whatever. but the one isolated word or phrase in a scene when two people are just sitting around existing, who knows who is speaking? who cares? and i am not just pouting because no one but me wanted to read zola for the literary smut portion of our rippings, i swear. i did not like The Lover when i read it, but i had hope nonetheless. this one sounded like it could be interesting. but the french have this habit of creating highly stylized works of art that leave me cold. why do they do that? very infuriating, frenchies...i know all the other rippers will have informed and intelligent things to say about this, and my frazzled and sweaty frustration will be coolly counteracted by more reasonable ladies (and a dude or two) with elegant and refined responses examining the psychology of characters such as these, and what duras is trying to accomplish be portraying them in this way, but i am a monster and i bust down the door and say "boring boring boring boring!!!"also, "boring!!"now i will go hide. ♥


Duras’ writing is like taking a slow drug—something woozy and disorienting, a little foggy yet intensifying, slowing down time here, speeding it up there. Her style is fluid and incantatory; a hypnotic movement of memory and breath, a watercolor swirl of feelings on the surface of a lake that at first glance appears calm and neutral, but underneath something bubbles up, the premonition of a storm, and while reading I am waiting and waiting for that storm to break, for all the silt being churned up in the depths to come spewing out, for something real and undeniable to emerge. And does it? Does one true feeling ever burst through the overriding numbness, does Duras make good on all her romantic-obsessive meandering to show us what or who has been driving the boat, do we ever get a chance to see the characters unveil themselves completely, do we know anything or anyone by the end?Hm.Duras is masterful at creating tension, setting the stage for drama with a playwright’s deft hand at direction, except she is describing the inner stage, the invisible feelings and motivations playing out in each character, which our narrator intuits or invents. In many ways this narrator seemed to be incidental, a figment of everyone’s imagination, including the reader’s, there only to physically inhabit the landscape, to serve as a grounding “I/eye,” but amorphous and permeable as a phantom, occupying other characters and turning a third-person view on himself with a kind of eerie remove. I admire the confidence with which Duras sweeps her reader along, never stopping to check in and see how windblown the reader is, just coaxing and continuing, single-pointed through the fog.The narrator wants Lol to “consume and crush me with the rest…to be bent to her will” (97), but WHY I kept asking myself, Why Why WHY? Here is where my reactions started getting personal. I recalled in my own writing how tempting it was to write myself into a tragic, numbed-out yet obsessively compelling woman character, enigmatic and evasive, beautiful in her absolute impenetrability. The term that kept coming up for me related to this portrait was “self-indulgent.” Duras’ characters talk about love, but I don’t see any of them actually feeling it. I didn’t get any real sense of the link between Tatiana and Lol—I got that Lol played out the projected madness and alienation the other characters (Jack and Tatiana) felt within, but I didn’t ever fully buy into the melodramatic intensity under which these characters lived. Perhaps I would have done better with more of a social context, something bigger to draw from than just this triadic world of disconnect and yearning and repression…And yet I also get that this was the intent, to show the self-absorption of these lives, independent of any greater story arc or historical context, just these roiling, voyeuristic, emotional beings captured and liberated by Lol’s tragic stoicism. I kept feeling myself drawn along the thread of some mystery, the answer to which (the cause of Lol’s madness, the truth behind the breakdown at the ball, etc) would be revealed at the end. But it wasn’t, really. And maybe this too was the point. But by the last line I realized I didn’t really care about any of them. They all seemed to me like actors, entertaining themselves with shows of dramatic intensity fit for the stage. And viewed from the audience, it’s intriguing—but, as it struck me, egotistical. Obviously struck a chord for me to look at more closely in my own work…


Club ReadI agree with Michele that 'Ravishing' contains passages of expressive, poetic language but, for me, as a study of obsession and perhaps madness, the recursion and duality inherent in the major themes and the presentation do not completely cohere as artistic expression. Point of view is the start of the problem. Jack Hold's narrative, on the one hand, proceeds from the premise of providing a straight-up history of Lol Stein -- the heart-break of the abandonment by Richardson, the subsequent marriage to Bedford, the children and 'meticulous' home-making, the quirky attributes. But Jack's also giving himself license to embellish and create, stating 'it's better to rip open the tombs where Lol is feigning death than to fabricate mountains, create obstacles and rely on chance'. A little further he follows, 'I am always relying on hypotheses, which are in no way gratuitous...'. Perhaps, but at what point does the language tell more about Jack than Lol? 'I know Lol Stein in the only way I can, through love', he says. Exactement! By detailing what he believes is her sub-conscious, Jack is dually involved in mapping his own. As a result, the reader becomes unsure in his/her orientation to the characters and story. Add to this the recursive, reductive components expressed either as obsessive imaginings or elements of plot and there is a further unsettling. Lol keeps returning to the night at the Town Beach Casino, Jack to the hotel bedroom and the fields or rye. When Jack meets Lol in the tea room and she remarks that Jack 'can't bear' to be without Tatiana, we get this interior monologue, presumably from Jack: 'Flesh is being rent, is bleeding, is awakening. She is trying to listen to some inner commotion, fails to , is overwhelmed by the realization, however incomplete of her desire.' So we have the ambiguous antecedent of the first sentence, followed by Jack obsessing and speculating on Lol obsessing about her desire for Jack or is it Tatiana? Likewise, when Jack makes love to Tatiana in the hotel room, he seems thrilled by observing Lol watching them from the fields of rye; she doesn't realize -- or does she? -- her voyeurism is encapsulated by actor Jack turned observer, dual roles again. At one point, Jack describes to Lol his love-making to Tatiana and both become voyeurs together, with Lol finally asking 'Tatiana, with her head hidden beneath the sheet, she's not me, is she?' I expect romantic or erotic obsession is by defintion recursive and I get the idea that, in this 'menage a trois', the sub-conscious mind is hard at work blurring the boundaries of self and other. But, artistically, it is easier to create the dreamscape than the dreamer. I would be interested in hearing from from more readers like Rosemary on how much -- or little -- they are engaged with Jack, Lol and Tatiana as characters. For my part, Duras has no affection for them and as a result, the storytelling lacks the kind of individual detail that would make these themes of obsession more effective, especially in the context of an amorphous point of view.


I can feel a Marguerite Duras fixation coming on.While fairly impressed with her late novel L'amant de la Chine du nord , I wasn't completely drawn into Duras's milieu until David and I watched Hiroshima mon amour, the 1959 Alain Resnais film for which she wrote the screenplay. To put it bluntly, Hiroshima mon amour blew. me. away. The opening sequence reduced me to sobs, overlaying Emmanuelle Riva's and Eiji Okada's stark, dreamlike narration (a stylized argument, which at times seems almost to veer into poetic verse, about whether or not Riva's character has or has not "seen" the devastation of Hiroshima) with footage of said devastation and of the hospital and museum Riva's character mentions. And the film as a whole raised fascinating questions about authenticity, storytelling, trauma, and the ability of humans to connect and empathize. Since Duras' 1964 novella Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein shares many of these same preoccupations, I thought I would attempt to write about them together, even though I know that I will be overwhelmed with material!Both Hiroshima and Ravissement, then, are deeply concerned with the extent to which it is (im)possible to step inside another person's experience. In the opening scene of the film, Riva's character (known simply as "elle" or "her") makes a repeated claim to have witnessed the events of nuclear devastation in Hiroshima, not at first hand but through visits to bomb victims in the hospital, trips to the museum, and viewings of the newsreels. As she amplifies on her experiences, speaking in mesmerizing circuits of repeated words, Eiji Okada's character "lui"/"him" occasionally interrupts her to deny her authority: "Tu n'as rien vu à Hiroshima." ("You saw nothing at Hiroshima.") So did she? It's a complicated question. On one hand, some of her claims are quite radical: J'ai eu chaud, Place de la Paix. Dix mille degrés sur la Place de la Paix. Je le sais. La temperature du soleil sur la Place de la Paix - comment l'ignorer? I was hot in Peace Square. Ten thousand degrees in Peace Square. I know it. The temperature of the sun in Peace Square - how could you not know it? Obviously, this Frenchwoman can only "know" that the temperature in Peace Square reached ten thousand degrees in the way one knows a fact from a history textbook: with her brain rather than her body. Likewise there is a world of difference between visiting an interpretive museum exhibit, even an extremely well-constructed one, and "knowing" an event through first-hand knowledge either personal or cultural. On the other hand, her empathy just as obviously exceeds the theoretical: watching those newsreels and museum exhibits really has imbued her with some part of the horror of the situation. In fact, as a viewer watching the scenes of devastation ourselves, we are in the exact same situation. Resnais and Duras make us question Elle's claims to understanding, even as they put us in an extreme position of identification with her. After all, if I am sobbing as I watch this film (which I was), how can I fully dismiss the power of simulacrums to convey experience? As she herself acknowledges later on, we as outside observers are limited in our ability to both feel and act: "On peut toujours se moquer. Mais que peut faire d'autre un touriste, que justement pleurer?" / "You can always scoff. But what else can a tourist do, but weep?" Later on in the film, Riva's character is possessive about her own traumatic war-time experience; her Japanese lover can listen and feel pain, but he can't truly understand. Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein, too, questions the ability of any person to tell the story of another's trauma—or even to claim absolute certainty about what that trauma was in the first place. Lola Valerie Stein (self-styled Lol V.) remains a cypher throughout the novella, which is narrated by her eventual lover, Jacques Hold. Jacques meets Lol through another lover of his, Tatiana Karl, an old school friend of Lol's who was present on the night, ten years before, which directly preceded Lol's mental breakdown. Exactly what precipitated this breakdown remains a subject of contention throughout the novella: while it's clear that Lol and her fiancé both met an older woman that night, and that the fiancé left with said woman as dawn was breaking, Lol's emotions at each step of the evening are puzzling, as is her present relationship to the past. For example, Tatiana recalls that for most of the dance Lol didn't seem to mind her fiancé being enamored of another woman, sitting calmly throughout the evening until the couple left the ballroom without her. Was she ever in love with her fiancé? Was she in love with the woman who replaced her in his affections? Was she in love with some mental image of the couple together, and herself as an observer of their love? Was she teetering on the brink of mental disaster the whole time, and this night was merely the straw that broke the camel's back of her mind?Tatiana is invested in one version of past events, and Lol—uncommunicative, shocky, and prone to telling bizarre, easily-detectable lies—is of little use as a witness. Jacques himself is all too aware of his inability to fathom Lol's inner world; not only was he not present on the famous night of the ball, but Tatiana, who was there, disagrees about whether it's even the crucial event in Lol's past. She feels that Lol has always been missing some crucial component, that her "self" has always been somehow absent, and that the seeds of her breakdown were present since long before the night at T. Beach.      Je lui ai demandé si la crise de Lol, plus tard, ne lui avait pas apporté la preuve qu'elle se trompait. Elle m'a répeté que non, qu'elle, elle croyait que cette crise et Lol ne faisaient qu'un depuis toujours.     Je ne crois plus à rien de ce que dit Tatiana, je ne suis convaincu de rien.      I asked her if Lol's breakdown, later on, didn't prove to her that she had been wrong. She repeated that no, that she, she believed that this attack and Lol had always been one.     I no longer believe in anything Tatiana says, I'm not convinced of anything. Thus not only do we have competing accounts of what happened inside Lol while she watched her fiancé fall for another woman, we have a debate about whether it even matters. Tatiana and Jacques are also unsure of the degree to which Lol has recovered from her breakdown: the slick surfaces of her immaculately-maintained home and marriage seem to indicate "recovery," yet Tatiana at least is invested in the idea of Lol's continuing malady. And what is that malady in the first place? It becomes clear that Lol is, for some reason and in some way, obsessed with her past, but what is she remembering and experiencing when she thinks of it?This brings up another commonality between Ravissement and Hiroshima, which is a preoccupation with memory and forgetting, and the pain involved in inevitably forgetting something one had sworn to remember. In the film, Riva's character gestures at this idea with the statementDe même que dans l'amour, cette illusion existe, cette illusion de pouvoir jamais oublier, de même j'ai eu l'illusion devant Hiroshima, que jamais je n'oublierai. De même que dans l'amour. Just as in love, this illusion exists, this illusion of never being able to forget, I had the illusion when confronted with Hiroshima, that I would never forget it. Just as in love. But the inability to forget—or more accurately, the ability to never forget, to remember forever, is just that: an illusion. Even as these characters are haunted by an inescapable relationship to their past traumas (to the point where several people identify each other as synonymous with those traumas), what dwells inside them is not precisely "memory" but an ever-changing set of reference points combining past, present, potential and imaginary. When Lol moves back to the town of S. Tahla after ten years away, for example, her memories of the town seem to start out sharp, not having been added to much in the intervening years, but soon they become eroded through frequent applications of new experience. [E]lle commença à reconnaître moins, puis différement, elle commença à retourner jour après jour, pas à pas vers son ignorance de S. Tahla.      Cet endroit du monde où on croit qu'elle a vécu sa douleur passée, cette prétendue douleur, s'efface peu à peu de sa mémoire dans sa matérialité. Pourquoi ces lieux plutôt que d'autres? En quelque point qu'elle s'y trouve Lol y est comment une première fois. De la distance invariable du souvenir elle de dispose plus: elle est là. Sa présence fait la ville pure, méconnaissable. Elle commence à marcher dans le palais fastueux de l'oubli de S. Tahla. She began to recognize less, then differently, she began to return day after day, step by step towards her ignorance of S. Tahla.      This spot in the world where they say she lived her past grief, this alleged grief, is little by little erased from her memory by her corporeality. Why these places rather than others? Wherever Lol finds herself, it is as though she is there for the first time. She no longer positions herself at the unvarying remove of memory: she is there. Her presence renders the city pure, unknowable. She begins to walk in the sumptuous palace of forgetting S. Tahla. Thus being back in her home town erodes Lol's past knowledge of it, just as she seems unable to see again the shapes of her past self and her former fiancé when she revisits T. Beach at the end of the novel. Her attempts to reenact the past with a new cast of characters, and force it to provide her with something that was missing the first time around, are dream-like and fascinating, asking similar questions and evoking a similar mood to the relationship between "Elle" and "Lui" in Hiroshima mon amour. I am eager to read more Duras from this period; where should I start? Moderato Cantabile? L'après-midi de M. Andesmas? Recommendations very much welcome. In the meantime, both Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein and Hiroshima mon amour come very highly recommended.


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