Short summary - The Pretty Pictures - Les Belles Images
Simone de Beauvoir
At first glance, Laurence, a beautiful young woman, has everything she needs to be happy: a loving husband, two daughters, an interesting job, wealth, parents, friends. But Laurence, looking aloof at all this well-being, does not feel happy. She notices the emptiness, uselessness of small talk about everything and nothing, sees all the falsity of the people around her. At a party with her mother and her lover, it seems to her that she has already seen and heard all this. Dominica, her mother, is reputed to be a model of good manners, she left her father, who never managed (or rather, did not want to) make a career, for the sake of the rich and successful Gilbert Dufresne, and everyone admires what a friendly and beautiful couple they are - a lovely picture. Dominica and Laurence were brought up as a "pretty picture": a flawless girl, a perfect teenager, a perfect young girl. Laurence smiles learnedly, perfectly in public. Five years ago, she already had depression, and it was explained to her that many young women go through it. Now she is again seized by unreasonable melancholy. Laurence's eldest daughter, ten-year-old Catherine, cries in the evenings, she is worried about "non-childish" questions: why not all people are happy, what to do to help hungry children. Laurence worries about her daughter: how to answer her troubling questions without hurting the soul of an impressionable girl? And where does the child have such problems? Laurence also thought about serious things when she was a child, but then it was a different time: when she was as old as Catherine, it was 1945. Laurence works in an advertising agency, advertising is the same pretty pictures, she successfully invents bait for gullible people. Her lover Lucien arranges scenes of jealousy for her, but Laurence is already burdening her with him: there is no trace of past outbursts of passion, in fact, he is no better than her husband Jean-Charles, but she is connected with Jean-Charles by the house, the children .. She still meets with Lucien from time to time, but since she does not have a great desire to see him, it becomes more and more difficult for her to find time for dates. It is much more pleasant for her to communicate with her father: he knows how to truly love, truly appreciate, he is not capable of compromises, is indifferent to money. She consults with him about Catherine. Her father advises her to get acquainted with the new girlfriend Katrin, to take a closer look at her. Jean-Charles tries to lull his daughter with sweet tales about the future happiness of all people on the planet, to protect her from reality in every possible way. Laurence cannot decide how to reconcile Catherine with reality, and vaguely feels that lying is not the best way to do this.
Gilbert's mother's lover unexpectedly asks Laurence to meet. She is concerned, assuming it’s for a reason. Indeed, Gilbert directly declares to her that he is in love with a young girl and intends to part with Dominica. The wife finally agreed to give him a divorce, and he wants to marry his beloved. Gilbert asks Laurence not to leave his mother: tomorrow he will tell her about the breakup, it is necessary for someone close to her to be with her in difficult times. Gilbert does not feel any guilt towards the woman with whom he lived for seven years. He believes that a woman, who is fifty-one, is older than a man who is fifty-six, and he is sure that nineteen-year-old Patricia truly loves him. Laurence hopes pride will help Dominic out. She will play the difficult but beautiful role of a woman who accepts a break with elegance. When Laurence visits her mother the next day, she pretends to know nothing. Dominica cannot come to terms with the gap, she wants to return Gilbert by all means. He did not tell her who his beloved was, and Dominica is at a loss to guess. Laurence does not betray Gilbert, so as not to upset his mother even more. When she returns home, Katrin introduces her new girlfriend to her. Brigitte is a little older than Catherine, her mother is dead, the girl looks rather abandoned, the hem of her skirt is pinned up with a pin. Brigitte seems much more mature than the infantile Catherine. Laurence recalls how once Dominique, protecting her from unwanted contacts, did not allow her to make friends with anyone, and she was left without friends. Brigitte is a nice girl, but does she have a good influence on Catherine, Laurence asks herself. Laurence asks the girl to talk less with Catherine about sad things.
Laurence and Jean-Charles are going on a weekend to the village house of Dominique. Among the guests is Gilbert. Dominique tells everyone that he and Gilbert are going to Lebanon for Christmas. He promised her this trip for a long time, and she hopes that if she tells everyone about it, he will be ashamed to refuse it. Gilbert is silent. Laurence advises him to abandon the trip, not saying anything about Patricia - Dominic will be offended and break up with him herself. When Laurence and Jean-Charles return to Paris, a cyclist suddenly hits the road. Laurence, who is driving, swerves sharply and the car falls into a ditch. Neither Laurence nor Jean-Charles was injured, but the car was smashed to smithereens. Laurence is glad she didn't crush the cyclist. Jean-Charles is upset: the car is expensive, and insurance does not provide compensation for damage in such cases.
Dominica learns that Gilbert is going to marry Patricia, the daughter of his former mistress. Gilbert is very rich, and breaking with him means giving up luxury for Dominica. She cannot bear it and, no matter how Laurence tries to dissuade her, she writes a letter to Patricia, where she tells her the whole truth about Gilbert. She hopes that the girl will not tell Gilbert anything, but will break up with him. She is wrong: Patricia shows the letter to Gilbert, and he slaps Dominica in the face. In a conversation with Laurence, Dominica sprinkles Patricia with areal abuse.
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Laurence discusses Catherine's behavior with Jean-Charles. She began to study worse, is insolent to her parents. Jean-Charles is dissatisfied with her friendship with Brigitte: Brigitte is older, and besides, she is Jewish. In response to Laurence's puzzled question, he says that he meant only that Jewish children are distinguished by premature development and excessive emotionality. Jean-Charles suggests showing Catherine to a psychologist. Laurence does not want to interfere in the inner life of her daughter, does not want Catherine to grow up as indifferent to other people's misfortunes as Jean-Charles, but still agrees. The whole family celebrates the New Year at Martha, Laurence's sister. Martha believes in God and is trying with all her might to impose her beliefs on those close to her. She condemns Laurence for not taking Catherine to church: faith would restore the girl's peace of mind. Usually Dominique spent this day with Gilbert, but now her daughters have invited her too. Dominique talks amiably with his ex-husband, Laurence and Martha's father. Father invites Laurence to go to Greece together. There, Laurence at some point realizes that his father is no better than others, that he is as indifferent as others, that his love for the past is the same escape from life as Jean-Charles's reasoning about the future. Laurence falls ill. Upon returning to Paris, she feels that her home is no closer to her than the stones of the Acropolis. Everything around is alien, no one is close to her, except Catherine. Brigitte invites Catherine to spend the Easter holidays together at their country house. Laurence wants to let her daughter go, but Jean-Charles objects. He suggests, so as not to upset Catherine, to go all together to Rome, and then to captivate Catherine with horseback riding - then she will not have time to meet with Brigitte. The psychologist believes that it is better to protect the impressionable Katrin from shocks. Father Laurence also advises to listen to the opinion of a psychologist, Catherine is upset, but ready to obey. Laurence is worried, everyone persuades her not to make a tragedy out of such a trifle. Dominica reveals that she and her father Laurence have decided to live together. She believes that spouses who have found each other after long years of separate life, in order to meet the impending old age together, must look dignified. Laurence finally realizes that she is disappointed in her father. Her illness, which manifests itself primarily in nausea, is despair. She is sick of her own life, of herself. She doesn’t know if there’s any use for the mole to open its eyes - after all, it’s still dark all around. But she doesn't want Catherine to become what everyone around her is trying to do, she doesn't want Catherine to become like her, so that she doesn't know how to love or cry. Laurence lets Catherine go on vacation to Brigitte.