Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

   Part 2

Determination in a Woman of the French Foreign Legion

     I look now at aspects of the life of Susan Travers, who, at a crucial time in history, had a beautiful determination to work against Fascism as a volunteer military driver in the North African Campaign during World War II.  Ms. Travers is now 92 and lives in Paris.  She is the only woman ever to serve in the French Foreign Legion, and her life, which is very rich, is representative of the two kinds of determination women go after. 

         Susan Travers was born September 23, 1909 in Devon, England, amidst great wealth.  She and her brother, Lawrence, were tutored at home, and shehad nurses who washed, dressed and fed her.  She tells in her autobiography Tomorrow to Be Brave, written with Wendy Holden, that she "was forced into the most awful bonnets," ...(slide) that she was more interested in seeking adventures. 

          Aesthetic Realism shows that we come to have impressions of the whole world through the persons we meet early.  Growing up, she'd never been close to her mother, who she observed, was often sad and reclusive.  Her father, retired from the British Navy, was often irritable at home.  Ms. Travers writes that he "almost certainly married her [mother] for her money," and later didn't have much to do with her. As many couples do, they led separate lives. 

          Though her father encouraged her avid interest in literature, and told her about the great seascapes he'd seen, she was hurt by how he would often dismiss her abruptly.  I think she was mixed up by how her parents were both warm and cold, near and distant, and felt the world seemed confusing and unreliable.  Meanwhile, she was, as Mr. Siegel described, "in a great contest between the victory of scorn for reality and the victory of caring for it ever increasingly."  Writing about attending boarding school in Canne, France she says:   

       I'd always been a loner, and I didn't really know how to interact with children my own age....all the other girls were beastly.  The teachers were unkind and the matron, Mrs. Buckle, was a dragon...I was miserable and...hardened my heart and,...prayed for the day when I in control of my own destiny. 
          Though a girl may have accurate criticisms, she can be determined to be displeased with everything.  I certainly was.  In an Aesthetic Realism consultation, Susan Travers might be asked: 
       Did you try to know any of the girls deeply?  Perhaps there were girls there who also felt they didn't know how to interact with other children.  When you say you'd always been a loner, is that a "nice" way of saying you felt you were superior to everyone else? 
          After attending finishing school in Florence, she resolved to leave, in her words "the humdrum reality of [her]" and she began to pursue men as her "ticket to...wealth, and happiness," determined as she put it to "use my charms to my greatest advantage." 

          Between 1929 and 1939, she went after "a heady decade of socializing" across Europe, "embarking," she writes "on several affairs with wholly unsuitable men."   Instead of wanting to know, she flattered and patronized the men she dated, and this made for great inner turmoil.  She writes:   

       To my great dismay, none of the men I fell in love with ever asked me to marry them....I would have accepted a proposal just for... financial security....It was a road to self-destruction. 
          I think what Ellen Reiss writes of another woman as to a man in The Right Of, describes the young Ms. Travers: "She was determined; but the nature of her determination made her careless where she shouldn't have been." 

         In an early class I attended with Eli Siegel, when I asked him what good will for a man would mean, he explained:   

       [Good will] is the wanting, through your effort, to have the person you're talking to, in your eyes and [reality's], a better and stronger person....The desire to be just is deep, but it's made boring in terms of ordinary life....When a person is born the question is, "How can I be fair to persons around me?" 
    Susan Travers needed so much to hear this. 

    A Right Determination

     By the summer of 1939, reservists were being mobilized throughout Europe, and war seemed imminent.  Just a year later, Hitler's armies, determined to conquer all of Europe and the world, and subjecting human beings as they went along to the worst atrocities in history, swiftly overtook France.  The Vichy Government was formed, and actively endorsed Germany's brutal, fascist policies against their own people.  Shocked by France's capitulation, Susan Travers was determined "to do something of value on the front lines."  When she heard a powerful broadcast by General Charles de Gaulle, calling for all French soldiers and others to join with his 'Free French,' saying that "the flame of the French resistance, must not go out" she went to his headquarters in London and joined the French Foreign Legion heading to West Africa.  She was determined in behalf of justice.  She tells of seeing herself in the mirror: (slide)   

       Gone were...the fancy hats, fine silks and chic Parisian suits....My new attire was, I realized with a strange sense of satisfaction, far more appropriate to the person I really was....France and the free world [were] at stake.... For the first time...,I felt truly alive and part of something much bigger than my immediate horizons. 
          In June 1941 she became General Marie-Pierre Koenig's driver, who, she wrote "[was] the type of man who led his troops into battle personally.  I was thrilled."   As the only woman, she was given the name "La Miss" by her company.  Once when driving Koenig, she came to a bridge, and was warned by an officer of its danger, but she was bravely determined: 
       You're the first vehicle across since it's been mined... Would you like one of my men to drive..."No, thanks. I'll manage."...I rolled across with barely enough room for my wheels to pass between the rows of sandbags.  The sweat drenched my shirt and the unnatural beating of my heart left me in no doubt that I was far from the heroine they thought me to be. 
          Some weeks into her new job, she began to feel an overwhelming lethargy, and was hospitalized with severe hepatitis.  But the thing she worried about most was her job, and she wrote to her parents "I hope to be of more use to those on the front lines." 

     conclusion next page

  2002 Lynette Abel
Logo Lynette Abel, Aesthetic Realism Associate
Articles on issues explained by the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel
Aesthetic Realism Seminars
Reports of Aesthetic Realism classes taught by Eli Siegel
Art and Life Discussion
Links about Aesthetic Realism and related resources
Lynette Abel