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the Complete Review
the complete review - non/fiction


Francis Ponge

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To purchase Soap

Title: Soap
Author: Francis Ponge
Genre: .
Written: 1967 (Eng. 1969)
Length: 97 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Soap - US
Soap - UK
Soap - Canada
Le savon - Canada
Le savon - France
  • French title: Le savon
  • Translated by Lane Dunlop

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Our Assessment:

B : passionate -- and it's interesting to follow the evolution of the text(s)

See our review for fuller assessment.


  • "My mother was an admirer of a little-known French writer whose name was Francis Ponge, a sort of parody name. Ponge was a man after my mother's own heart. Ponge wrote in minute detail about the appearance of such things as sand and mimosa and soap. Soap particularly fascinated him. Ponge wrote long essays on the appearance of soap, page after page of descriptions of soap. He wrote a novel titled Soap. My mother translated some of his poetry. This also concerned soap." - Jonathan Miller, in 'Among Chickens', Granta (159)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Soap is a small book, a collection of texts written by Ponge over the course of about two decades chronicling (and presenting) his attempts to create a specific work:

Ah ! this dossier-soap, this soap-dossier, what trouble, for twenty or twenty-five years, it has given me, this soap ! which I am going to rid myself of today, in a few minutes (what luck !).
       From the earliest attempts he believes:
     There is much to say about soap. Precisely everything that it tells about itself until the complete disappearance, the exhaustion of the subject. This is precisely the object suited to me.
       But Ponge's isn't a rigorous, pedantic obsession. This isn't a book that considers everything that soap is and means; indeed, it is exhaustive only in the most limited way. It's nothing like the currently popular books that consider a very small subject in all its detail and history. Instead, Soap is a playful-poetic (and personal) variation on the theme -- some froth and bubbles, a good deal of repetition (as he warns there will be), and certainly very little technical or historical information about soap. It's not meant to be an informative book.
       The earliest text dates from April, 1942, Ponge writing from a place where he and his family were: "in retreat -- or refugees". He notes that it was a time of privation, and: "soap, real soap, was particularly missed". There is a distinct feeling in these writings that 'soap' itself becomes a substitute, something to fantasize about in a time where there was little to hope for, something it was safe to be passionate about. And Ponge certainly is passionate, almost rapturous in how he gets carried away with the soap-concept.
       There's a great deal he can imbue it with too. So, for example, he finds:
Soap is a useful object. It has its qualities. It has its inner conflict, for it never forgets its duty, its destiny.
       Instead of just assembling the texts he has written over the years, Ponge also provides some commentary and explanation, charting the evolution of his attempts to treat the subject-matter. So, for example, he writes of sending some of the early texts to Jean Paulhan and Albert Camus -- and quotes from Camus' response, taking both that and Paulhan's silence to heart. It's an odd example of a writer offering insight into his work and methods, but certainly of interest for that as well.
       Assembling a mini-drama, poetry, and various prose-bits, and with some running author-commentary along the way, Soap is a strange book -- but it certainly has its charms. Ponge is passionate, and that comes across and helps carry the reader along as well. And despite not being a very straightforward treatment of soap, there are some fine displays of writing, too.
       An appealing curiosity.

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Soap: Other books by Francis Ponge under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Francis Ponge lived 1899 to 1988.

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