Letters to her husband

This correspondence is considered to be very precious and has a place apart from the other publications.  These letters were never intended to be published.  What’s more, Alexandra never wanted to write her autobiography. Although most of the books written concerned her directly, she considered this type of literature to be too subjective.  Even when recounting her perilous adventures in Asia, she never spoke about her private life.  Her letters addressed to Phillip Néel included information written about her travels, but they were much more intimate than a simple travel diary.  She reserved her impressions, projects, enthusiasms and deceptions for Phillip alone.  Alexandra travelled at a pace which best suited her.  Her destinations varied depending on the circumstances, meetings with people, local resources, transport available and the political unrest which affected certain territories that she needed to pass through. Owing to the large number of letters that he received (14kg), Phillip was well informed of his wife’s movements… with a delay of several weeks or sometimes several months.

When Alexandra David Néel had reached the age of 100 years old, Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet who had been personal assistant to the author/explorer for ten years, thought that her readers would be very interested by the extracts of her correspondence with Phillip.  Alexandra replied “I trust you to make the best use of them”.  In the introduction Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet writes “ the woman that I have known for some time now as rigorous, tyrannical and authoritarian, takes on another dimension [……] these extracts reveal her anxieties and her despondency with a surprising frankness.”  In effect, the woman who unveils herself in these letters is a woman of exception in her choice of lifestyle, her strength of character, her fierce sense of freedom, her resistance to imposed authority, her insolent pride and her tyranny. At the same time, a woman who was not without weakness, a woman who had known disillusion, discouragement, sadness and injury. In a word, “flaws” which are ever present in life, and which render this character only more « human ».

EB.4.3