History of Literature

Simone de Beauvoir


Simone de Beauvoir



Simone de Beauvoir

French writer
in full Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir

born Jan. 9, 1908, Paris, France
died April 14, 1986, Paris

French writer and feminist, a member of the intellectual fellowship of philosopher-writers who have given a literary transcription to the themes of Existentialism. She is known primarily for her treatise Le Deuxième Sexe, 2 vol. (1949; The Second Sex), a scholarly and passionate plea for the abolition of what she called the myth of the “eternal feminine.” This seminal work became a classic of feminist literature.

Schooled in private institutions, de Beauvoir attended the Sorbonne, where, in 1929, she passed her agrégation in philosophy and met Jean-Paul Sartre, beginning a lifelong association with him. She taught at a number of schools (1931–43) before turning to writing for her livelihood. In 1945 she and Sartre founded and began editing Le Temps modernes, a monthly review.

Her novels expound the major Existential themes, demonstrating her conception of the writer’s commitment to the times. L’Invitée (1943; She Came To Stay) describes the subtle destruction of a couple’s relationship brought about by a young girl’s prolonged stay in their home; it also treats the difficult problem of the relationship of a conscience to “the other,” each individual conscience being fundamentally a predator to another. Of her other works of fiction, perhaps the best known is Les Mandarins (1954; The Mandarins), for which she won the Prix Goncourt. It is a chronicle of the attempts of post-World War II intellectuals to leave their “mandarin” (educated elite) status and engage in political activism. She also wrote four books of philosophy, including Pour une Morale de l’ambiguité (1947; The Ethics of Ambiguity); travel books on China (La Longue Marche: essai sur la Chine [1957]; The Long March) and the United States (L’Amérique au jour de jour [1948]; America Day by Day); and a number of essays, some of them book-length, the best known of which is The Second Sex.

Several volumes of her work are devoted to autobiography. These include Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (1958; Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter), La Force de l’âge (1960; The Prime of Life), La Force des choses (1963; Force of Circumstance), and Tout compte fait (1972; All Said and Done). This body of work, beyond its personal interest, constitutes a clear and telling portrait of French intellectual life from the 1930s to the 1970s.

In addition to treating feminist issues, de Beauvoir was concerned with the issue of aging, which she addressed in Une Mort très douce (1964; A Very Easy Death), on her mother’s death in a hospital, and in La Vieillesse (1970; Old Age), a bitter reflection on society’s indifference to the elderly. In 1981 she wrote La Cérémonie des adieux (Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre), a painful account of Sartre’s last years. Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair, appeared in 1990.

Simone de Beauvoir revealed herself as a woman of formidable courage and integrity, whose life supported her thesis: the basic options of an individual must be made on the premises of an equal vocation for man and woman founded on a common structure of their being, independent of their sexuality.





Simone de Beauvoir

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simone de Beauvoir (pronounced [simɔn də boˈvwaʀ] in French) (January 9, 1908 – April 14, 1986) was a French author and philosopher. She wrote novels, monographs on philosophy, politics, and social issues, essays, biographies, and an autobiography in several volumes. She is now best known for her metaphysical novels, including She Came to Stay and The Mandarins, and for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism.

Early years

Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was the daughter of Georges de Beauvoir, a one-time lawyer and amateur actor, and Françoise Brasseur, a young woman from Verdun. She was born in Paris as 'Simone-Lucie-Ernestine-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir' and was educated at a Catholic school for girls, something that was looked down on by the intellectuals at the time. The Catholic schools for girls were seen as places where the young were taught how to be mothers and wives more than a place to learn. After World War I, Simone's maternal grandfather Gustave Brasseur, president of the Meuse Bank, went bankrupt, throwing his entire family into dishonor and poverty. The family had to move into a smaller apartment and Georges de Beauvoir had to go back to work; his relationship with his wife suffered.

Simone was always aware that her father had hoped to have a son, instead of two daughters (her younger sister Hélène de Beauvoir became a painter). However, he did tell Simone, "You have the brain of a man," and from a young age Simone was a distinguished student. Georges de Beauvoir passed his love of theater and literature to his daughter. He became convinced that only scholarly success could lift his daughters out of poverty.

At 15, Simone de Beauvoir had already decided she would be a famous writer. She did well in many subjects, but was especially attracted to philosophy, which she went on to study at the University of Paris. There she met many other young intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre.

Middle years

After passing the baccalaureate exams in mathematics and philosophy, she studied mathematics at the Institut Catholique and literature/languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie, then philosophy at the Sorbonne. In 1929, while at the Sorbonne, Beauvoir gave a presentation on Leibniz. Soon after she became involved in what was a lifelong relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. Beauvoir studied at the École Normale along with Sartre.

In 1929, at the age of 21, Beauvoir became the youngest person ever to obtain the agrégation in philosophy, and the 9th woman to obtain this degree. On the final examination she received second place; Sartre, age 24, was first (he'd failed his first exam). According to Deirdre Bair's 1990 biography of Beauvoir, the jury for the agrégation argued over whether to give Sartre or Beauvoir first place in the competition. In the end they awarded it to Sartre.

While at the Sorbonne, Beauvoir acquired her lifelong nickname, Castor, the French word for "beaver" given to her because of the animal's strong work ethic and the resemblance of her surname to the English word "beaver".

She Came to Stay and The Mandarins

In 1943, Beauvoir published She Came to Stay, a fictionalized chronicle of her and Sartre's relationship with Olga Kosakiewicz and Wanda Kosakiewicz. Olga was one of her students in the Rouen secondary school where Beauvoir taught during the early 30s. She grew fond of Olga. Sartre tried to pursue Olga but she denied him; he began a relationship with her sister Wanda instead. Sartre supported Olga for years until she met and married her husband, Beauvoir's lover Jacques-Laurent Bost. At Sartre's death, he was still supporting Wanda. In the novel, set just before the outbreak of World War II, Beauvoir makes one character from the complex relationships of Olga and Wanda. The fictionalized versions of Beauvoir and Sartre have a ménage à trois with the young woman. The novel also delves into Beauvoir and Sartre's complex relationship and how it was affected by the ménage à trois.

Beauvoir's metaphysical novel She Came to Stay was followed by many others, including The Mandarins, which won her the Prix Goncourt, France's highest literary prize. The Mandarins is set just after the end of World War II. The Mandarins depicted Sartre, Nelson Algren, and many philosophers and friends among Sartre and Beauvoir's intimate circle.

Existentialist ethics

In 1944 Beauvoir wrote Pyrrhus et Cinéas, a discussion of an existentialist ethics, which inspired her to write more on the subject. This book, Pour Une Morale de L'ambiguïté (The Ethics of Ambiguity, 1947) is perhaps the most accessible entry into French existentialism. Its simplicity keeps it understandable, in contrast to the abstruse character of Sartre's Being and Nothingness. The ambiguity about which Beauvoir writes clears up some inconsistencies that many, Sartre included, have found in major existentialist works such as Being and Nothingness.

Sexuality, existentialist feminism, and The Second Sex

Le deuxième sexe (The Second Sex) was originally published as a two-volume book in France. These works were very quickly published in America as The Second Sex, owing to the quick translation by Howard Parshley, as prompted by Blanche Knopf, wife of publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Because Parshley had only a basic familiarity with the French language, and a minimal understanding of philosophy (he was a professor of biology at Smith College), much of Beauvoir's book was mistranslated or inappropriately cut, distorting her intended message.[2] Nevertheless, to this day, Knopf has prevented the introduction of a more accurate retranslation of Beauvoir's work, having declined all proposals despite the efforts of existentialist scholars.

In her own way, Beauvoir anticipated the sexually charged feminism of Erica Jong and Germaine Greer. Algren, no example of restraint, was outraged by the frank way Beauvoir later described her American sexual experiences in The Mandarins (dedicated to Algren, on whom the character Lewis Brogan was based) and in her autobiographies. He vented his outrage when reviewing American translations of her work. Much material bearing on this episode in Beauvoir's life, including her love letters to Algren, entered the public domain only after her death.

In the chapter "Woman: Myth and Reality" of The Second Sex, Beauvoir argued that men had made women the "Other" in society by putting a false aura of "mystery" around them. She argued that men used this as an excuse not to understand women or their problems and not to help them, and that this stereotyping was always done in societies by the group higher in the hierarchy to the group lower in the hierarchy. She wrote that this also happened on the basis of other categories of identity, such as race, class, and religion. But she said that it was nowhere more true than with sex in which men stereotyped women and used it as an excuse to organize society into a patriarchy.

Beauvoir's The Second Sex, published in French in 1949, sets out a feminist existentialism which prescribes a moral revolution. As an existentialist, Beauvoir accepted Sartre's precept that existence precedes essence; hence one is not born a woman, but becomes one. Her analysis focuses on the Hegelian concept of the Other. It is the (social) construction of Woman as the quintessential Other that Beauvoir identifies as fundamental to women's oppression. The capitalized 'O' in "other indicates wholly other.

Feminist author Adrienne Sahuqué, born circa 1890, dealt with sexual prejudices against women in her 1932 Les dogmes sexuels (Sexual dogmas) (Paris, Alcan, 1932). Her work did not gain as much notice as did Beauvoir's.

Beauvoir argued that women have historically been considered deviant, abnormal. She said that even Mary Wollstonecraft considered men to be the ideal toward which women should aspire. Beauvoir said that this attitude limited women's success by maintaining the perception that they were a deviation from the normal, and were always outsiders attempting to emulate "normality". She believed that for feminism to move forward, this assumption must be set aside.

Beauvoir asserted that women are as capable of choice as men, and thus can choose to elevate themselves, moving beyond the 'immanence' to which they were previously resigned and reaching 'transcendence', a position in which one takes responsibility for oneself and the world, where one chooses one's freedom.

Les Temps Modernes

At the end of World War II, Beauvoir and Sartre edited Les Temps Modernes, a political journal Sartre founded along with Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others. Beauvoir used Les Temps Modernes to promote her own work and explore her ideas on a small scale before fashioning essays and books. Beauvoir remained an editor until her death.

Later years

Beauvoir wrote popular travel diaries about her travels in the United States and China, and published essays and fiction rigorously, especially throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She published several volumes of short stories, including The Woman Destroyed, which, like some of her other later work, deals with aging.

In 1979 she published When Things of the Spirit Come First, a set of short stories centered around and based upon women important to her earlier years. The stories were written well before the novel She Came to Stay, but Beauvoir did not think they were worthy of publication until about forty years later.

Sartre and Merleau-Ponty had a longstanding feud, which led Merleau-Ponty to leave Les Temps Modernes. Beauvoir sided with Sartre and ceased to associate with Merleau-Ponty. In Beauvoir's later years, she hosted the journal's editorial meetings in her flat and contributed more than Sartre, whom she often had to force to offer his opinions.

Beauvoir also notably wrote a four-volume autobiography, consisting of: Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter; The Prime of Life; Force of Circumstance (sometimes published in two volumes in English translation: After the War and Hard Times); and All Said and Done.

In the 1970s Beauvoir became active in France's women's liberation movement. She signed the Manifesto of the 343 in 1971, a list of famous women who claimed, mostly falsely, to have had an abortion, then illegal in France. Beauvoir had not actually had an abortion.[citation needed] Signatories were diverse as Catherine Deneuve, Delphine Seyrig, and Beauvoir's sister Poupette. In 1974, abortion was legalized in France.

Her 1970 long essay La Vieillesse (The Coming of Age) is a rare instance of an intellectual meditation on the decline and solitude all humans experience if they do not die before about age 60. In 1981 she wrote La Cérémonie Des Adieux (A Farewell to Sartre), a painful account of Sartre's last years. In the opening of Adieux, Beauvoir notes that it is the only major published work of hers which Sartre did not read before its publication. She and Sartre always read one another's work.

After Sartre died, Beauvoir published his letters to her with edits to spare the feelings of people in their circle who were still living. After Beauvoir's death, Sartre's adopted daughter and literary heir Arlette Elkaïm would not let many of Sartre's letters be published in unedited form. Most of Sartre's letters available today have Beauvoir's edits, which include a few omissions but mostly the use of pseudonyms. Beauvoir's adopted daughter and literary heir Sylvie Le Bon, unlike Elkaïm, published Beauvoir's unedited letters to both Sartre and Algren.

Death, honors and legacy

Beauvoir died of pneumonia in Paris, aged 78. She is buried next to Sartre at the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

Since her death, her reputation has grown. Especially in academia, she is considered the mother of post-1968 feminism. There has also been a growing awareness of her as a major French thinker and existentialist philosopher.

Contemporary discussion analyzes the influences of Beauvoir and Sartre on one another. She is seen as having influenced Sartre's masterpiece, Being and Nothingness, while also having written much on philosophy that is independent of Sartrean existentialism. Some scholars have explored the influences of her earlier philosophical essays and treatises upon Sartre's later thought. She is studied by many respected academics both within and outside philosophy circles, including Margaret A. Simons and Sally Scholtz. Beauvoir's life has also inspired numerous biographies.

In 2006, the city of Paris commissioned architect Dietmar Feichtinger to design a sophisticated footbridge across the Seine River. The bridge was named the Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir in her honor. The bridge features feminine curves and leads to the new Bibliothèque nationale de France.



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