Beauvoir, Simone de 1908–1986

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Beauvoir, Simone de 1908–1986

(Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir)

PERSONAL: Born January 9, 1908, in Paris, France; died of a respiratory ailment April 14, 1986, in Paris, France; daughter of Georges Bertrand (an advocate to the Paris Court of Appeal) and Françoise de Beauvoir; children: (adopted) Sylvie Le Bon. Education: Sor-bonne, University of Paris, licencie es lettres and agrege des lettres (philosophy), 1929. Religion: Atheist.

CAREER: Philosopher, novelist, autobiographer, nonfic-tion writer, essayist, editor, lecturer, and political activist. Instructor in philosophy at Lycée Montgrand, Marseilles, France, 1931–33, Lycée Jeanne d'Arc, Rouen, France, 1933–37, and Lycéee Moliére and Lycée Camille-See, both Paris, France, 1938–43. Founder and editor, with Jean-Paul Sartre, of Les temps modernes, beginning 1945.

MEMBER: International War Crimes Tribunal, Ligue du Droit des Femmes (president), Choisir.

AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Goncourt, 1954, for Les mandarins; Jerusalem prize, 1975; Austrian state prize, 1978; Sonning prize for European Culture, 1983; LL.D. from Cambridge University.


L'invitee (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1943, reprinted, 1977, translation by Yvonne Moyse and Roger Senhouse published as She Came to Stay, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1949, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1954, reprinted, Flamingo, 1984.

Pyrrhus et Cineas (philosophy; also see below), Galli-mard (Paris, France), 1944.

Les bouches inutiles (play in two acts; first performed in Paris), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1945, translation published as Who Shall Die?, River Press, 1983.

Le sang des autres (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1946, reprinted, 1982, translation by Yvone Moyse and Roger Senhouse published as The Blood of Others, Knopf (New York, NY), 1948, reprinted, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1984.

Tous les hommes sont mortel (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1946, reprinted, 1974, translation by Leonard M. Friedman published as All Men Are Mortal, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1955.

Pour une morale de l'ambiguite (philosophy; also see below), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1947, reprinted, 1963, translation by Bernard Frechtman published as The Ethics of Ambiguity, Philosophical Library, 1948, reprinted, Citadel (New York, NY), 1975.

Pour une morale de l'ambiguite [and] Pyrrhus et Cineas, Schoenhof's Foreign Books, 1948.

L'existentialisme et la sagesse des nations (philosophy; title means "Existentialism and the Wisdom of the Ages"), Nagel, 1948.

L'Amerique au jour le jour (diary), P. Morihien, 1948, translation by Patrick Dudley published as America Day by Day, Duckworth (London, England), 1952, Grove (New York, NY), 1953, new edition translated by Carol Cosman, foreword by Douglas Brin-kley, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1999.

Le deuxième sexe, two volumes, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1949, translation by H.M. Parshley published as The Second Sex, Knopf (New York, NY), 1953, reprinted, Random House (New York, NY), 1974, Volume 1 published as A History of Sex, New English Library (London, England), 1961, published as Nature of the Second Sex, 1963.

The Marquis de Sade (essay; translation of Faut-il bruler Sade?; also see below; originally published in Les temps modernes), translation by Annette Michelson, Grove (New York, NY), 1953, published as Must We Burn de Sade?, Nevill (London, England), 1953, reprinted, New English Library (London, England), 1972.

Les mandarins (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1954, reprint published in two volumes, 1972, translation by Leonard M. Friedman published as The Mandarins, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1956, reprinted, Flamingo, 1984.

Privileges (essays; includes Faut-il bruler Sade?), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1955.

La longue marche: essai sur la Chine, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1957, translation by Austryn Wainhouse published as The Long March, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1958.

Memoires d'une jeune fille rangée (autobiography), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1958, reprinted, 1972, translation by James Kirkup published as Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1959, reprinted, Penguin, 1984.

Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome, translated by Bernard Frechtman, Reynal (London, England), 1960, published with foreword by George Amberg, Arno (New York, NY), 1972.

La force de l'age (autobiography), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1960, reprinted, 1976, translation by Peter Green published as The Prime of Life, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1962.

(With Gisele Halimi) Djamila Boupacha, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1962, translated by Peter Green, Macmillan (London, England), 1962.

La force des choses (autobiography), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1963, reprinted, 1977, translation by Rich-ard Howard published as The Force of Circumstance, Putnam (New York, NY), 1965.

Une mort tres douce (autobiography), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1964, with English introduction and notes by Ray Davison, Methuen Educational (London, England), 1986, translation by Patrick O'Brian published as A Very Easy Death, Putnam (New York, NY), 1966, reprinted, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1985.

(Author of introduction) Charles Perrault, Bluebeard and Other Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, Macmillan (London, England), 1964.

(Author of preface) Violette Leduc, La batarde, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1964.

Les belles images (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1966, translated by Patrick O'Brian, Putnam (New York, NY), 1968, with introduction and notes by Blandine Stefanson, Heinemann Educational (London, England), 1980.

(Author of preface) Jean-François Steiner, Treblinka, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1967.

La femme rompue (three novellas; includes L'age de discretion), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1967, translation by Patrick O'Brian published as The Woman Destroyed (includes Age of Discretion and Monologue), Putnam (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987.

La vieillesse (nonfiction), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1970, translation by Patrick O'Brian published as The Coming of Age, Putnam (New York, NY), 1972, published as Old Age, Weidenfeld & Nicol-son (London, England), 1972.

Tout compte fait (autobiography), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1972, translation by Patrick O'Brian published as All Said and Done, Putnam (New York, NY), 1974.

Quand prime le spirituel (short stories), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1979, translation by Patrick O'Brian published as When Things of the Spirit Come First: Five Early Tales, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1982.

Le ceremonie des adieux: suivi de entretiens avec Jean-Paul Sartre (reminiscences), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1981, translation published as Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1984.

(Editor and contributor) Lettres au Castor et a quelques autres, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1983, Volume 1: 1926–1939, Volume 2: 1940–1963.

Lettres a Sartre, French and European Publications, 1990, Volume 1: 1930–1939, Volume 2: 1940–1963.

Journal de guerre, septembre 1939–janvier 1941, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1990.

(Editor) Witness to My Life: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Norman MacAfee and Lee Fahnestock, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.

A Transatlantic Love Affair: Letters to Nelson Algren, compiled and annotated by Sylvie le Bon de Beau-voir; translation by Ellen Gordon Reeves, New Press (New York, NY), 1998.

ADAPTATIONS: The Mandarins was adapted for film by Twentieth Century-Fox, 1969; The Blood of Others was adapted for a film by Home Box Office, starring Jodie Foster, 1984.

SIDELIGHTS: At Simone de Beauvoir's funeral on April 19, 1986, flowers from all over the world filled the corner of the Montparnasse cemetery where she was laid to rest next to Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980). Banners and cards from the American-based Simone de Beauvoir Society, women's studies groups, women's health centers and centers for battered women, diverse political organizations, and publishing houses attested to the number of lives the author had touched during her seventy-eight years. Five thousand people, many of them recognizable figures from the political, literary, and film worlds, made their way along the boulevard du Montparnasse past Beauvoir's birthplace, past the cafes where she, Sartre, and their friends had discussed their ideas and written some of their manuscripts, to the cemetery.

Beauvoir was a perceptive witness to the twentieth century, a witness whose works span the period from her early childhood days before World War I to the world of the 1980s. Born in Paris in 1908, in the fourteenth "arrondissement" or district where she continued to live throughout most of her life, Beauvoir was raised by a devout Catholic mother from Verdun and an agnostic father, a lawyer who enjoyed participating in amateur theatrical productions. The contrast between the beliefs of the beautiful, timid, provincial Françoise de Beauvoir and those of the debonair Parisian Georges de Beauvoir led the young Simone to assess situations independently, unbiased by the solid parental front presented by the more traditional families of many of her classmates. As family finances dwindled during World War I, Beauvoir observed the uninspiring household chores that fell upon her mother and decided that she herself would never become either a homemaker or a mother. She had found such pleasure in teaching her younger sister Helene everything she herself was learning at school that she decided to pursue a teaching career when she grew up.

Beauvoir and her best friend Zaza "Mabille"—Beauvoir often assigned fictional names to friends and family members described in her autobiographical writings—sometimes discussed the relative merits of bringing nine children into the world, as Zaza's mother had done, and of creating books, an infinitely more worthwhile enterprise, the young Beauvoir believed. As the girls matured, Beauvoir observed the degree to which Zaza's mother used her daughter's affection and commitment to Christian obedience to manipulate Zaza's choice of career and mate. When Zaza, tormented by her parents' refusal to grant her permission to marry Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the "Jean Pradelle" of the memoirs, died at age twenty-one, Beauvoir felt her friend had been assassinated by bourgeois morality. Many of Beau-voir's early fictional writings attempted to deal on paper with the emotions stirred by her recollection of the "Mabille" family and of Zaza's death. Only many years later did she learn that Merleau-Ponty, who became a well-known philosopher and writer and remained a close friend of Beauvoir's and Sartre's, was unacceptable to the "Mabilles" because he was illegitimate.

Despite her warm memories of going to early morning mass as a little girl with her mother and of drinking hot chocolate on their return, Beauvoir gradually pulled away from the traditional values with which Françoise de Beauvoir hoped to imbue her. She and her sister began to rebel, for example, against the restrictions of the Cours Adeline Desir, the private Catholic school to which they were being sent. Weighing the pleasures of this world against the sacrifices entailed in a belief in an afterlife, the fifteen-year-old Beauvoir opted to concentrate on her life here on earth. Her loss of faith erected a serious barrier to communication with her mother.

Beauvoir was convinced during several years of her adolescence that she was in love with her cousin Jacques Champigneulles ("Jacques Laiguillon" in her memoirs), who introduced her to books by such French authors as Andre Gide, Alain-Fournier, Henry de Montherlant, Jean Cocteau, Paul Claudel, and Paul Valery; these books scandalized Beauvoir's mother, who had carefully pinned together pages of volumes in their home library that she did not want her daughters to read. Jacques Champigneulles, however, seemed unwilling to make a commitment either to Beauvoir or to anything else, and the Beauvoir sisters were totally disillusioned when this bright bohemian opted to marry the wealthy and generously dowried sister of one of his friends.

Because family finances did not allow Georges de Beau-voir to provide dowries, his daughters became unlikely marriage prospects for young middle-class men, and both Simone and Helene were delighted to have this excuse for continuing their studies and pursuing careers. Even as a young girl, Beauvoir had a passion for capturing her life on paper. In the first volume of her autobiography, Memoires d'une jeune fille rangée (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter), she looked back with amusement at her determination, recorded in her adolescent diary, to "tell all"; yet her memoirs, her fiction, her essays, her interviews, and her prefaces do indeed record events, attitudes, customs, and ideas that help define approximately seven decades of the twentieth century.

It was through Rene Maheu, a Sorbonne classmate called "Andre Herbaud" in the memoirs, that Beauvoir first met Sartre in a study group for which she was to review the works and ideas of German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. In Sartre Beauvoir found the partner of whom she had dreamed as an adolescent. As she remarked in Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, "Sartre corresponded exactly to the ideal I had set for myself when I was fifteen: he was a soulmate in whom I found, heated to the point of incandescence, all of my passions. With him, I could always share everything." And so she did, for fifty-one years, from the time they became acquainted at the Sorbonne in 1929 until his death on April 15, 1980.

Together Sartre and Beauvoir analyzed their relationship, deciding that they enjoyed an indestructible essential love but that they must leave themselves open to "contingent loves" as well in order to expand their range of experience. Although marriage would have enabled them to receive a double teaching assignment instead of being sent off to opposite ends of the country, they were intent upon escaping the obligations that such a bourgeois institution would entail. That neither had a particular desire for children was an added reason to avoid marriage. A daring and unconventional arrangement during the early 1930s, their relationship raised consternation in conservative members of Beauvoir's family.

Except for a brief period during World War II, Beauvoir and Sartre never lived together, but spent their days writing in their separate quarters and then came together during the evenings to discuss their ideas and to read and criticize one another's manuscripts. As both became well known in the literary world, they found it increasingly difficult to maintain their privacy; as La force des choses (The Force of Circumstance) records, they had to alter their routine and avoid certain cafes during the years after the war in order to protect themselves from the prying eyes of the public.

Sartre's autobiography, Les mots (The Words), published in 1963, dealt only with the early years of his life. Beauvoir's autobiographical writings provide a much more complete and intimate account of the adult Sartre. In several volumes of reminiscences, Beauvoir described their mutual reluctance to leave their youth behind and become part of the adult world, their struggles to set aside adequate time for writing, the acceptance of their works for publication, their travels, their friendships, their gradually increasing commitment to political involvement; her final autobiographical volume, Le ceremonie des adieux: suivi de entretiens avec Jean-Paul Sartre (Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre), recreates her anguish in witnessing the physical and mental decline of a lifelong companion who had been one of the most brilliant philosophers of the twentieth century.

For Beauvoir, writing was not only a way of preserving life on paper but also a form of catharsis, a means of working out her own problems through fiction. Her early short stories, written between 1935 and 1937 and originally rejected by two publishers, were brought out by Gallimard in 1979. The tales in Quand prime le spirituel (When Things of the Spirit Come First: Five Early Tales) capture Beauvoir's infatuation with Jacques, the tragedy of Zaza's death, the young philosophy teacher's ambivalence about the impact her ideas and her lifestyle might have on her impressionable lycée students in Marseille and Rouen, and her sense of excitement as she saw the world opening up before her. Beauvoir identifies strongly with her central character Marguerite who, in the final paragraphs of the book, perceives the world as a shiny new penny ready for her to pick up and do with as she wishes.

Experimenting with nontraditional relationships, Sartre and Beauvoir formed a trio with Beauvoir's lycée student Olga Kosakiewicz in 1933. The anguish experienced by Beauvoir as a result of this intimate three-way sharing of lives led to the writing of her first published work, L'invitee (She Came to Stay). In this novel the author relives the hothouse atmosphere generated by the trio, and she choses to destroy the judgmental young intruder, the fictional Xaviere, on paper, but to dedicate her novel to Olga. The real-life situation resolved itself less dramatically after Olga became interested in Jacques-Laurent Bost, a former student of Sartre's, and broke away from the trio; the four principals remained lifelong friends, however. In Simone de Beauvior, Judith Okely suggested that She Came to Stay reflects not only the Beauvoir-Sartre-Olga trio but also the young Simo-ne's rivalry with her mother for her father's affections.

Beauvoir's second novel, Le sang des autres (The Blood of Others), focuses on the dilemma of dealing with the consequences of one's acts. The liberal Jean Blomart, shaken by the accidental death of a young friend he inspired to participate in a political demonstration, struggles throughout much of the narrative to avoid doing anything that may inadvertently harm another human being, his "search for a saintly purity," as Carol Ascher labeled it in Simone de Beauvoir: A Life of Freedom. The female protagonist, Helene Bertrand, intent on protecting her own happiness in a world turned upside down by war and the German Occupation, is shaken out of her inertia by the cries of a Jewish mother whose small daughter is being wrenched away from her by the Gestapo. Helene seeks an active and ultimately fatal involvement in terrorist Resistance activities orchestrated by Jean Blomart, who has decided finally that violence is perhaps the only rational response to Hitler's insanity. Infused with the euphoria of Resistance camaraderie, the novel highlights a question that is also central to Sartre's play Les mains sales (Dirty Hands)—the relationship between intellectuals and violence.

As Beauvoir and Sartre became better known, the label "existentialist" was regularly attached to their writings. At first Beauvoir resisted the use of the term, but she and Sartre gradually adopted it and began to try to explain existentialist philosophy to the public. In Pour une morale de l'ambiguite (The Ethics of Ambiguity), published in 1947, she defines existentialism as a philosophy of ambiguity, one emphasizing the tension between living in the present and acting with an eye to one's mortality; she also attempts to answer critics who accused existentialists of wallowing in absurdity and despair. In the four essays published as L'existentialisme et la sagesse des nations ("Existentialism and the Wisdom of the Ages"), Beauvoir argues for the importance of a philosophical approach to modern life. Here she defends existentialism against accusations of frivolity and gratuitousness and explains that existentialists consider man neither naturally good nor naturally bad: "He is nothing at first; it is up to him to make himself good or bad depending upon whether he assumes his freedom or denies it." Emphasizing the fact that man can be "the sole and sovereign master of his destiny," Beauvoir insists that existentialist philosophy is essentially optimistic; in Simone de Beauvoir and the Limits of Commitment, however, Anne Whitmarsh sees the author's existentialism as "a stern ethical system."

With the end of the war came the opportunity to travel once again. Beauvoir spent four months in the United States in 1947, lecturing on U.S. college campuses about the moral problems facing writers in postwar Europe. She recorded her impressions through journal en-tries dating from January 25 to May 19, 1947, in L'Amerique au jour le jour (America Day by Day), which was dedicated to author Richard Wright and his wife Ellen. Her perceptive eye took in a great variety of detail but saw everything through a lens whose focus was influenced by certain preconceived notions. Terry Keefe, in her Simone de Beauvoir: A Study of Her Writings, found the value of the book in the record it presents of Beau-voir's "excitement and disappointment at a historical moment when many Europeans knew little about America and were eager to expose themselves to its impact, for better or worse." Consistently critical of capitalist traditions and values, America Day by Day can be paired with Beauvoir's account of her 1955 trip to China, La longue marche: essai sur la Chine (The Long March), in which she euphorically accepts everything in communist China. While praising Beauvoir's ability to evoke settings and glimpses of life in China, Keefe saw The Long March as "first and foremost a long, extremely serious attempt to explain the situation of China in 1955–56 and justify the direction in which the new regime [was] guiding the country."

Ready after the war to begin her purely autobiographical works, Beauvoir realized she first needed to understand the extent to which being born female had influenced the pattern of her life. She therefore spent hours at the National Library in Paris seeking documentation for each section of the book that was to become the battle-cry of feminism in the latter half of the twentieth century. When Le deuxiéme sexe (The Second Sex) appeared in 1949, reactions ranged from the horrified gasps of conservative readers to the impassioned gratitude of millions of women who had never before encountered such a frank discussion of their condition. The opening statement of the section on childhood, "One is not born a woman, one becomes one," became familiar throughout the world, and the book advised women to pursue meaningful careers and to avoid the status of "relative beings" implied, in its author's view, by marriage and motherhood.

Before turning to her memoirs, Beauvoir wrote the novel that won her the prestigious Prix Goncourt. Les mandarins (The Mandarins) presents the euphoria of Liberation Day in Paris and the subsequent disillusionment of French intellectuals who had been temporarily convinced that the future was theirs to fashion as they saw fit, but who found themselves gradually dividing into factions as the glow of Resistance companionship and of victory over the Nazis dimmed. Beauvoir always denied that The Mandarins was a roman à clef, with Robert Dubreuilh, Henri Perron, and Anne Dubreuilh representing Sartre, Albert Camus, and herself; nonetheless, echoes of the developing rift between Sartre and Camus, of the discussions of staff members of Les temps modernes—the leftist review founded by Sartre, Beau-voir, and their associates—and of the concern of French intellectuals over the revelation of the existence of Soviet work camps are clearly audible throughout the novel. Moreover, Lewis Brogan is certainly a fictionalized portrait of Chicago author Nelson Algren, who became one of Beauvoir's "contingent loves" during her 1947 trip to the United States and to whom the novel is dedicated. Whether or not the work is a roman à clef, it is generally regarded, in Ascher's words, as Beauvoir's "richest, most complex, and most beautifully wrought novel."

The first volume of Beauvoir's autobiography appeared in 1958. In Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter the author chronicles the warmth and affection of the early years of her life, her growing rebellion against bourgeois tradition, and her sense of emancipation when she moved from the family apartment on the rue de Rennes to a rented room at her grandmother's. Highlighted in these pages are her close association with her sister, her relationship with Zaza, and her infatuation with Jacques. In Simone de Beauvoir on Woman, Jean Leighton focused on the portrait of Zaza in Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, finding that she "epitomizes … traditional feminine qualities. Next to Simone de Beauvoir she is the most vivid person in the book."

Beauvoir dedicated the second volume of her autobiography, La force de l'age (The Prime of Life), to Sartre. The first half of the narrative tells the story of their lives from 1929 to 1939, recounting the exhilarating sense of freedom they experienced as they pooled their money to travel throughout France and to London, Italy, Germany, and Greece. Here the memoir looks back on the experiment of the trio, on the illness that put Beauvoir in a clinic for several weeks, on her insistence upon living in the present and trying to ignore the menacing news filtering through from Adolph Hilter's Germany. The second half of the book begins in 1939, as the German occupation of France was about to begin, and ends with Liberation Day in Paris in August of 1944. These pages provide one of the most vivid accounts of life in France during World War II, as the reader witnesses the lines of people waiting for gas masks, the sirens and descents into metro stations during air raids, and the struggle to find enough food to survive. These were the years when leftist intellectuals remained in close contact with one another, when Albert Camus, actress Maria Casares, writers Michel Leiris and Raymond Queneau, theatrical director Charles Dullin, and artist Pablo Picasso joined Beauvoir, Sartre, Olga, and Bost in "fiestas" that provided occasional nights of relaxation amidst the bombings and the anticipation of the Allied landing. The emotions of Liberation Day were unforgettable for Beauvoir, who asserted: "No matter what happened afterward, nothing would take those moments away from me; nothing has taken them away; they shine in my past with a brilliance that has never been tarnished."

What did become tarnished, however, were Beauvoir's hopes of participating in the creation of a brave new world, preferably one in which socialism would solve the problems of society. The third volume of autobiography, The Force of Circumstance, begins with the Liberation and covers the period from 1944 to early 1963. Despite the success of her books and her increasing political involvement, Beauvoir penned The Force of Circumstance with a heavy heart because of the anguish associated with the Algerian war. These were also the years during which she began to reflect upon aging and death, began to realize that there were certain activities in which she was engaging for perhaps the last time. The final sentence in the memoir's epilogue has been widely discussed: "I can still see … the promises with which I filled my heart when I contemplated that gold mine at my feet, a whole life ahead of me. They have been fulfilled. However, looking back in amazement at that gullible adolescent I once was, I am stupefied to realize to what extent I have been cheated." For Konrad Bieber in his Simone de Beauvoir, The Force of Circumstance is "a remarkable monument to the crucial years of the cold war…. A whole era, with its ups and downs, its hopes and disillusionments, is seen through the temperament of a highly gifted writer."

Nineteen sixty-three was a time of personal crisis for Beauvoir both because of her vision of the state of the modern world and because of the death of her mother. Deeply affected by her mother's valiant struggle against cancer, Beauvoir shared with her readers the pain of helplessly watching a life ebb away. In Une mort tres douce (A Very Easy Death), a slender volume dedicated to her sister, the author recaptured the warmth of her childhood relationship with her mother and reactivated her admiration for this woman who had always "lived against herself" yet could still appreciate a ray of sunlight or the song of the birds in the tree outside her hospital window. Looking back at her interaction with her mother, Beauvoir realized the full impact of Françoise de Beauvoir's unhappy childhood, of the unfortunate social restraints that kept her mother from finding a satisfying outlet for the energy and vitality which she had passed on to her daughters but which she had never been able to use appropriately herself. Sartre considered A Very Easy Death Beauvoir's best work; Marks, who commented on its "excruciating lucidity," called the book the only one of the author's writings "in which the hectic rhythm which she projects on the world is abruptly interrupted and the interruption prolonged."

Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, a companion piece to A Very Easy Death, records Beauvoir's efforts to cope with the anguish of watching age and illness take their toll on her companion of fifty years. It is dedicated to "those who have loved Sartre, who love him and who will love him." Beauvoir's subsequent publication of Sartre's Lettres au Castor et a quelques autres further attempts to share the quality of their relationship with her readers. "Castor" was a nickname invented by her Sorbonne classmate Rene Maheu, who noted the similarity between the name Beauvoir and the English word "beaver" (castor in French) and who considered it an appropriate appellation for the hard-working Beauvoir. The two volumes of Sartre's letters cover a period from 1926 to 1963 and include detailed references to his involvements with other women. Some feminist critics have viewed Adieux as Beauvoir's revenge on her partner for the pain inflicted upon her by his numerous "contingent" affairs. Philosophy and Literature essayist Hazel Barnes disagreed, considering these passages "both factual reporting and a tribute" and noting "the profound respect which Sartre and Beauvoir had for each other, something deeper than the obvious affection, companionship and commonality of values, more bedrock than love."

Beauvoir's correspondence to Sartre, published in 1990 as Letters a Sartre, provides readers with what Jerome Charyn in the Los Angeles Times Book Review termed "an incredible gift." Beauvoir herself had claimed these letters were lost, but they were found stashed away in a cupboard in her apartment after her death. The letters are explicit in their detail of Beauvoir's relationship with Sartre as well as with several women who were also Sartre's lovers. Their graphic portrayal of Beau-voir's unconventional personal life led some critics to posit their damage to her reputation as a dedicated feminist. "This is nonsense," stated Elaine Showalter in the London Review of Books. "Beauvoir's feminist credentials come from her writing, and from her years of staunch, courageous and generous support of abortion legislation, battered women's shelters, women's publishing, and the cause of women's liberation around the world…. To have had a less-than-perfect personal life weighs no more against her intellectual achievements than it would against those of a man."

During the mid-1960s Beauvoir also returned to fiction with Les belles images. This novel describes a milieu quite alien to Beauvoir: that of the mid-century technocrats, and centers on Laurence, a bright, attractive career woman, comfortably married and the mother of two daughters. Laurence suddenly finds herself caught between two generations as she attempts to help her estranged mother cope with the loss of her wealthy lover and to answer the probing questions of her own ten-year-old daughter about poverty and misery. As she gradually develops the sensitivity she has been taught by her mother to restrain, she despairs of ever changing anything in her own life, yet vows in the concluding lines of the novel that she will raise her daughters to express their feelings. Laurence is an incarnation of the contemporary superwoman juggling commitments to career, family, and aging parents until she falls apart under the strain of such responsibilities.

In La vieillesse ("Old Age") Beauvoir turns her attention to old age, presenting a companion piece to The Second Sex; the title was euphemistically translated as The Coming of Age in the United States. The work focuses upon the generally deplorable existence of most elderly people, and defines one of the as-yet-unresolved dilemmas of the late twentieth century. Bieber saw in The Coming of Age an example of Beauvoir's "boundless empathy" and of her understanding of human frailty; Ascher, in contrast, found it "shocking for its lack of feeling for the special plight of old women" and asserted that for the author the universal is male, at least among the elderly.

Several critics have taken Beauvoir to task for her apparently negative presentation of women and their values. Leighton sees the female protagonists in Beau-voir's fiction as "finely etched portraits of various types of femininity" who "personify in a compelling way the pessimistic and anti-feminine bias of The Second Sex." Evans discerned an assumption in Beauvoir's works that "traditionally male activities (the exercise of rationality, independent action, and so on) are in some sense superior, and are instances almost of a higher form of civilization than those concerns—such as child care and the maintenance of daily life—that have traditionally been the preserve of women." Whitmarsh was critical of the author's confining her political commitment to the ethical and the literary rather than extending her activities to the practical aspects of everyday politics, while Okely found that many of Beauvoir's generalizations are based on her limited experience in a small Parisian intellectual circle and do not apply as readily to cultures that are neither western, white, nor middle class.

Interviews granted by Beauvoir gave her the opportunity to clarify many of her ideas and to answer her critics. Betty Friedan's It Changed My Life contains a dialogue with Beauvoir, to whom Friedan looked for answers to the questions raised by the American feminist groups forming in the 1970s. In her introduction to this dialogue, Friedan acknowledges her debt to Beauvoir: "I had learned my own existentialism from her. It was The Second Sex that introduced me to that approach to reality and political responsibility that … led me to whatever original analysis of women's existence I have been able to contribute." When they spoke, however, the two women disagreed completely about the viability of motherhood for women seeking their independence and about the possibility of providing salaries for homemakers in order to enhance their self-image. In It Changed My Life, Friedan expresses disappointment over what she saw in Beauvoir as detachment from the lives of real women, and concluded: "I wish her well. She started me out on a road on which I'll keep moving…. There are no gods, no goddesses…. We need and can trust no other authority than our own personal truth."

Most appraisals of Beauvoir's writings focused on The Second Sex, called by Philip Wylie in the New York Times "one of the few great books of our era." However, Bertrand Poirot-Delpech, who noted in Le Monde that Beauvoir is "a much less minor novelist than one might think," described The Mandarins as one of the best sources of documentation on the committed intellectuals of the cold war period. Michel Contat, also writing for Le Monde, saw All Men Are Mortal as Beauvoir's most powerful philosophical work, "the most daring, the most scandalous and the most strangely passionate interrogation launched by this great rationalist intellectual against the human condition."



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