Beauvoir, Simone (Lucie Ernestine Marie) de

views updated

BEAUVOIR, Simone (Lucie Ernestine Marie) de

Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 9 January 1908. Education: Institut Normal Catholique Adeline-Désir, Paris, 1913-25; Institut Sainte-Marie, Neuilly-sur-Seine; École Normale Supérieure, Paris, agrégation in philosophy 1929. Family: Began lifelong relationship with the writer Jean-Paul Sartre, q.v., 1929. Career: Part-time teacher, Lycée Victor Duruy, Paris, 1929-31; philosophy teacher, Lycée Montgrand, Marseilles, 1931-32, Lycée Jeanne d'Arc, Rouen, 1932-36, Lycée Molière, Paris, 1936-39, and Lycée Camille-Sée and Lycée Henri IV, both Paris, 1939-43. Founding editor, with Sartre, Les Temps Modernes, Paris, from 1945. Member of the Consultative Committee, Bibliothèque Nationale, 1969; president, Choisir, 1972. President, Ligue des Droits des Femmes, from 1974. Awards: Goncourt prize, 1954; Jerusalem prize, 1975; Austrian State Prize for European Literature, 1978. Honorary doctorate: Cambridge University. Died: 14 April 1986.


Short Stories

La Femme rompue (includes "L'Âge de discrétion" and "Monologue"). 1968; as The Woman Destroyed (includes "The Age of Discretion" and "The Monologue"), 1969.

Quand prime le spirituel. 1979; as When Things of the Spirit Come First: Five Early Tales, 1982.


L'Invitée. 1943; as She Came to Stay, 1949.

Le Sang des autres. 1945; edited by John F. Davis, 1973; as The Blood of Others, 1948.

Tous les hommes sont mortels. 1946; as All Men Are Mortal, 1956.

Les Mandarins. 1954; as The Mandarins, 1956.

Les Belles Images. 1966; translated as Les Belles Images, 1968.


Les Bouches inutiles (produced 1945). 1945; as Who Shall Die?, 1983.


Pyrrhus et Cinéas. 1944.

Pour une morale de l'ambiguïté. 1947; as The Ethics of Ambiguity, 1948.

L'Amérique au jour le jour. 1948; as America Day by Day, 1952.

L'Existentialisme et la sagesse des nations. 1948.

Le Deuxième Sexe: Les Faits et les mythes and L'Expérience vécue.2 vols., 1949; as The Second Sex, 1953; vol. 1 as A History of Sex, 1961, and as Nature of the Second Sex, 1963.

Must We Burn de Sade? 1953; in The Marquis de Sade, edited by Paul Dinnage, 1953.

Privilèges (includes Faut-il brûler Sade?). 1955.

La Longue Marche: Essai sur la Chine. 1957; as The Long March, 1958.

Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée. 1958; as Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1959.

Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome. 1960.

La Force de l'âge (autobiography). 1960; as The Prime of Life, 1962. Djamila Boupacha, with Gisèle Halimi. 1962; translated as Djamila

Boupacha, 1962.

La Force des choses (autobiography). 1963; as Force of Circumstance, 1965.

Une Mort très douce. 1964; as A Very Easy Death, 1966.

La Vieillesse. 1970; as Old Age, 1972; as The Coming of Age, 1972.

Toute compte fait. 1972; as All Said and Done, 1974.

La Cérémonie des adieux. 1981; as Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, 1984.

Letters to Sartre, edited by Quintin Hoare. 1991.

A Transalantic Love Affair: Letters to Nelson Algren. 1998.

Editor, Lettres au Castor et a quelques autres 1926-1939 and1940-1963, by Sartre. 2 vols., 1984; volume 1 as Witness to My Life: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to de Beauvoir 1926-1939, 1992.



Beauvoir: An Annotated Bibliography by Jay Bennett and Gabriella Hochmann, 1989.

Critical Studies:

Beauvoir: Encounters with Death by Elaine Marks, 1973; Beauvoir by Robert D. Cottrell, 1975; Beauvoir on Women by Jean Leighton, 1976; Hearts and Minds: The Common Journey of Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre by Axel Madsen, 1977; Beauvoir by Konrad Bieber, 1979; Beauvoir and the Limits of Commitment by Anne Whitmarsh, 1981; Beauvoir: A Study of Her Writings by Terry Keefe, 1983; After "The Second Sex": Conversations with Beauvoir by Alice Schwarzer, 1984; Beauvoir: A Feminist Mandarin by Mary Evans, 1985; Beauvoir by Judith Okely, 1986; The Novels of Beauvoir by Elizabeth Fallaize, 1987; Beauvoir by Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier, 1987; Critical Essays on Beauvoir edited by Elaine Marks, 1987; Beauvoir: A Critical View by Renee Winegarten, 1987; Beauvoir: A Life, A Love Story by Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier, 1987; Beauvoir: The Woman and Her Work by Margaret Crosland, 1988; Beauvoir by Lisa Appignanesi, 1988; Beauvoir and the Demystification of Motherhood by Yolanda A. Patterson, 1989; Beauvoir by Jane Heath, 1989; Feminist Theory and Beauvoir by Tori Moi, 1989; Beauvoir: A Biography by Deirdre Bair, 1990; Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman by Toril Moi, 1994; Philosophy as Passion: The Thinking of Simone de Beauvoir by Karen Vintges, 1996; Simone de Beauvoir Writing the Self: Philosophy Becomes Autobiography by Jo-Ann Pilardi, 1998; Simone de Beauvoir by Terry Keefe, 1998.

* * *

Simone de Beauvoir's book Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) has been an inspiration to women's movements since its publication in 1949. This is in spite of the fact that Beauvoir's life was marked by a refusal to become politically active. In the 1930s she and Sartre were both against capitalism, but, Beauvoir has admitted, "we were still not actively for anything" on the grounds that humanity had to be remolded, "created anew." When women were agitating for the vote Beauvoir would not have used hers if she had it. Unexpectedly, she did join a feminist march in France in November 1971, but her short stories were written well before this date and are less concerned with women's politicization than with the situation of women and others in a society in which freedom is always difficult, perhaps even impossible, to attain.

Beauvoir's five early tales, collected in Quand prime le spirituel (When Things of the Spirit Come First), were written a little before she was 30 years old, to speak, she said, about the world she knew and "to expose some of its defects." For Beauvoir, those defects included the complacency of the bourgeoisie and the harm caused by a type of religiosity with which, she felt, her own childhood and early youth had been imbued. The collection is one of Beauvoir's many attempts to fictionalize the tragedy of her school friend Zara (Elizabeth Mabille), who had wished to marry a young man of whom, she was convinced, her parents would never approve. Zara's sudden illness and death came to epitomize for a young Beauvoir the oppressive effects of the bourgeois family.

Each of the five stories of When Things of the Spirit Come First centers on a different young woman, but all of them are connected in some way. Marcelle Drouffle, whose story begins the collection, is a precociously sensitive spirit with a strong religious impulse. Her story casts an ironic eye on the way in which religious and other beliefs are subverted into different kinds of spiritual activity. Marcelle, who disliked the rough and tumble of childhood, spends much of her time reading in her aunt's lending library: her aunt "would have been astonished to learn the kind of sustenance that her niece's dreaming drew from certain harmless stories." The stories of women, suffering harsh treatment at the hands of arrogant masters, and who eventually win love by their submissiveness, delight the young Marcelle. She identified with the heroine of such tales, and she "was fond of quivering with repentance at the feet of a sinless and beautiful man."

The older Marcelle attempts to change society by educating a recalcitrant working class. This is despite of, or maybe because of, the "physical distress caused by the smell of human sweat and contact with coarse, rough bodies." She becomes engaged to Desroches who was of the opinion "that a Christian should not experience carnal joys before their sanctification by the sacrament of marriage," and even then, he thought, "the degree to which these pleasures were allowable presented a serious moral problem." Still striving for a spiritual ideal Marcelle does not marry Desroches, but falls hopelessly in love with, and eventually marries, a feckless poet, Denis, for whom she feels a strong physical attraction. Her perfect understanding and acceptance of the weaknesses, even perversities, that accompany Denis' genius does not mean, however, that he should not struggle against them. As the disastrous marriage crumbles about her, Marcelle is left to reflect that it was not happiness that had been granted her, but suffering. It was only suffering that could satisfy her heart. "Higher than happiness," she whispered. She would know how to receive it, and transform it, into beauty. Beauvoir's major concern in these short stories is to demonstrate the hold exercised by the moral and spiritual absolutes inculcated from childhood, so that by the time we see Marcelle again, in her sister's story, "Marguerite," it is as a sad and lonely woman willing her husband Denis to come back to her.

Beauvoir recognized the possibility that her own urge to write was a part of that activity that diverted the religious impulse into other sorts of activity. The emergence of Franco's Spain, however, led to some sense of guilt about her apolitical stance. Neither she nor Sartre had written against the French non-interventionist policy, because "their names were not well known, and it wouldn't have done any good." Later, as their fame grew, they both lent their name to a variety of causes. A view of the role of the writer as critic remained with Beauvoir throughout life, and her early collection of stories, La Femme rompue (The Woman Destroyed), which deals with the emotional vulnerability of women, nevertheless retains a measure of critical detachment.

"The Age of Discretion" shows a woman coming to terms with aging. Her lost looks, criticism of her recent book that contained no new ideas, and an estrangement from her son, Philippe, depress her. Her son is unsuited to an intellectual life and finds acceptance from his father, but his mother is unable to reconcile the fact of her son with her own thwarted ambitions for him. She understands that her son's wife, Irene, is destroying him, and does not "want to break down in front of her." The ensuing battle for dominance is doomed to failure. Ultimately, her anger dissipated, she joins her husband for a stay with his mother, who has grown old successfully, and reestablishes communication with her husband, at least.

The stories in this collection are typical of Beauvoir's preoccupation with growing old, and were condemned by feminist critics for their concentration on women who were failures of one sort or another. Beauvoir, however, has always retained the right to depict such women, and does not do so without sympathy, teasing the reader to detect the reality that lies between the lines. Finally driven to confront her problems, the protagonist of "The Age of Discretion" decides that she and her husband will "help one another to live through this last adventure." She says, "Will that make it bearable for us? I do not know. Let us hope so. We have no choice in the matter."

—Jan Pilditch

See the essay on "The Woman Destroyed."

About this article

Beauvoir, Simone (Lucie Ernestine Marie) de

Updated About content Print Article