de Beauvoir, Simone

August 18, 2011

Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir was born in Paris on January 9, 1908, the eldest of two daughters of Frangoise and Georges de Beauvoir. She graduated from the Sorbonne in 1929. de Beauvoir was a philosopher, novelist, and essayist. Until 1943, de Beauvoir taught philosophy at several colleges, before devoting herself completely to writing.

It was at the Sorbonne that Simone met Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous French existentialist. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre became lifelong friends and companions. They did not marry and never lived together, yet they were a couple and spent 51 years together in intellectual companionship. Many of de Beauvoir’s writings were reflections on either Sartre or his philosophical views. She Came to Stay (1943), one of de Beauvoir’s first writings, deals with a romantic love triangle, a situation de Beauvoir experienced in her relationship with Sartre. It is also considered to be a representation of the existentialist theory of “being and nothingness” attributed to Sartre.

Existentialism is a philosophy centered on individual existence and personal responsibility for acts of free will in the absence of certain knowledge of what is right and wrong. Other writings by de Beauvoir that echo existentialist theories are All Men are Mortal (1946), The Blood of Others (1946), and The Mandarins (1955). The novel that made Simone de Beauvoir famous is The Second Sex, first published in 1949, in which she analyzes the role and status of women, and examines the history of the oppression of women. It is in The Second Sex that de Beauvoir proclaimed women in a patriarchal society to be the “other” and that one is not born a woman, but rather “becomes” one. Some consider the book to be an application of Sartrean existentialism to the situation of women.

In addition to these works, de Beauvoir also wrote fiction, philosophy, manifestos, and coedited a monthly review with Sartre. de Beauvoir’s autobiographies include Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958), The Prime of Life (1962), Force of Circumstance (1963), A Very Easy Death (1964), and All Said and Done (1974). In 1981, 1 year after his death, Simone de Beauvoir wrote a farewell tribute to her lifelong companion, entitled Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre. She also edited Sartre’s letters to her, although they were not published until after her death, Quiet Moments in a War: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir 1940-1963 (1993).

On April 14, 1986, in Paris, Simone de Beauvoir died, leaving a great literary legacy. Recently, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, Simone’s adopted daughter, discovered her 1927 diary, written while at the Sorbonne. Scholars hope that her diary will shed some light on her thinking and her pre-Sartre philosophical views.

SEE ALSO: Feminism, Greer, Germaine

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