Simone de Beauvoir
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Simone de Beauvoir (January 9, 1908 – April 14, 1986), born Simone-Lucie-Ernestine-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French author, existential philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist. Born in Paris, de Beauvoir was very religious in her youth and intended on becoming a nun until a crisis of faith at age 14 led her to become an atheist. This remained central to her philosophy for the rest of her life.
She received a dual Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and philosophy in 1925 from the Institut Catholique. She continued her studies at the Sorbonne, studying philosophy, as well as passing exams for Certificates in History of Philosophy, Greek, Logic Ethics, Sociology, and Psychology.
Family and education
Simone and her sister Helene were the daughters of Georges Bertrand de Beauvoir, a legal secretary, and Francoise de Beauvoir, a wealthy banker’s daughter. After the family lost their fortune post-World War I, the sisters were sent to a prestigious convent school. As mentioned earlier, Simone was a deeply religious child, at one point considering becoming a nun. She lost her faith in her mid-teens and remained an atheist after that for the rest of her life.
After passing baccalaureate exams in mathematics and philosophy in 1925, Simone studied at the Institut Catholique de Paris and the Institut Sainte-Marie. She continued on to study at the Sorbonne, and completed her degree in 1928. Quite the scholar, at 21 years of age de Beauvoir became the youngest teacher of philosophy in France.
De Beauvoir loved English literature. Some of her favorites were Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and the works of George Eliot. She greatly admired Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And she read Virginia Woolf extensively, though with mixed views of her work. Quoting from a 1965 Paris Reviews interview:
“She’s too concerned with whether she’ll be published, with what people will say about her. I liked very much “A Room of One’s Own” in which she talks about the situation of women. It’s a short essay, but it hits the nail on the head. She explains very well why women can’t write. Virginia Woolf is one of the women writers who have interested me most. Have you seen any photos of her? An extraordinarily lonely face . . . In a way, she interests me more than Colette. Colette is, after all, very involved in her little love affairs, in household matters, laundry, pets. Virginia Woolf is much broader.”
The existentialist circle and Jean-Paul Sartre
Desperate to be accepted into Jean-Paul Sartre’s intellectual circle, it didn’t take her long to succeed. In addition to Sartre, other existentialists including Albert Camus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty were part of this world.
Impressed by her intellect, Sartre asked to be introduced to her. Soon, an open relationship between the two ensued. While they never married, the couple remained together for over 50 years, connected by their intense intellectual and romantic bond. “We have pioneered our own relationship — its freedom, intimacy, and frankness,” as Simone de Beauvoir described it.
As a New Yorker article described their relationship: “They were famous as a couple with independent lives, who met in cafés, where they wrote their books and saw their friends at separate tables, and were free to enjoy other relationships, but who maintained a kind of soul marriage.
She had many relationships with both men and women. One of her most famous lovers was American author, Nelson Algren, whom she met in Chicago in 1947. He was the inspiration for a character in her novel The Mandarins.
Teaching and early publications
De Beauvoir taught philosophy and literature throughout the 1930s. Meanwhile, Sartre, was drafted into the French army at the start of the war, and was captured in 1940. He released the following year.
In 1944 de Beauvoir wrote her first philosophical essay, Pyrrhus et Cinéas, a discussion of an existentialist ethics. She continued her exploration of existentialism through her second essay The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947).
Simone de Beauvoir page on Amazon
A first novel and a dismissal from teaching
From 1941 to 1943 de Beauvoir worked on her first novel, The Blood of Others, considered one of the most important existential works of the French Resistance.
In 1943, de Beauvoir was dismissed from her teaching post, as some parents felt she was corrupting her students. She decided to pursue her passion, which was to write full time, and never returned to teaching.
The Second Sex and legacy
Simone de Beauvoir’s most popular and enduring work is The Second Sex, published in 1949. It’s still read and studied to this day as an essential manifesto on women’s oppression and liberation. Filled with ideas deemed radical at the time, the book made her an intellectual force and inspired a generation of women to question the status quo, and better yet, to change it.
Simone de Beauvoir’s body of work encompasses fiction, nonfiction, essay, and memoir. Her novel, The Mandarins, received the prestigious Prix Goncourt award in 1954. Simone de Beauvoir died in Paris of a pulmonary edema in 1986. She shares a grave with Sartre in the Montparnasse Cemetery.
You might also like: Philosophical Quotes by Simone de Beauvoir
More about Simone de Beauvoir on this site
- She Came to Stay
- The Mandarins
- The Second Sex
- Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
- The Ethics of Ambiguity
- A Very Easy Death
Autobiographies and memoir
- Diary of a Philosophy Student: Volume 1, 1926-27
- The Prime of Life: The Autobiography of Simone De Beauvoir (1929-1944)
- Wartime Diary (1939-41)
- After the War: Force of Circumstance, 1944-1952
- Hard Times: Force of Circumstance, Volume II: 1952-1962
- All Said and Done: The Autobiography of Simone De Beauvoir 1962-1972
- Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman by Toril Moi
- Tete-a-Tete: The Tumultuous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir
and Jean-Paul Sartre by Hazel Rowley
- Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography by Deirdre Bair
- A Dangerous Liaison: A Revelatory New Biography of Simone DeBeauvoir
and Jean-Paul Sartre by Carole Seymour-Jones
- Simone de Beauvoir (Life and Times) by Lisa Appignanesi
- Simone de Beauvoir by Ursula Tidd
- Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre: The Remaking of
a Twentieth-Century Legend by Kate and Edward Fullbrook
- Contingent Loves: Simone de Beauvoir and Sexuality by Melanie C. Hawthorne
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