Simone de Beauvoir

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The life of the controversial French writer and feminist Simone de Beauvoir has spawned numerous books, articles, and essays. This latest effort was written by two Frenchmen who spent ten years garnering more than sixty hours of taped interviews with de Beauvior before her death in 1986 and who searched out hundreds of unpublished letters to a variety of literary and political figures. While not claiming to present an authorized biography, the authors nevertheless use a personalized approach to de Beauvoir which reflects the many hours spent in conversation at her Paris studio.

A large portion of this book is devoted to de Beauvoir’s liaison with philosopher and author Jean-Paul Sartre. Their relationship allowed for sexual freedom and was based on intellectual pursuits and common politics and what is referred to as “a radical understanding.” Of equal interest, however, is the description of her grandparents, family, and formative years, which set the stage for her lifelong commitment to intellectual pursuits, intense friendships, and political concerns. The authors do a good job of recreating the intensely passionate milieu that de Beauvoir and Sartre helped form during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

While at times too informal and wordy, this biography presents a warm and in-depth portrayal of a complex and controversial individual. It is recommended for all those interested in these two larger-than-life figures, their work, and their times.