Simone de Beauvoir Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Simone de Beauvoir (boh-vwahr) was one of the most provocative and controversial women of the twentieth century. Her father, a lawyer and amateur actor, was extremely skeptical toward religion, but her mother, who submitted to her husband in most matters, proved to be dictatorial in her relationships with her two daughters and was zealously religious; it was she who insisted that her children receive a strict Catholic upbringing.

The most striking characteristic of de Beauvoir’s life and work is a quest for freedom. Her childhood and adolescence, as seen in the memoirs, constantly reflect her attempts to break out of the narrow social constraints of her middle-class environment. Following a rather restrictive parochial education, de Beauvoir completed her baccalauréat in mathematics and philosophy and then continued her studies at the Institut Sainte-Marie, the Institut Catholique, and the Sorbonne. Although her decision to become a teacher caused considerable friction in her family, de Beauvoir began her postgraduate studies at the École Normale Supérieure and the Sorbonne. In 1929, she met Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she formed a fruitful relationship that spanned the next fifty-one years and ended only with Sartre’s death in 1980. She passed her agrégation in philosophy in 1929, ranking second only to Sartre (who was taking the test for the second time). At the age of twenty-one, she was the youngest to have passed this examination in France.

Although de Beauvoir’s first completed work was repeatedly rejected by publishers, her novel She Came to Stay was an immediate success when it appeared in 1943. She made an unsuccessful attempt to write for the theater with Les Bouches inutiles (useless mouths), then returned to fiction with The Blood of Others in 1945, followed in 1946 by the much less popular All Men Are Mortal. Her next major work, The Second Sex, which appeared in 1949, catapulted her into both fame and notoriety. Although she did not declare her solidarity with the feminist movement until 1972, The Second Sex firmly established de Beauvoir as a model and inspiration for women in all parts of the...

(The entire section is 905 words.)


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: De Beauvoir cut across traditional academic fields to produce important works of literature, criticism, and philosophy. Her political activism made her a pioneer of the late twentieth century women’s movement as well as a leading figure in human rights, peace, and social reform efforts.

Early Life

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris on January 9, 1908, the eldest of two daughters of Georges Bertrand and Françoise Brasseur de Beauvoir. Although her family was descended from the aristocracy, it teetered precariously on the brink of financial solvency, maintaining the status of upper-middle-class gentility with difficulty. De Beauvoir had a relatively happy...

(The entire section is 2412 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir was born in Paris on January 9, 1908. Her father, Georges de Beauvoir, came from a wealthy family and was a lawyer by profession. A religious skeptic, he was openly contemptuous of the bourgeoisie and encouraged his daughter in intellectual pursuits. In contrast, her mother, Françoise, came from a provincial town, received her education in convents, and was a devout Catholic. Under her mother’s supervision, the young de Beauvoir was educated at a conservative Catholic school for girls, the Cours Désir.

In Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter—which covers the years from 1908 to 1929—de Beauvoir describes her early piety, her subsequent disenchantment with...

(The entire section is 511 words.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Like Jean-Paul Sartre, her partner in philosophy and in life, Beauvoir maintained the existentialist point of view that the individual is free from every principle of authority save that which he or she consciously chooses, and that he or she is ineluctably free in a meaningless existence to determine the meaning, or essence, that his or her life is to have. She insisted that one’s individual existence is authentic to the extent that it is defined by oneself in relation to, but never as prescribed by, others (or the Other).

The Ethics of Ambiguity

According to Beauvoir, the difference between absurdity and ambiguity, as ethical directions, is that absurdity denies the...

(The entire section is 1409 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Simone de Beauvoir (duh boh-VWAHR) was born to an illustrious family that fell on financial hard times, with her father failing in a succession of business ventures. She grew up an awkward, bookish, and compulsively diligent adolescent. As a young woman she rebelled against both her mother’s devoutly Catholic faith and bourgeois morality in general. At the Sorbonne she became a star student in philosophy and literature. Attending lectures at the École Normale Supérieure, she met Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she formed a relationship that lasted until his death in 1980.

De Beauvoir and Sartre became not only lovers but also firm friends and literary, philosophic, and political partners. They initially decided on a...

(The entire section is 766 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

As great as Simone de Beauvoir’s writing is, her life was her prime achievement. Apart from the importance of The Second Sex, her documentary and philosophical writings have no lasting value and her fiction is unimaginative, limited by its direct confinement to her own milieu. De Beauvoir’s memoirs, however, are a permanent addition to the literature of autobiography. They have considerable value as accounts of the intellectual, artistic, social, and political life of her time. They have even greater value, however, as establishing her personal myth as a woman who took bold risks to find a path for the free and full use of her life.