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...
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