Beauvoir, Simone de (Vol. 2)
Beauvoir, Simone de 1908–
A French existentialist novelist and essayist, Mlle. Beauvoir most recently published a study of the problems of the aged, The Coming of Age. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
The more I read of Mlle de Beauvoir, the more I have the impression that I met her, under various manifestations, during my schooldays. No doubt there is one in every educational establishment. She was the one in the front row of the class whose high marks led you to hope for an original intelligence. Disappointed (quickly) of that, you still looked for a reliable academic mind. It turned out to be a mind capable of missing entire points, and incapable both of the precision of an artist and of the accuracy of a scholar. Not inspired enough to be slap-dash, it was often slipshod. In the end, you were obliged to admit that the high marks reflected nothing but obedient work; that what seemed to be intellectual passion was only a sense of duty—plus, it might be, a devotion to the professor; that you were up against, in short, a plodder.
Mlle de Beauvoir is a plodder par excellence and even, I almost suspect, by wanton and perverse choice. Her first noval, L'Invitée, ill articulated as it was, did generate an intensity of moral atmosphere. It was a thunderous afternoon from which something might have flashed. Since then Mlle de Beauvoir has made it plain that in her judgment the flash of wit, irony or poetry is no better than the flashy. Neither the strategy nor the tactics of her writing will have any truck with metaphor. She disdains—or does not command—those moments of thought or language which simultaneously fuse two images and illuminate or sear the reader. Not for her the masterstroke which cuts a long story short; she opts every time for the Long March—the long plod….
Sense of style Mlle de Beauvoir seems to lack utterly. She claims 'a certain rigour' for the style of [The Mandarins]—but that is almost as ironic as her fear of sounding pedantic if she finishes her sentences in conversation. So far is she from pedantry that in this book she does not get the middle of her sentences syntactically correct. The participants and phrases which float, unattached or wrongly attached, through the translation are faithful renderings of the French text….
Mlle de Beauvoir has often (though not so often as she might, had she exercised her intellect and imagination more ardently) been on the side of the angels; but the method by which she arrived there must often have been enough to make the angels weep.
Brigid Brophy, "Simone de Beauvoir" (1965), in her Don't Never Forget: Collected Views and Reviews (copyright © 1966 by Brigid Brophy; reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.), Holt, 1966, pp. 285-89.
["The Woman Destroyed" consists of two] long stories and a short novel on the menace of middle age. The only unsatisfactory thing about them is that they are not fiction. Simone de Beauvoir writes with perception, grace and intelligence on the subject of aging women very much as she wrote about all women in "The Second Sex." She belongs to that estimable line of classically articulate Europeans; she is a pleasure to read, and for anyone who happens to be interested in women she is instructive. But the heroines breathe collectively, not individually. They are amorphous. They are extensions of Mme. de Beauvoir rather than themselves. Once this is accepted, there is not much to quibble about….
Indeed, everything that happens in all three stories is credible, which is an achievement. What is significant is what is missing—the violent touch of life that distinguishes high art from craftsmanship.
Evan S. Connell, Jr., in The New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 23, 1969, p. 4.
The existentialist that she is, de Beauvoir concludes [in La Viellesse, published in America as The Coming of Age ] that old age belongs to "unrealizable categories." Whereas the...
(The entire section is 1,864 words.)