Simone de Beauvoir Beauvoir, Simone de (Vol. 8)

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Beauvoir, Simone de (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Beauvoir, Simone de 1908–

French novelist, essayist, playwright, autobiographer, and proponent of the existentialist philosophy, Beauvoir is a long-time associate of Jean-Paul Sartre. In her novels Beauvoir is concerned with explicating her philosophy, as in, for example, The Mandarins, which explores the problem of commitment and action among French intellectuals following the Second World War. She is the author of the immensely influential The Second Sex. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

When she is 75 or 80, will Simone de Beauvoir provide us with still another installment of her life? For those of us who have become addicted to the series, that would not be unwelcome. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine what more she can really add besides an accumulation of further ventures which do not substantially alter her basic views and values. One does not expect her to renounce her socialism, her humanism, her feminism or her atheism in her remaining years…. Her experiences of still another decade may prove of historical interest but—in view of her current volume of memoirs of the past decade—would reveal little more of this rational, self-contained, voluble woman than we already know.

One direction in which she might go is that of more intimate introspection and analysis, like Anaïs Nin: but she deplores Nin's "narcissism," and despite her frankness about herself in so many areas, she has a Puritanical reticence about her personal emotional life, particularly with Sartre, for which in these let-it-all-hang-out times we should be grateful. Another way she might go, in carrying her anti-militarism and her disillusionment with existing Socialist states to a logical conclusion, would be to question the efficacy of military force even in violent revolutions. But that is an unlikely development at this stage of her life. Though she abhors violence personally, she affirms in many ways and at many junctures her belief in the necessity of "counterviolence" by oppressed peoples in response to the violence, overt or latent, of oppressive groups or governments. This struggle is the implicit theme of the … second half [of All Said and Done], which includes her travels in Japan, the USSR and other East European countries, Egypt and Israel, and her participation in the Russell War Crimes Tribunal, in the 1968 student uprisings in France and finally in the women's movement.

The struggles of the oppressed are partly what this volume of Beauvoir's memoirs are about, but not exclusively. The first half of the book is a more personal reassessment of her life and that of her friends, catching us up on people we met in earlier volumes. It is as if she were responding to an overwhelming correspondence, the way some people duplicate accounts of their yearly family adventures at Christmas and send them to friends with whom they've been out of touch and to whom they don't have time to write…. She writes of how her childish perceptions have changed, her conception of time, her increasing awareness of her finity. The void of death she no longer finds overwhelming—"but still I do not get used to it."

Emerging from these introspections after some 40 pages, Beauvoir becomes her more extroverted self. (p. 732)

I felt some disappointment in reading this volume of Beauvoir's memoirs. While I did not expect the unity that she herself remarks as distinguishing her first volume, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, from subsequent ones, I found this one her most disjointed. Many of its eight sections are interesting in themselves, but some of the accounts read like Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Part II , with every lap of her journeys, every historic site described as a schoolmistress might describe it for her pupils. Sometimes she tells the reader too much, and one feels slightly insulted; at other times her references are too cursory or oversimplified. The personalities and issues involved in the Russell Tribunal...

(The entire section is 6,639 words.)