Simone de Beauvoir Beauvoir, Simone de (Vol. 14)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Beauvoir, Simone de 1908–

French novelist, essayist, playwright, autobiographer, and proponent of existentialist philosophy, Beauvoir was 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, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

D. J. Enright

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Scandalized by the neglect into which [the Marquis de Sade] has fallen, yet repudiating the obvious topsy-turvy whereby he has been deified, [Mme de Beauvoir asks in her The Marquis de Sade] that he be regarded as a man and a writer. Yet it is not as author nor as sexual pervert that he interests her, but by his efforts to justify his perversions, to 'erect his tastes into principles'. 'He dreamed of an ideal society from which his special tastes would not exclude him.'…

Mme de Beauvoir tells us that 'eroticism appears in Sade as a mode of communication, the only valid one' between persons. Since she then admits that 'every time we side with a child whose throat has been slit by a sex-maniac, we take a stand against him', it is possible that she is using the word 'communication' in some highly paradoxical sense reserved to philosophically-trained intellectuals. For the rest of us, Sade's message on this point might seem to come to, F … you, Jack (or Jill), I'm all right….

For Mme de Beauvoir, Sade's value, his contemporary importance, lies in the fact that 'he chose cruelty rather than indifference'. His sincerity encourages her to hail him as 'a great moralist'. The aptest comment is M. de Bressac's casual remark to his servant, which I quote from memory: 'Now, Joseph, you b … Justine, and then we shall feed her to the dogs.' Mme de Beauvoir shares one of her protégé's characteristics: humourlessness….

'Must we burn Sade?' asks Mme de Beauvoir. Now that you mention it, why not? He teaches us little about human nature which we couldn't gather from a few minutes of honest introspection. But maybe we can learn something more useful from Mme de Beauvoir's solemn excogitations, something about our scornful reluctance to face the realities of our selves and of others' selves, and our preferred contemplation of modish dummies, those highbrow status symbols, ourselves as heroic monsters or grand victims, our inflation or reduction of ourselves and others to ingeniously explicated strip-cartoons, as unreal as the wicked Juliette and as empty of life as the virtuous Justine.

D. J. Enright, "Books in General: 'Le Marquis de Sade'," in New Statesman (© 1963 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXV, No. 1662, January 18, 1963, p. 82.

Nadine Gordimer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Entertained, appalled (once or twice), irritated (occasionally), enthralled (often), amused (in places where this was not the author's intention), moved and, above all, compelled to stay with her to the last page, I stand back from [Force of Circumstance] and, for me, this life gives purchase most clearly in three aspects and in this order: the experience of being French during the Algerian war; the position of the Leftist outside the Communist Party; woman as intellectual. Here is Simone de Beauvoir.

Being female was a precondition, yet, in order of importance, I put it third in the forces that have shaped her life because she has dealt with it, in the particular context of that life, successfully—even triumphantly—and in this last volume [of Simone de Beauvoir's three-volume autobiography] it crops up more in the light of reflection on these triumphs than in the glare of battle enjoined. (p. 73)

[Simone de Beauvoir] has constantly been accused of wearing [Sartre's] opinions. She gives quite a lot of space to refuting this. If, as she seems to think, the allegation comes from the old anti-feminist guard, why grant it so much attention? They have long since lost...

(The entire section is 3,864 words.)