Other literary forms

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Simone de Beauvoir (duh boh-VWAHR) is best known for her social and political philosophy, especially her contributions to feminism. Foremost among her nonfiction works is her four-volume autobiography, Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (1958; Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1959), La Force de l’âge (1960; The Prime of Life, 1962), La Force des choses (1963; Force of Circumstance, 1964), and Tout compte fait (1972; All Said and Done, 1974). Equally important is her monumental sociological study on women, Le Deuxième Sexe (1949; The Second Sex, 1953). Two other sociological works follow The Second Sex, the first on China, La Longue Marche (1957; The Long March, 1958), and the second on the aged, La Vieillesse (1970; The Coming of Age, 1972). Les Bouches inutiles (1945), her only play, has not been translated into English. She also published two collections of short stories, La Femme rompue (1967; The Woman Destroyed, 1968) and Quand prime le spirituel (1979; When Things of the Spirit Come First: Five Early Tales, 1982). Her most important philosophical essays include Pyrrhus et Cinéas (1944), Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté (1947; The Ethics of Ambiguity, 1948), L’Existentialisme et la sagesse des nations (1948), and Privilèges (1955; partial translation “Must We Burn Sade?,” 1953). A number of her other essays appeared in newspapers and journals. She also wrote a chronicle of her travels in the United States, L’Amérique au jour le jour (1948; America Day by Day, 1953); a powerful account of her mother’s illness and death, Une Mort très douce (1964; A Very Easy Death, 1966); and a tribute to Jean-Paul Sartre, La Cérémonie des adieux (1981; Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, 1984).

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Achievements

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Simon de Beauvoir was a presence in French intellectual life during the second half of the twentieth century. She is one of the foremost examples of existentialist engagement and its most respected moral voice; the breadth of her writing alone secures de Beauvoir a prominent position in twentieth century letters. Her novels, especially She Came to Stay, The Blood of Others, and The Mandarins (for which she won the Prix Goncourt in 1954), pose some of the central philosophical and ethical questions of our time, exploring the problems of social morality, political commitment, and human responsibility. Along with her autobiography, her novels chronicle the time before and after World War II and the experiences that made her one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.

De Beauvoir wrote numerous articles for Les Temps modernes, a periodical founded and directed by Sartre, and she was a member of its editorial board. In 1973, she became the editor of the journal’s feminist column. The Second Sex, her carefully documented study of the situation of women, became one of the major theoretical texts of the women’s movement. Always an activist for women’s rights and social justice, she demonstrated against France’s restrictive abortion laws and signed the “Manifeste des 343,” a document listing women who admitted having had abortions. She was president of Choisir (1971) and of the Ligue des Droits des Femmes (1974), an organization devoted to fighting sex discrimination. De Beauvoir was also one of the founders of the feminist journal Questions féministes. Her indictment of social injustice is evidenced by The Coming of Age, her defense of a free press (the Maoist underground newspaper La Cause du peuple), and her political actions.

Discussion Topics

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What aspects of Simone de Beauvoir’s work stand apart from her relationship to Jean-Paul Sartre?

Did de Beauvoir learn more from men or from other women? Explain your conclusion.

Is de Beauvoir correct in her belief that the self is “socially constructed”? If she is correct, does not that view reduce the realm of qualities that might be called “feminine”?

De Beauvoir was essentially more of a philosopher or social critic than a literary person. Support or challenge this statement.

Did de Beauvoir write too much? Could she have been more successful as a deliberate and painstaking artist?

Bibliography

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Appignansei, Lisa. Simone de Beauvoir. London: Penguin Books, 1988. Provides a significant appraisal of de Beauvoir’s concept of the independent woman. Aptly explicates de Beauvoir’s existentialist ethics and her suppositions of woman’s subjectivity.

Bair, Deirdre. Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography. New York: Summit Books, 1990. This work, which some critics have termed the definitive study of de Beauvoir, covers her philosophical life and her inquiry into the nature of woman. It also focuses on her relationship with John-Paul Sartre.

Berghoffen, Debra B. The Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Gendered Phenomenologies, Erotic Generosities. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. Berghoffen takes note of de Beauvoir’s differences from Jean-Paul Sartre and details the philosophical eroticism in The Second Sex and other books as well as de Beauvoir’s ethics of the erotic.

Bieber, Konrad. Simone de Beauvoir. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Contains only one chapter on the fiction; the rest of the book pertains to de Beauvoir’s essays, memoirs, and other autobiographical writing. Includes a chronology and an annotated bibliography.

Brown, Catherine Savage. Simone de Beauvoir Revisited. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991. Contains chapters on de Beauvoir’s life, on her role as a woman writer, and on her early fiction and drama, later fiction, philosophical and political studies, and memoirs. Aims to present a focused study and criticizes the emphasis on anecdotal reports and biography in other works on de Beauvoir.

Card, Claudia, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Collection of essays focuses on de Beauvior’s philosophy, including an analysis of the philosophy in her fiction. Includes a chronology, introductory overview, bibliography, and index.

Evans, Mary. Simone de Beauvoir: A Feminist Mandarin. New York: Tavistock, 1985. Although devoted mainly to nonfiction, this study does explore the autobiographical roots of de Beauvoir’s novels.

Fallaize, Elizabeth. The Novels of Simone de Beauvoir. New York: Routledge, 1988. Contains separate chapters on She Came to Stay, The Blood of Others, All Men Are Mortal, The Mandarins, and Les Belles Images. Includes an introduction, biographical notes, and a bibliography.

Francis, Claude, and Fernande Gontier. Simone de Beauvoir: A Life, a Love Story. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. A lively, well-documented biography for general readers.

Fulbrook, Kate, and Edward Fulbrook. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre: The Remaking of a Twentieth-Century Legend. New York: Basic Books, 1994. This work revises previous interpretations of the relationship, relying on new documents (letters and memoirs) that show how the two fashioned their legend.

Marso, Lori Jo, and Patricia Moynagh. Simone de Beauvoir’s Political Thinking. Illinois, 2006. The first collection of essays devoted to the political views of Beauvoir.

Moi, Toril. Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997. Two chapters in this study are of particular interest regarding de Beauvoir’s fiction. Chapter 3 recounts the hostile reception of de Beauvoir’s work by those in France and elsewhere who did not believe that de Beauvoir, as a woman, had the intellectual strength and integrity of male philosophers, and chapter 4 examines She Came to Stay.

Rowley, Hazel. Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Chronicles the relationship between de Beauvoir and Sartre, offering insights into their commitment to each other, their writing, their politics, and their philosophical legacy.

Sandford, Stella. How to Read Beauvoir. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. Provides an introductory overview to de Beauvior’s philosophy. Cites excerpts from de Beauvoir’s books to explain her examination of identity, gender, sexuality, old age, and other topics.

Simons, Margaret A., ed. Feminist Interpretations of Simone de Beauvoir. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. Collection contains essays on The Second Sex, de Beauvoir’s relationship with Sartre, The Mandarins, and the author’s views on the Algerian war. Includes bibliography and index.

Whitmarsh, Anne. Simone de Beauvoir and the Limits of Commitment. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Contains succinct discussions of de Beauvoir’s long fiction, including a section summarizing her fictional works. Biographical notes and bibliography add to this volume’s usefulness.

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