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Essential Reading: Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (Penguin Modern Classics).

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Simone de Beauvoir (1908 - 1986) ~ Biography

Girl: 'All my friends are existentialists.'
Tony Hancock: 'Well, it's company for you dear.'
Tony Hancock ~ The Rebel

One of the most interesting associations of Sartreisme - who indeed may have to some extent helped create the latter - is Simone de Beauvoir, who was born in 1908, three years after Sartre. In one of her memoirs she says she was born in a room looking down the Boulevard Raspail: actually, this was over the Cafe de la Rotonde, where in the early 1900's those exiles Lenin and Trotsky used to play chess, and where in the 1920's the Hemingway set often gathered. It is the heart of Montparnasse. Mlle. de Beauvoir attended the nearby Sorbonne, where she became the friend of Sartre. After taking her degree in philosophy in 1929, she taught at various places in the provinces and in Paris, until in 1943 she decided to devote her working hours to writing. Her contribution to French existentialiste thinking has been major. In the years just after the war, she and Sartre made the cafes of the place Saint German-des-Pres famous as existentialiste meeting places; les Deux Magots, le Cafe Flore, and la Brasserie Lipp.

Simone de Beauvoir's first novel was l'Invitee (1943; The Invited Guest, translated She Came to Stay), followed by Le Sang des autres (1944; The Blood of Others). The play, Les Bouches inutiles (1945; Useless Mouths) deals with the "extreme situation" through which existential writers examine man's behaviour. Her next novel, Tous les Hommes sont mortels (1947; All Men Are Mortal), examined the idea of immortality.

She also wrote a number of existentialistic essays, including Pour une Morale de l'ambiguite (1947; The Ethics of Ambiguity) which advocates the need for pointing out to those who have chosen bad faith that other possibilities of conduct are open to them. Her popular volume, Le Deuxieme Sexe (1949; The Second Sex), is a staunch feminist doctrine. In it she shows how most women have to live in various manifestations of bad faith because the man's world is forced upon them. This book, however, is more than a strident thesis, for its investigation of the development of woman, spiritually and erotically, is thorough and seasoned. The main points of the book are that women are not at all inferior to men, and that they must realize themselves through free action.

Her best-known novel, Les Mandarins (1954; The Mandarins), won the Goncourt Prize. The story is partly an autobiography, and recognizable portraits of leading members of the existentialiste movement and other postwar French literary figures occur throughout the book: Sartre, Camus, Raymond Aron, and others.

The autobiographical volumes are among her best writing. Memoires d'une fille rangee (1958; Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter) and La Force de l'age (1960; The Prime of Life). The first of these volumes tells more graphically than perhaps it has ever been told before what it is like to be a growing girl. It is certainly one of the most expert and absorbing confessionals ever written by a woman. It has been mentioned that Simone de Beauvoir was born above the Cafe de la Rotonde; she was the daughter of a Catholic lawyer of severly conservative outlook. Yet here was early childhood among the cafes of Montparnasse. The book contains some fine portraits: her parents and various relatives, including the cousin Jacques, with whom she fell in love, and who turned out to be a derelict, as well as her lively friend Zaza, who in the fullness of youth died suddenly.

The most remarkable passages in it are those concerned wih the turbulence of adolescence: these are frank, female, and French. In The Prime of Life, the author covers the years from 1929 to the eve of the liberation of Paris in 1944, and excitingly tells of her years as a teacher and writer, of the development of the existentialiste movement, and of the resistance. In La Force des choses (1963: Force of Circumstance, Mlle de Beauvoir brought her autobiography up into the 1960's, in a volume that has less inward quality than is two predecessors.

Also in 1963 she published a long essay on the Marquis de Sade accompanied by selections from his writings.

She outlived Sartre by some six years. The year after his death she wrote La Cérémonie Des Adieux (A Farewell to Sartre), a must-read though painful account of Sartre's last years.

She died of pneumonia in Paris, aged 78. She is buried next to Sartre at the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

Source: Twentieth Century French Literature

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