Biography of Simone de Beauvoir | Life and Important Works
Biography of Simone de Beauvoir: Simone de Beauvoir was a French philosopher, writer, feminist activist, and social theorist. She had a significant influence on feminist theory and feminist existentialism. Beauvoir wrote essays, novels, autobiographies, biographies, and monographs on philosophy. She is known for her works and novels especially The Second Sex which is a foundational tract of contemporary feminism. Her other popular works include The Mandarins, She Came to Stay, The Woman Destroyed, The Coming of Age, The Ethics of Ambiguity, and Inseparable. Simone de Beauvoir won several awards 1954 Prix Goncourt, the 1975 Jerusalem Prize, and the 1978 Austrian State Prize for European literature. She also won France’s most prestigious literary prize for The Mandarins.
Education and Personal Life
Born on 9 January 1980 in Paris into a bourgeois Parisian family, Beauvoir was the daughter of lawyer Georges Bertrand de Beauvoir and wealthy banker’s daughter and devout Catholic, Françoise Beauvoir. After World War I, the family failed to maintain their bourgeois status, and Françoise insisted that Simone and her sister Hélène be sent to a prestigious convent school.
To escape the social custom of marriage, Beauvoir took a step to earn her living. She first worked with Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Claude Lévi-Strauss, when all three completed their practice teaching requirements at the same secondary school. Although not officially enrolled, she sat in on courses at the École Normale Supérieure in preparation for the agrégation in philosophy, a highly competitive postgraduate examination that serves as a national ranking of students. During this time, she met Jean-Paul Sartre, Rene Maheu, and Paul Nizan who were also students of École Normale. Sartre received first place and Simone placed second when she was 21, she was the youngest person to ever pass the exam. She studied literature/languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie, mathematics at the Institut Catholique de Paris, and philosophy at the Sorbonne. Her studies of political philosophy influenced her to start thinking of societal concerns rather than her issues.
Beauvoir was bisexual. Her open relationship at times overshadowed her substantial academic reputation. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre remained for 51 years until Sartre’s death in 1980. She chose never to marry and have children. This gave her the time to grow academically, write, teach, and involve herself in political causes. Beauvoir lived with Claude Lanzmann from 1952 to 1959. American author Nelson Algren was one of her lovers.
After Sartre died in 1980, Beauvoir published the letters he wrote to her. When Beauvoir died, Sartre’s adopted daughter Arlette Elkaïm did not publish Sartre’s unedited letters; most of the letters available have Beauvoir’s edits. However, Beauvoir’s adopted daughter Sylvie Le Bon published Beauvoir’s unedited letters to both Sartre and Algren. At the age of 78, Simone de Beauvoir died on 14 April 1986 of pneumonia in Paris. Around the time of her passing, she was honored as a figure at the forefront of the struggle for women’s rights.
She Came to Stay
She Came to Stay was published in 1943. It is the first novel of Simone de Beauvoir. This book is dedicated to Olga Kosakievicz, and it deals with how she came between Beauvoir and Sartre. The themes that it covers are feminism and polygamous relationship. She Came to Stay is set in the time of WWII Paris. Francoise and Pierre, a young and naïve couple are proudly bohemian. They are involved with theater, they write, and they have an open relationship. However, things begin to shake with the arrival of Xaviere. The couple did not have a healthy relationship, and with the entry of Xaviere, it turned from bad to worse. This book is a cautionary story about how dangerous a poorly-planned polyamory can turn.
The Second Sex
“One is not born but becomes a woman.” Simone de Beauvoir in her 1949 published work The Second Sex first articulated the sex-gender distinction. She defines women as the “second sex” as women are defined as inferior to men. Beauvoir quotes “In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without the feeling of fear, restraint, or obligation.”
She talks about how men created women as the “other” as an excuse to not understand and disregard the issues of women. This is a stereotypical behavior in society that has always been created by the higher group in the social hierarchy to the group lower in the hierarchy. It is a similar kind of oppression that happened in categories such as class, race, and religion. Men stereotyped women and used that as an excuse to establish patriarchy.
Despite her contributions to feminism, beliefs in equal education, and women’s economic independence she was reluctant to call herself a feminist at first. After observing the late 1960s and early 1970s resurgence of the feminist movement she stated she no longer believed a socialist revolution to be adequate for women’s revolution. In 1972 in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur Simone de Beauvoir publicly declared herself a feminist.
Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiographical novel was published in 195. The book covers some of the renowned themes of Beauvoir – feminism, morality, existentialism, and political structures. It begins in Paris, on Christmas Eve, 1944, and traces four years of the growth of a group of Paris left-wing intellectuals. This group of friends called themselves “the Mandarins”. In an apartment, these friends are gathered to celebrate the joy of the liberation of Paris after World War II and talk about their plans. They are unwilling to leave the fate of France in the hands of politicians and they bring a new interpretation of post-liberation France to the American who is only casually familiar with the political scene.
The Woman Destroyed
Simone de Beauvoir in her 1967 published work The Women Destroyed presents three novellas that talk about women over forty each delving into her misery. In “The Age of Discretion” the woman is dealing with her young married son who abruptly tears himself away from her influence. She refuses to see him and rejects him completely. Simultaneously, she observes that she is unable to bring joy to her husband or their relationship. They are not in accord over her way of dealing with their son. Their marital relationships grow farther and farther apart. In the end, there is a suggestion of a new set of understanding, however, it is not convincing because none of their issues have been resolved.
The second novella “The Monologue” talks about a woman who is separated from her child and was ditched by her husband and she is drowning in her mess. She screams how living is hell and how she is bored and alone on New Year’s Eve. And, then there is the recollection of her daughter who died at the age of fifteen. She vows that she would have made her daughter a fine by just giving and not asking for anything. The woman just screams out her rage and loneliness and despair.
In “The Woman Destroyed”, the woman is talking about her comfortable life is fading due to her husband’s extramarital affair with another woman. The narrator has two grown daughters, one is pursuing her independent career in the US and the other is married. Now, as her misery develops, she questions the upbringing of her daughters. She starts to become less and less certain about herself and allows her husband to share his life with another woman. Having devoted her existence to her family, she finds herself living an abandoned life.