Simone de Beauvoir Poster


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Overview (3)

Born in Paris, France
Died in Paris, France
Birth NameSimone (Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand) de Beauvoir

Mini Bio (1)

Simone Ernestine Lucie Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was born on January 9, 1908, in Paris, France. She was raised in an upper class bourgeois Catholic family. Her father, named Georges de Beauvoir, had a passion for books and theatre. He taught Simone reading at the age of 3, and she attempted to write as soon as she could read. Her early development was that of a remarkably talented child.

Her bold and spontaneous classmate, Zaza (Elisabeth Le Coin), was her earliest and strongest friendship. Beauvoir and Zaza were both students of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whom Zaza loved. That relationship was disrupted by Zaza's controlling parents. Zaza died of encephalitis at age 20, leaving Beauvoir shocked and depressed. Zaza's short life was described by Beauvoir in several versions and in various literary forms; revealing Beauvoir's own post-traumatic scars. As Beauvoir was trying to soothe the pain of loss, she drifted away from the restrictive social order of French class society. For the rest of her life, Beauvoir harbored her traumatized inner child, and played a game of rebellion by advancing her individual choices. She had issues with social rules regulating the impulses of her own life, or having a stable relationship; and her life really turned into a series of impulses.

She was a Sorbonne student when she met Jean-Paul Sartre at the study group in 1929. At that time she was nicknamed 'Castor' (Beaver), with the dual meaning of her last name as English for the animal and its reputation as a dedicated worker. Beauvoir and Sartre both learned to hate the restrictions of upper class life. Both favored an 'authentic state of being'. Her rebellious nature played a painful role in their relationship from the very start. Knowing that her teaching assignment would separate them, Jean-Paul Sartre proposed to her. His proposal and marriage would lead to their teaching assignments in the same area. To his dismay, she turned down his proposal and left.

In 1932 Beauvoir was teaching in Rouen. There she met Olga Kozakiewich and began a relationship. In 1935 she introduced Sartre to her 18-year-old student Olga Kozakiewich and the three formed the 'family'. Beauvoir merged both relationships into a trio, that led to an unexpected and overwhelming outcome. While she imagined the trio would illustrate the 'authenticity' of their relationships; in reality the inevitable competition from the younger and independent-minded Olga became a growing threat. Beauvoir saw Olga as an object, a mere cast member of the game. She also overestimated her own tolerance. Eventually the trio failed before the challenge to reciprocate in recognition of each one's 'authentic' consciousness. Each member wrote a different account of the same events in their 'family' life.

While her academic studies focused on the role of individual choice; the realities of her private life conflicted with her theory. The scenario that caused her earlier traumatic experience of her separation from Zaza was being replayed with variations. Beauvoir continued experimenting with her 'open family' by including her other students and Sartre's students too. Other family member's 'authentic' consciousness added to social inventiveness and a sort of a group-therapy during the occupation of Paris in WWII. "Existence causes transformation of consciousness" - commented Jean-Paul Sartre.

The Jean-Simone-Olga 'family' affair is immortalized in her first novel 'L'Invitee' (She Came to Stay, 1943). At that time they were living in an occupied Paris. The open 'family' included several former students of both Beauvoir and Sartre; forming a unique social group with Olga Kazakiewich, Nathalie Sorokine and Jacques-Laurent Bost. The complex manner of relationships in the 'family' was somewhat based on the intellectual connection between students and teachers, who also included sharing of cooking and other domestic duties. Beauvoir was forced into a rare experience of cooking only during the war, while being unencumbered with domestic duties for the rest of her life. The author of 'The Second Sex' ate at cafés and lived in good hotels, always being served.

Sartre and Beauvoir traveled to the South of France where they wooed André Gide and André Malraux to their underground group 'Socialisme et Liberte'. Their active resistance soon turned into writing for 'Combat', published by 'Albert Camus'. In 1945 Beauvoir joined the editorial staff at 'Les Tempes Modernes', a leftist journal named after the Chaplin's film. Sartre, being the magazine's founder among other intellectual friends, published Beauvoir's works first, giving her a steady platform and publicity. A that time she published 'Le Sang des Autres' (The Blood of Others, 1945) a reflection of Resistance during WWII. Her friend 'Albert Camus' wrote a positive review on Beauvoir's book. Her only play 'Les Bouches Inuites' (Useless Mouths, 1945) was also called 'Who Shall Die'. Her long project-study of the ethical question of immortality led to her book 'All Men Are Mortal'. She was shocked by the poor reception of her weak and confusing book.

In 1947 Beauvoir was on a 5-month lecture tour of American Universities. There she met writer Nelson Algren. Their relationship lasted 17 years, complicating her other relationships. She called him "crocodile husband" for his American smile. He called her "frog wife" for being French, both called it love. She wrote a book 'L'Amerique au Jour le Jour' (America Day by Day, 1948) critical of social problems, class, and racial inequalities in the United States. Around 1950 Nelson Algren proposed to marry her in a letter. Beauvoir once again declined an offer of marriage. They wrote over three hundred passionate letters from 1947 - 1964. She caused much pain to Jean-Paul Sartre; who wanted a family, and finally in 1962, he adopted a Jewish Algerian girl, named Arlette El Kaim.

In America Beauvoir learned of Alfred Kinsey and his gender studies in the 1930's and 1940's. She started writing 'The Second Sex' at the time of the 'Kinsey Report' (1948). In 1949 her first excerpts from 'The Second Sex' appeared in France in the May, June, and July issues of the Sartre's magazine 'Les Tempes Modernes'. Her book was published in November of 1949, and made a sensation on both continents. By the 1950's Beauvoir had started to doubt her attractiveness. Her affair with reporter Claude Lanzmann, 17 years her junior, brought her new energy of assurance. They moved in together for 2 years, but she also needed to keep both the "crocodile husband" and Jean-Paul Sartre. In 1954 she was awarded the Prix Goncourt for 'Les Mandarins' (The Mandarins) and purchased a small apartment in Montparnasse. There she would live with Sartre between her travels until her death.

In 'The Second Sex', first published in French in 1949, she presented a combination of 'feminism' with 'existentialism' with a 'Freudian' view of sexuality. The news was that it was written by a brilliant woman. She became recognized as one of the "founding mothers" of the modern day feminism. Her works were translated and published worldwide. The English translation of her main works were made by her principal English translator, Patrick O'Brian, the author of the story for the film 'Master and Commander'.

In 1955 Beauvoir and Sartre went on official visits to the Soviet Union and to communist China. As left-leaning academics they accepted the official invitations from the communist governments. Sartre and Beauvoir met with Nikita Khrushchev. She accepted the commission from both communist governments and wrote her 'La Longue Marche' (The Long March, 1957). She wrote in her letter to her "crocodile husband", Nelson Algren, that "the book was written largely to obtain money." She was apparently unconcerned by the brutal nature of the communist dictatorships. Beauvoir praised communism, the Chinese government, and the achievements of the Revolution. In 1960 she and Sartre accepted the invitation of Fidel Castro and made a trip to Cuba. At the same time she actively supported the Vietnamese Communist party. In 1967 Beauvoir and Sartre joined Bertrand Russell in the 'Tribunal of war Crimes in Vietnam'.

Her mother, Francoise de Beauvoir, whom she loathed at times, caused her more emotional pain than the millions of victims of communism. Her book 'A Very Easy Death' (1958) recounts the death of her mother, which was her way of coping with her loss; while she barely mentioned her father's death. During the illness of her mother, Beauvoir bonded with Sylvie Le Bon and developed a ten-year relationship with feelings that inspired her beautiful book 'All Said and Done' (1972). She adopted 'Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir' in 1980. In her later years Beauvoir's dependence on alcohol and amphetamine drugs led to Sartre's alienation from her. Sartre bought a house in the South of France and moved there with his adopted Jewish daughter, musician Arlette El Kaim Sartre. After the death of Sartre in 1980, Beauvoir published his letters to her (Lettres au Castor, 1983) as well as a very cold book of memoirs 'Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre', written from 1981-1985. Her bitter disputes with Sartre's daughter, Arlette El Kaim, ended only with Beauvoir's death.

Beauvoir was certainly not the first brilliant writer who turned her promiscuity on both continents into a money-making business under the mask of "academic writing" and "social experiment." Her writings show her profound knowledge and powerful thought which could be above the delusional ideals of both her own bourgeois past and Sartre's "utopian" and "communist" present. Her form of denial eventually led to an ordinary path of drugs and alcohol. Simone de Beauvoir died of complications of alcoholism on April 14, 1986. She was laid to rest in the grave of Jean-Paul Sartre in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse in Paris, France.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Trivia (9)

Longtime lover of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Faked documents claiming to have had an abortion to make a statement.
Shares her gravesite with philosopher and lover Jean-Paul Sartre, who died six years before she did; interred at Cimetiere de Montparnasse in Paris, France.
Regarded as the mother of post-1968 feminism. Her philosophical work reflected the existentialism of Sartre.
Her long affair with novelist Nelson Algren was dramatized in John Susman play "Nelson & Simone" that premiered in Fall, 2000, at the Live Bait Theatre with Rebecca Covey as de Beauvoir and Gary Houston as Algren.
Though interred with Sartre, she was buried wearing the ring Nelson Algren gave her.
She and Sartre went to movies often. They particularly enjoyed movies with "that big American," as she wrote in one of her many memoirs. She was referring to John Wayne.
Portrayed four times by Jordan Mohr--in the plays "Two Simones: de Beauvoir and Signoret in Hollywood" and "De Beauvoir 1964," and in two films, Hollywood Mouth and Hollywood Mouth 2.
Mentioned in the song "Rattlesnakes" by Lloyd Cole & The Commotions.

Personal Quotes (6)

It is old age, rather than death, that is to be contrasted with life. Old age is life's parody, whereas death transforms life into a destiny: in a way it preserves it by giving it the absolute dimension. Death does away with time.
One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.
This has always been a man's world, and none of the reasons hitherto brought forward in explanation of this fact has seemed adequate.
Sex pleasure in woman is a kind of magic spell; it demands complete abandon; if words or movements oppose the magic of caresses, the spell is broken.
[on Brigitte Bardot] She eats when she is hungry and she makes love in the same matter-of-fact manner.
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 feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.

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