Simone de Beauvoir was born on January 9, 1908 in Paris. Her book, Les Belles Images, was the first full book I read in French at university. Her father was a frustrated actor who was forced into a career in law to keep up family appearances. Her mother was a highly religious Catholic from a more modest background. The push-and-pull of their conflicting values created an environment ripe to produce a philosophical child. Eventually, she rejected religious values and embraced an attitude of living for the moment.
De Beauvoir became a student at the Sorbonne where she studied philosophy. She began to associate with a group of students who were considered bad news, including Jean-Paul Sartre. They became friends, intellectual equals, and lovers. De Beauvoir became employed as a lycée (high-school) teacher, which gave her financial independence. This allowed her to devote a substantial amount of time to writing and to café philosophizing with her friends.
She and Sartre had a most unusual relationship. They clearly loved one another deeply, but not exclusively, and both of them took other lovers. The caveat was that they had to be completely open about these other relationships. On occasion there were three in bed. One of de Beauvoir’s first books, She Came to Stay, was about one of these liaisons. De Beauvoir and Sartre remained together until his death in 1980.
Probably her most famous work was The Second Sex, seen as a feminist manifesto. De Beauvoir took strong positions on the status of unmarried mothers in France and the Algerian quest for independence. She traveled extensively, often to Communist countries such as China, Russia, and Cuba. She died on April 14, 1978 of pneumonia and is buried with Sartre.
Today’s expression is a quotation by Simone de Beauvoir, se vouloir libre, c’est aussi vouloir les autres libres (suh voolwar leebruh, seh owesee voolwar layz owetruh leebruh), which means “to want to be free [oneself], is also to want others [to be] free.” De Beauvoir was certainly a free spirit.
- Existential Love…Simone de Beauvoir pt. 1 (musingsfrommymacbook.wordpress.com)
- Book reviews: Beauvoir and Sartre (iupress.typepad.com)
- From the Observer archive, 6 December 1981: decline and fall of Jean-Paul Sartre (guardian.co.uk)