One of the most controversial women of the century, essayist, novelist, and philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir has changed millions of women’s lives, awakening us all to the mystique of being a woman by authoring her most famous work The Second Sex. Though Simone, herself, was uninterested in being a mother, she had become known as “the mother to us all.”
She “was the vanguard of French intellectual life for nearly forty years,” and became notoriously “the most public sinner in all of France.” Her life-long unmarried relationship with existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was the source of this. “After we had decided what our relationship was to be, we were both embarrassed that we had even briefly considered the most bourgeois of institutions, marriage, to be the answer,” Beauvoir recalled. Ah, yet another marriage without papers.
Beauvoir and Sartre were known as “the writing couple” who were together nearly every day, at work at separate desks or cafe tables…
Together they participated in rallies, visited heads of state on almost every continent, exchanging ideas with the greatest artists and writers of their era.
Simone has become the ultimate feminist icon, always “deeply committed to her work yet always ready to put Sartre’s first.” She had other love affairs on the side, both male and female, to which much criticism has been raised, and one longer ill-fated relationship with American writer Nelson Algren, to whom she wrote many love letters. She always insisted that their relationship would go no further, for her committment to Sartre and his intellect was undeniable, even though her affair with Algren was physically satisfying.
I had always thought of Simone de Beauvoir as this great, scary woman, independent of men, though not a hater of men (as some feminists have become), but one who sincerely did not need a man. Yet, in reading her biography, I find that most of her financial “freedom” came out of Sartre’s open pocketbook. Curious…isn’t it. For a most admired feminist icon, she was surrounded by many men, the key to which, I feel, was their respect for her as an equal of intellect, and a contemporary in philosophic thought with all life matters.