Simone De Beauvoir
January 9, 2015
In her novels, stories, and essays, SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR (1908–86) championed a feminist existentialist pathway that she herself forged. In the influential 1949 treatise, The Second Sex, she writes that “It is perfectly natural for the future woman to feel indignant at the limitations posed upon her by her sex. The real question is not why she should reject them: the problem is rather to understand why she accepts them.” Here we find a simultaneous embracing of the subjectivity of women and an existentialist reminder to speak up or disappear; the book helped pioneer what we know as second-wave feminism. But de Beauvoir was already a famous intellectual, by that point. In the ’20s, she was one of the first women to study philosophy at the Sorbonne; before that, she was the youngest person ever to pass the École Normale Supérieure’s competitive agrégation in philosophy — which is where she met Jean-Paul Sartre, later her lover and comrade. Throughout the following decades, de Beauvoir was the queen of the Parisian intellectual scene — and enjoyed herself to the fullest. Her 1943 novel L’Invitée (She Came to Stay), for example, is a fictional account of her and Sartre’s relationship with the sisters Olga and Wanda Kosakiewicz in the late ’30s. At the same time, she was a morally serious, fiercely partisan thinker and writer whose influence has been profound — on, among others, Gayatri Spivak, who advised me to read de Beauvoir in the first place.
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