Simone De Beauvoir

Today is the birthday of Simone de Beauvoir who was born on 9th January 1908

Beauvoir is best known for her novels and her pioneering feminism, as well as her long partnership with Jean-Paul Sartre. They were both active exponents of the philosophy of existentialism, and Beauvoir’s pioneering book “The Second Sex” was enormously influential on the feminist movement.

simone and sartre

I first discovered her work in my late teens/early twenties when I first came to the women’s movement. This was in the late 1970s/early 1980s and “The Second Sex” was one of those seminal works you just had to read. But Beauvoir’s life was intriguing too, and I read all the volumes of her autobiography as well as her novels, including my favourite “The Blood of Others”. The latter had a very profound effect on me, and I still think it’s actually a better illustration of existentialist views than Sartre’s works!

It wasn’t till more recent years that I read her novel “The Mandarins”, a roman a clef which covers the life of the Paris intelligentsia during the Second World War. Several of the characters represent Beauvoir, Sartre and Albert Camus, and the events are based on real events in her life. The novel itself is wonderful and absorbing and highly recommended – in fact, I’d really like to find time to re-read it myself.

simone and nelson

Beauvoir’s life was not quite as straightforward as she might have made out in her autobiographies, and I came across a very illuminating biography of her by Deirdre Bair a few years ago. This was quite a revelation, as it covered in-depth her transatlantic affair with author Nelson Algren, prompting me to pick up a volume of her letters (which lurks on Mount TBR!) and the relationship also features in “The Mandarins”.

Simone de Beauvoir was a fascinating, inspiring woman whose life and work has had an ongoing influence on me over the years. Happy birthday Simone!