Spurred on by my interest in Mary Wollstonecraft, I felt it would be prudent to look into Simone De Beauvoir; not only was she a prominent feminist writer, but also an influential critic of her period. The introduction to The Second Sex was especially enlightening, and I particularly enjoyed the piece, particularly when it is compared alongside Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Again, I used the Radio Four resource to take some extra notes and hear real experts on the subject speaking, and below are my notes on the program.
With thanks to http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b010dp15
Simone De Beauvoir became a poster girl for feminism, and was a strong disciple and lover of Jean Paul Sartre. The two had a very close academic relationship and within their intellectual conversation, there was a coupling which was very important to her. She strongly believed that he was the greatest philosopher of the age. Their relationship was very transparent and sometimes loyalties crossed over, and threatened to rock the boat; their emotional affairs however sometimes left gaps in the relationships and led to illness.
The two however were very much celebrities, and were part of existential philosophy, and what can be made now and of the future. They were the spokespeople of the young, and the next generation backs. Simone’s life however was very special; her parents were alarmed by her high intellectualism. Simone realised around the age of thirteen that God did not exist; she was dutiful of course, however when she became a student, departed and moved on. She was a very passionate woman; the loss of God to her and the admiration of her father was very important, and she felt things very deeply. She attempted to provide her relationship with Sartre with reason; this attempt on rationality is extremely difficult, but in a strange way becomes more emotional, and forms more rage; it replicates what went on in her childhood (her father was also a philanderer). The transparency made their relationship both weaker and stronger and formed the part of an experimental love, in the same way as she formed experimental ideas.
Women in particular have always been extremely susceptible to men of intellect and theory; De Beauvoir was no exception. She was an intellectual woman and therefore fell in love with Sartre’s mind. She however had a huge impact on Sartre and often edited, and contributed, to his writing. She stated that the success of her life had been her relationship with Sartre.
There had been very little examination of femininity and what it really meant to be a woman previously; The Second Sex was an often overlooked text of the Feminist movement and is often perceived by some academics as being old-fashioned and based on patriarchy; this is however what she knew. The text was however (later) revelatory in feminist ideology.
De Beauvoir’s life often seems to be lacking in ‘fun’. She seems to have an academic life, however a lack of social prominence, but had a tremendous capacity for fun, sitting in society and the exchange on information. She was patient throughout her life. She used her experiences to influence her writings throughout her life; she was published relatively late however she had many writings based around her earlier life. She was often found to engage in a threesome, (consider Olga). She also felt that sexual exploration was a fundamental part of growing up; the exploration of life forms. She also enjoyed the student-teacher relationship.
When Sartre returned from military service he began taking more drugs and began to hallucinate about crustaceans. When Beauvoir was moving towards wooing Olga, the crustaceans began to disappear; despite this apparently positive effect, it is possible however to consider that she never actually wanted a ménage a trois with Sartre, and that it came at great emotional cost to her. She felt destroyed by Sartre; lonely and worried at being abandoned and having failed in relationships, and being scared of death. Simone De Beauvoir’s humour was extremely dry, however her life was probably full of fun and happiness.
When she arrived in Canada in the 1950’s, the Catholic church had censored much of what she said, because of the sheer force of its impact. Nelson Algren and Beauvoir had an extremely passionate love affair, and even referred to each other as little husband, and little wife. She wore his rings, up until her death. They had a very on and off again affair. Sartre was demanding, and due to this, Nelson Algren and Beauvoir had a gargantuan row, ending their affair temporarily. However they tried to be friends and Algren tried to understand the menage a trois. This was an experiment in how to have an open relationship more honestly.
Beauvoir was always anti establishment; she argued that the church and society were against women, and that men wanted to feel superior to these people. It is a hatred for women. This apparently was not found in Anglo-Saxon cultures. She felt however that the title “feminism” was a reductive title and would have defined her in relation to a man; she wanted to be defined as a human and as a humanist, as opposed to simply the opposite of man. Existentialism however was very much a theory of its time, and is less applicable to the modern age. The exploration of gender issues has moved on however Simone De Beauvoir is still very much the bedrock of gender and feminist studies.
“Women still form a repressed group, and have very little advantage compared to those in capitalism.”
This particular discussion was not only enlightening about her work, but also about her life. I will certainly be pursuing the career of De Beauvoir much further, especially considering her work in relation to her relationships.
With thanks to Radio Four for the content of these notes.