Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir, the daughter of a lawyer, was born in Paris, France in 1908. She took a degree in philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1929 and was placed second to Jean Paul Sartre, who became her close friend.

She began teaching in Marseilles in 1931 and after a spell in Rouen she moved to Paris in 1938. Along with Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre Beauvoir became involved in the group that published the clandestine newspaper, Combat.

In 1943 she lost her job as a teacher after being accused of corrupting of a minor. She then worked as a writer and producer for the state-run radio station. Her first novel, L'invitée (1943) brought her immediate fame. A book about her war-time experiences, The Blood of Others, was published in 1945.

Her highly acclaimed book about women, The Second Sex, appeared in 1949. Other books by Beauvoir include The Mandarins (1954), The Long March (1958), Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1959), The Prime of Life (1963), Force of Circumstance (1965) A Very Easy Death (1966) and The Woman Destroyed (1970). Simone de Beauvoir died in 1986.

Primary Sources

(1) Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre went to Nazi Germany just before the Second World War.

We went on a boat up the Elbe as far as the rock of Heligoland, where not a single tree grows. A German got into conversation with us: a man of about forty, wearing a black peaked cap and a somewhat morose expression. He told us he had been a sergeant in the 1914-18 war, and his voice gradually rose as he went on talking.

"If there is another war," he said, "we shall not be defeated this time. We shall retrieve our honour."

Sartre replied that there was no need of a war; we all ought to want peace.

"Honour comes first," the sergeant said. "First we must retrieve our honour."

His fanatical tone alarmed me. I tried to reassure myself with the reflection that an ex-serviceman is bound to hold militaristic views; yet how many such were there, who lived only for the moment when the great day of revenge would come? Never had I seen hatred shine so nakedly from any human face. All through our journey I did my best to forget it, but without success.

(2) Simone de Beauvoir, entry in diary (29th September, 1939)

Warsaw has surrendered, and a treaty is signed between the U.S.S.R. and Germany. Germany announces her intention of offering the Allies peace terms. We shall refuse them, and then things will start in earnest. I tell myself this, and read books on the last war, but still can't really believe it.

(3) Simone de Beauvoir recorded in her diary how she saw Jean Paul Sartre leave for the war against Germany (15th February, 1940)

Sartre gets into uniform again. We reach the station just before 9.15. Large notices up announcing that all trains for men going back from leave will depart at 9.35. Crowds of soldiers and their womenfolk making for the underground passage. Am reasonable calm, but the idea of this departure as part of a collective move I find distressing.

The scene on the platform brings a lump to my throat - all these men and women with their awkward handshakes! There are two crowded trains, one on either side. The right-hand one pulls out, and a long line of women - some mothers, but mostly wives or girl friends - drift away, eyes glassy and red-rimmed: some of them are sobbing. A few elderly fathers among them, a dozen at most: this separation of the sexes is a primitive business with the men being carried off and the women returning to town.

(4) Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance (1965)

In our youth, we had felt close to the Communist Party insofar as its negativism agreed with our anarchism. We wanted the defeat of capitalism, but not the accession of a socialist society which, we thought, would have deprived us our liberty. It was in this sense that Sartre wrote in his notebook, on September 14, 1939: "I am now cured of socialism, if I needed to be cured of it." Yet in 1941, when he was forming a Resistance group, the two words he brought together for its baptism were: socialism and liberty. The war had effected a decisive conversion.

(5) Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life (1963)

Sartre, besides belonging to the CNE and CNT, had connections, through Albert Camus, with the Combat movement. About mid-July one member of the network was arrested, and managed to get word out that he confessed certain names to the authorities. Camus advised us to move, and the Leirises offered us hospitality. We then made our way, by train and bicycle, to Neuilly-sous-Clermont, where we took rooms in the village. It would be easy enough to get back from here if events started moving.

(6) Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre managed to get back to Paris when it was liberated in September 1944.

All that day Sartre and I walked the flag-draped streets of Paris. I saw women in their best clothes clinging round soldiers' necks; the tricolor shone resplendent from the summit of the Eiffel Tower. What a tumult of emotions surged through my heart! Seldom indeed does one achieve a long-awaited pleasure and find it all one could have hoped for; but such was my good fortune on this occasion.