LETTERS TO SARTRE
Simone de Beauvoir
Found in a cupboard and published last year in France, these "lost" love letters follow upon Deirdre Bair's magnificent Simone de Beauvoir (1990) with revelations about the author of The Second Sex and the exact nature of her extraordinary relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. This passionate, intriguing correspondence (finely translated by Hoare) begins in 1930, when Beauvoir is 21. The bulk Beauvoir writes almost daily from Paris during WW II, when Sartre is in the army and then a prisoner. (The streets, she writes, are "beautiful and sinister after 11--almost deserted, save for constant police patrols, on foot or bicycle, with big capes and gleaming helmets.") Here, in perhaps her most authentic voice, Beauvoir presents herself to Sartre as a devoted lover, desperate for his letters, calling him "my life's own self." Along with quotidian facts of money, classes, and cafes, of reading Dead Souls or watching a James Cagney movie, come wonderful observations--"There are tiny memories which tear at my heart...whereas I'm left quite unmoved by the big, serious things"; or, "belief and desire are really one and the same." What is bound to stir debate is Beauvoir's breathtaking honesty with Sartre about her "contingent" relationships and the fact that, to the end of her life, she gave to the public but a partial and polished view of these affairs. In particular, Beauvoir describes her ongoing emotional and physical involvement--every intrigue and skirmish--with three former students who were also lovers of Sartre. ("But what barren nourishment--all these people who aren't you!") The passion and openness persist in letters written from America (1947-51), where, through the "wire lattice-work" of the Brooklyn Bridge, she sees "red sky" and "gulls on the water," or questions her affair with Nelson Algren ("was it my own sadness that made him gloomy that first month?"). Essential reading for anyone wanting to fathom this still towering, contradictory, revolutionary feminist, what she wrote, and what she made of her life.