SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR: A Biography by Deirdre Bair
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The author of Samuel Beckett (1978) offers the most complete and illuminating interpretation yet of the writer and feminist who forged the mythic alliance with Jean-Paul Sartre. In this exhaustively researched book, Bair argues that the author of The Second Sex was ""largely responsible for creating the current feminist revolution,"" but she tempers respect with skepticism. Pressing to see through the scrims that the ""high priestess of Existentialism"" lowered on her past, Bair judiciously searches troves of old and new evidence from scholars and contemporaries. Then she faces point-blank the contradictions. ""Publicly introspective,"" de Beauvoir was, she finds, by turns generous and self-centered. Despite her brilliance, and her literary success, this vocal advocate of independence claimed to be ""branded by Sartre's thought,"" and played down her own extensive role in his work. By intricately mapping de Beauvoir's shifting internal state, and setting the richly textured social context--beginning with the belle Époque haute bourgeoisie to which she was born--Bair elucidates the course of her thought and actions. Lucid interpretations of de Beauvoir's fiction and autobiography unveil the struggle to understand herself, and to escape Sartre's shadow. Long quotes in both the text and footnotes capture the still indomitable older de Beauvoir in the five years before her death in 1986, arguing that she enjoyed the feeling of ""privilege"" with Sartre to the end (""a less than honest comment,"" Bair contends), and snapping, ""Can't you shut that bastard up?"" when she hears that a new book is speculating on her opportunism during the war when she worked for a German-controlled radio station. To Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier's fine Simone de Beauvoir: A Life, a Love Story (1987), and Renee Winegarten's unsympathetic Simone de Beauvoir: A Critical View (1988), Bair's synthesis adds substance and scope. While riveting our eyes to de Beauvoir's father's book-lined study, or her upstairs table at the Cafe de Flore, this fascinating portrait engages us in the persisting questions of de Beauvoir's life and work.

Pub Date: April 17th, 1990
ISBN: 0671741802
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster