SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR: A Critical View by Renee Winegarten


Email this review


Revisionist"" hardly describes this biography of the French writer who, with her longtime companion, Jean-Paul Sartre, was the darling of the post-WW II existentialist set. One almost senses a personal vendetta being waged between the biographer and her subject, as whatever praise Winegarten is able to summon up in describing de Beauvoir's life and work is grudging at best. De Beauvoir is cited for just about every failing from hypocrisy (her attacks on American racial inequalities while defending Soviet policies) to sexual naivetÉ (her affair with Nelson Algren in 1948). It is only when she is discussing de Beauvoir's involvement with the feminist movement that Winegarten seems able to overcome, at least partially, her antipathy. Yet even here she frequently descends to attack, as when she writes, concerning de Beauvoir's questioning of the general public's condemnation of juvenile sexuality, ""There spoke. . .the woman who had neither experienced the anxieties of a parent nor felt any empathy with them""--when in fact the French writer was attacking the unreasonably harsh penalties society (parents included) imposed on schoolgirl-mothers. Winegarten traces most of de Beauvoir's failings to what she sees as the writer's excessive revolt against her bourgeois Roman Catholic upbringing. In many details her analysis of pre-Vatican II Catholic actions and reactions is simplistic. For example, in dissecting a diary kept by the 14-year-old Simone during a religious retreat, she fails to recognize that the young girl's behavior, far from being aberrant, was probably a commonplace among serious-minded Roman Catholic adolescents at the time. Simone de Beauvoir's long-held reputation as writer and woman undoubtedly deserves critical re-evaluation, but by a critic far more objective than Winegarten proves to be.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1988
Publisher: Berg--dist. by St. Martin's