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Self-loathing may or may not be the meaning between-the-lines of Sartre's writings; narcissism, however, seems the very crystallization of Simone de Beauvoir's. It's a peculiar sort of narcissism , the narcissism of the femme savante, usually referred to (by the one who possesses it) as unremitting honesty: the confessional of the intellectual, or a look in the mirror, without makeup, under the harshest light. It's other things, too: for instance, Camus'-- "The sore that is scratched with such concern finally becomes a source of pleasure"--but then de Beauvoir doesn't like Camus.... This is the final volume of her autobiographical trilogy. The first explored her bourgeois rebellion; the second, the university years, the early Sartre relationship, the War; now, the past decades, from the Liberation to the present. It concludes a major work, major in that it gives us both a representative existentialist sensibility, and a behind-the-scenes picture of an age. Typically, the style's uneven; the thinking (especially the jumbled versions of certain aspects of Sartre's philosophy) embarrassing; and the disclosures about herself or other equally famous figures (poor Koestler....) rather antipathetic, self-regarding, one-sided. Everything has a tendency to slip out of gear: at one stretch the tempo is slipshod, then funereal; the tone ranges from the crisp to the lyrical, from the weary to the carping. Like Sartre, she came to political consciousness somewhat late in life; like him, she has certainly made up for it. History is Big Sister here, permeating all reactions: the revolving door maneuvers with the Communists, the positions taken vis-a-vis Korea, Algeria, Cuba, even her affaires de coeur. Indeed, how she reconciles ideological determinism with personal freedom (the book's truest touches, incidentally, concern drugs, compulsion- neuroses, thanatophobia) is certainly a triumph of sorts: one of the most significant solipsistic acts of the century. It is also a story which in its determined self-exposure has fascinated many and will continue to do so again.
Pub Date: June 15th, 1965
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1965


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