A Dangerous Liaison: A Revelatory New Biography of Simone DeBeauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre

A Dangerous Liaison: A Revelatory New Biography of Simone DeBeauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre

by Carole Seymour-Jones
     
 

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A Dangerous Liaison tells the intense, passionate, and sometimes painful story of how two brilliant free-thinkers, lovers, and rivals came to share a relationship that lasted more than fifty years.

Moving from the corridors of the Sorbonne to the cafés of Paris's Left Bank, we discover how the strikingly beautiful and gifted young Simone DeBeauvoir came to

Overview

A Dangerous Liaison tells the intense, passionate, and sometimes painful story of how two brilliant free-thinkers, lovers, and rivals came to share a relationship that lasted more than fifty years.

Moving from the corridors of the Sorbonne to the cafés of Paris's Left Bank, we discover how the strikingly beautiful and gifted young Simone DeBeauvoir came to fall in love with the squinting, arrogant, hard- drinking Jean-Paul Sartre. We learn about that first summer of 1929, filled with heated debates that went on long into the night, sexual rivalry and betrayal, and the dangerous ideas that led people to experiment with new ways of behaving. We hear how Sartre compromised with the Nazis and fell into a Soviet honey-trap. And, thanks to recently discovered letters written by the avowed feminist DeBeauvoir, Seymour-Jones reveals the darker, more dangerous side to the couple's philosophy of free love, including Simone's lesbianism and her pimping of younger girls for Jean-Paul in order to keep his love.

Finally available in the U.S., this is a compelling and fascinating account of what lay behind the legend that this brilliant, tempestuous couple created.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this sensationalist account of the unconventional private and public lives of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Seymour-Jones (Painted Shadow) offers Sartre's "incestuous" relationship with his mother as a psychosexual backdrop to his adult life as Beauvoir's lover. While generally more sympathetic to Beauvoir, the author presents her with distaste as an exploitative manipulator, a "paedophile" with a predilection for "girl-on-girl action" who busied herself procuring young women for Sartre's "harem." Woven through these accounts of sexual exploits is the story of their intellectual development, the genesis of their writings and their deeply problematic relationship to Marxism and the Soviet Union. However, all too often, we are returned to cheap psychologizing ("murder was in Beavoir's heart") and prurient detail. With frequently unreferenced quotes and claims, the book offers little more than insinuation, eschewing clear evidence and demonstration in favor of conflating the lives of the writers with their fictional characters. Any value such a biography might have as a revisionist antidote to its subjects' own hagiographic tendencies is fatally undermined by the author's questionable use of source material, judgmental tone and preference for cheap effects. (Sept.)

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Library Journal
Much has been written about the famous literary couple de Beauvoir and Sartre. Having gained access to their private journals and letters after their deaths, scholars have been reassessing their lives and their relationship. Drawing from primary and secondary sources, Seymour-Jones (Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot) creates an absorbing and not always positive dual biography of these two complicated individuals. Her work spans their lives from childhood through their war, postwar, and twilight years. The author often underscores the major discrepancies between their memoirs/interviews and what they wrote privately in journals and letters. Like characters in Laclos's eponymous novel, Sartre and de Beauvoir callously played with people's lives; de Beauvoir would choose women for Sartre to seduce and then cruelly reject. Initially, this couple was apathetic about politics and expressed little resistance to the German occupation during World War II despite their later leftist tendencies. VERDICT An important contribution to the study of de Beauvoir and Sartre that will be appreciated both by general readers and by scholars of French literature and culture and women's studies.—Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll., Media, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Appearing in what might be called a "sexography," Sartre, the Nobel-winning existentialist philosopher, and Beauvoir, existentialist and pioneering feminist, cavort with a dizzying panoply of partners. Seymour-Jones (Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, 2002, etc.) begins by switching her focus between her two principals; as their lives intertwine in a most sinuous way, so do the author's paragraphs. Beauvoir refused to marry Sartre. In 1929, at the dawn of their relationship, he proposed several times. They shared an insatiable demand for fresh, and ever younger, sexual partners-in Beauvoir's case, of both genders. Moreover, they sometimes shared partners, or siblings thereof, and Sartre kept a virtual harem, notes Seymour-Jones. Beauvoir countered by seducing a number of her young female students and fans, and she enjoyed a steamy relationship with Nelson Algren. Still, as the author shows, they were, in their self-absorbed ways, fiercely devoted to each other for a half-century, maintaining what they both termed a "morganatic marriage." They are now buried together in a Paris cemetery. Seymour-Jones seems interested in their vast literary output only insofar as it illuminates their personal/sexual lives. Continually, she quotes scenes from their novels, plays and stories that parallel events revealed in their letters, journals and memoirs. The author's admiration for her subjects gradually dwindles as their rise in the literary world involves them in numerous ethical and moral compromises. During the Occupation, for example, they both behaved in cowardly fashion. When they saw the imminent Allied victory, they shape-shifted-Sartre in particular, who portrayed himself thereafteras a hero of the Resistance. Later he became a feckless pawn of the Soviets, a role he did not surrender until the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. A spiraling double-helix of a relationship whose sordid beauty fascinates even as it repels. Agent: Kim Witherspoon/InkWell Management

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590204474
Publisher:
The Overlook Press
Publication date:
09/03/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
576
Sales rank:
1,259,425
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Carole Seymour-Jones was born in North Wales and educated at Oxford and Sussex Universities. Her recent biography Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. She is the chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN, and co-editor of Another Sky: Voices of Conscience from Around the World , a collection of pieces by writers imprisoned for expressing their views.

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