Letters to Sartre

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Overview

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were the most famous literary couple of our time. Their relationship took on the quality of legend and served as a model of openness and honesty for countless men and women. In his own lifetime, Sartre was revered as the paradigm of the modern philosophe and intellectual, but since her death de Beauvoir's figure has loomed increasingly larger, and her literary reputation threatens to eclipse that of her partner. Her The Second Sex is, by any standard, one of the most ...
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Overview

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were the most famous literary couple of our time. Their relationship took on the quality of legend and served as a model of openness and honesty for countless men and women. In his own lifetime, Sartre was revered as the paradigm of the modern philosophe and intellectual, but since her death de Beauvoir's figure has loomed increasingly larger, and her literary reputation threatens to eclipse that of her partner. Her The Second Sex is, by any standard, one of the most important and influential books of the twentieth century. The publication of these letters in France in January 1990 caused a storm of controversy, as de Beauvoir, the feminist and existential heroine par excellence, was revealed in her most unguarded moments as manipulative, dependent, and often hurtful. The erotic and intellectual union that had inspired generations of free spirits suddenly displayed a darker side than the world had ever imagined. But if these letters chip off some of the gilt from the legendary de Beauvoir, they restore her to us as a real person with human flaws and weaknesses, and their appearance is a literary event in its own right. Sartre's letters to de Beauvoir were censored before publication; hers to him were not. Unavailable to Deirdre Bair when she wrote her recent biography of de Beauvoir, they are absolutely essential to a full understanding of the writer. They reveal, with disarming frankness, a woman experimenting with her freedom. She tells Sartre everything - including the disagreeable details of his lovers after she has seduced them. In addition to tracing the extraordinary triangular complications of her life with Sartre - which inspired one French reviewer to compare the two to the sinister couple at the center of Les Liaisons Dangereuses - the letters give us a vivid sense of everyday life in Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and among the French intellectual and literary elite, from the 1930s to the 1960s.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Belying her public persona of the liberated woman, de Beauvoir's epistolary outpourings to longtime companion Jean-Paul Sartre reveal her obsessive need to record for him the minutest details of her life. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
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. (Illustrated with ten autograph letters.)
From the Publisher
"There is more than a whiff of Les Liaisons Dangereuses about these pages." - Spectator
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611454987
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/1/2012
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 543,239
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Simone de Beauvoir taught philosophy at the Sorbonne between 1931 and 1943. Her many books include The Second Sex, the novels She Came to Stay and The Mandarins and her great autobiographical writings from Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter to Old Age. De Beauvoir died in 1986.

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