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Simone de Beauvoir is largely lauded for her radical book, Le Deuxième Sexe 2 vol., or in English, The Second Sex. However, her lifelong relationship with philosopher Jean Paul Sartre is tied to her biography with nearly equal acclaim, as it too was radical for the time during which they lived.
Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir was born Jan. 9, 1908 in Paris, France. Schooled in private institutions during her youth, de Beauvoir later attended the prestigious Sorbonne
where, in 1929 she passed her agrégation in philosophy. It is also at the Sorbonne that she met and began a lifelong relationship with existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
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Though de Beauvoir published a number of texts and books, she is perhaps best-known for her treatise The Second Sex, a scholarly and passionate plea for the abolition of what she called the myth of the “eternal feminine.
” It is a critique of the patriarchal society in which she found herself, wherein women had only ever been granted second-rate status throughout history. Though it received extensive criticism at the time of publication, it is widely recognized as one of the first and most profound feminist texts. A heavily edited version was translated into English in 1953, followed by a far more faithful volume, published in 2009.
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De Beauvoir, a celebrated writer and philosopher, is also remembered in history for her aforementioned lifelong relationship with equally well-known philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. What is remarkable, for their time especially, is that they chose to pursue an open relationship, and never married, nor even lived together. Perhaps a form of “open marriage
” in which the man was allowed other sexual pursuits was not unheard of, but their relationship was one in which both parties were permitted to freely engage in other sexual relationships, so long as there were no secrets. This is certainly a radical deviation from accepted norms of the time, and in many cases would be viewed as such today as well! However, no matter the external relationships that existed within their own, they continued to create and share their works and supported each other in their writing endeavors, each propelling the other to notoriety and success.
In her later years, de Beauvoir devoted her time and energies to investigating aging and death. The passing of her mother was the inspiration for her work “A Very Easy Death,” while “Old Age” analyzes the significance and meaning of the elderly in society. Her final work is a testament
to the final years of her partner, Sartre’s life; it is the only publication of hers he never read. De Beauvoir herself died in Paris on April 14, 1986, and rests in the same grave as Sartre.
Simone de Beauvoir is largely credited with laying the foundation for the modern feminist movement. Her publications on the state of women in society have resounded strongly with women throughout the world. Her contributions have given all of us something to think about, not only with regard to the rights and place of women in the world, but any person who feels as though they are second to someone else in equality and human rights.
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