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Simone-Lucie-Ernestine-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir, commonly known as Simone de Beauvoir (Template:IPA-fr; 9 January 1908 – 14 April 1986), was a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist. While she did not consider herself a philosopher, Beauvoir had a significant influence on both feminist existentialism and feminist theory.[1] Beauvoir wrote novels, essays, biographies, an autobiography, monographs on philosophy, politics, and social issues. She is best known for her novels, including She Came to Stay and The Mandarins, as well as her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism.

Early years

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris, the elder daughter of Georges Bertrand de Beauvoir, a legal secretary who once aspired to be an actor,[2] and Françoise (née) Brasseur, a wealthy banker’s daughter and devout Catholic. Simone's sister, Hélène, was born two years later. The family struggled to maintain their bourgeois status after losing much of their fortune shortly after World War I, and Françoise insisted that the two daughters be sent to a prestigious convent school. Beauvoir herself was deeply religious as a child —- at one point intending to become a nun -— until she experienced a crisis of faith at age 14, after which she remained an atheist for the rest of her life.[3]

Beauvoir was intellectually precocious, fueled by her father’s encouragement; he reportedly would boast, “Simone thinks like a man!”[4] After passing baccalaureate exams in mathematics and philosophy in 1925, she studied mathematics at the Institut Catholique and literature/languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie. She then studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, writing her thesis on Leibniz for Léon Brunschvicg.

She first worked with Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Claude Lévi-Strauss, when all three completed their practice teaching requirements at the same secondary school. Although not officially enrolled, she sat in on courses at the École Normale Supérieure in preparation for the agrégation in philosophy, a highly competitive postgraduate examination which serves as a national ranking of students. It was while studying for the agrégation that she met École Normale students Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul Nizan, and René Maheu (who gave her the lasting nickname "Castor", or beaver[2]). The jury for the agrégation narrowly awarded Sartre first place instead of Beauvoir, who placed second and, at age 21, was the youngest person ever to pass the exam.[5]

Middle years


File:Sartre and de Beauvoir at Balzac Memorial.jpg

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at the Balzac Memorial

During October 1929, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir became a couple and Sartre asked her to marry him.[6] One day while they were sitting on a bench outside the Louvre, he said, "Let's sign a two-year lease".[7] Near the end of her life, Beauvoir said, "Marriage was impossible. I had no dowry." So they entered a lifelong relationship.[8] Beauvoir chose never to marry and did not set up a joint household with Sartre.[9] She never had children.[9] This gave her time to earn an advanced academic degree, to join political causes, to travel, to write, to teach, and to have lovers (both male and female – the latter often shared).[1][10]

Sartre and Beauvoir always read each other's work. Debates rage on about the extent to which they influenced each other in their existentialist works, such as Sartre's Being and Nothingness and Beauvoir's She Came to Stay. However, recent studies of Beauvoir's work focus on influences other than Sartre, including Hegel and Leibniz.[11]

Beauvoir was known to have a number of young female lovers (and to have introduced them to Sartre). The nature of some of these relationships, some of which she began while working as a professor, has led to a biographical controversy.[12][13][14][15] A former student, Bianca Lamblin (originally Bianca Bienenfeld), in her book, Mémoires d'une jeune fille dérangée, wrote that, while she was a student, she had been sexually exploited by her teacher Simone de Beauvoir, who was in her thirties at the time.[16] In 1943, Beauvoir was suspended from her teaching job, due to an accusation that she had, in 1939, seduced her 17-year-old lycee pupil Nathalie Sorokine.[17] Sorokine's parents laid formal charges against Beauvoir for abducting a minor and as a result she had her licence to teach in France permanently revoked.[18]

She Came to Stay

Beauvoir published her first novel She Came to Stay in 1943.[19] It is a fictionalized chronicle of her and Sartre's sexual relationship with Olga Kosakiewicz and Wanda Kosakiewicz. Olga was one of her students in the Rouen secondary school where Beauvoir taught during the early 30s. She grew fond of Olga. Sartre tried to pursue Olga but she denied him, so he began a relationship with her sister Wanda, instead. Upon his death, Sartre was still supporting Wanda. He also supported Olga for years, until she met and married Jacques-Laurent Bost, Beauvoir's lover.

In the novel, set just before the outbreak of World War II, Beauvoir creates one character from the complex relationships of Olga and Wanda. The fictionalized versions of Beauvoir and Sartre have a ménage à trois with the young woman. The novel also delves into Beauvoir and Sartre's complex relationship and how it was affected by the ménage à trois.

Beauvoir's metaphysical novel She Came to Stay was followed by many others, including The Blood of Others, which explores the nature of individual responsibility.[20]

Existentialist ethics

Template:Refimprove section In 1944 Beauvoir wrote her first philosophical essay, Pyrrhus et Cinéas, a discussion of an existentialist ethics. She continued her exploration of existentialism through her second essay, The Ethics of Ambiguity, (1947); it is perhaps the most accessible entry into French existentialism. Its simplicity keeps it understandable, in contrast to the abstruse character of Sartre's Being and Nothingness. In the essay Beauvoir clears up some inconsistencies that many, Sartre included, have found in major existentialist works such as Being and Nothingness. In The Ethics of Ambiguity, Beauvoir confronts the existentialist dilemma of absolute freedom vs. the constraints of circumstance.[21]

Les Temps Modernes

At the end of World War II, Beauvoir and Sartre edited Les Temps Modernes, a political journal Sartre founded along with Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others. Beauvoir used Les Temps Modernes to promote her own work and explore her ideas on a small scale before fashioning essays and books. Beauvoir remained an editor until her death.

Sexuality, existentialist feminism, and The Second Sex

File:Second sex.jpg

Cover of a reissue of Parshley's translation of The Second Sex

Chapters of Le deuxième sexe (translated as The Second Sex) were originally published in Les Temps modernes,[22] in June 1949. The second volume came a few months after the first in France.[23] It was very quickly published in America as The Second Sex, due to the quick translation by Howard Parshley, as prompted by Blanche Knopf, wife of publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Because Parshley had only a basic familiarity with the French language, and a minimal understanding of philosophy (he was a professor of biology at Smith College), much of Beauvoir's book was mistranslated or inappropriately cut, distorting her intended message.[24] For years Knopf prevented the introduction of a more accurate retranslation of Beauvoir's work, declining all proposals despite the efforts of existentialist scholars.[24] Only in 2009 was there a second translation, to mark the 60th anniversary of the original publication. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier produced the first integral translation, reinstating a third of the original work.

File:Second Sex-20100831.png

The long-awaited second translation of The Second Sex

Beauvoir anticipated the sexually charged feminism of Erica Jong and Germaine Greer.

In the chapter "Woman: Myth and Reality" of The Second Sex, Beauvoir argued that men had made women the "Other" in society by putting a false aura of "mystery" around them. She argued that men used this as an excuse not to understand women or their problems and not to help them, and that this stereotyping was always done in societies by the group higher in the hierarchy to the group lower in the hierarchy. She wrote that this also happened on the basis of other categories of identity, such as race, class, and religion. But she said that it was nowhere more true than with gender in which men stereotyped women and used it as an excuse to organize society into a patriarchy.

The Second Sex, published in French, sets out a feminist existentialism which prescribes a moral revolution. As an existentialist, Beauvoir believed that existence precedes essence; hence one is not born a woman, but becomes one. Her analysis focuses on the Hegelian concept of the Other. It is the (social) construction of Woman as the quintessential Other that Beauvoir identifies as fundamental to women's oppression. The capitalized 'O' in "other" indicates the wholly other.

Beauvoir argued that women have historically been considered deviant, abnormal. She said that even Mary Wollstonecraft considered men to be the ideal toward which women should aspire. Beauvoir said that this attitude limited women's success by maintaining the perception that they were a deviation from the normal, and were always outsiders attempting to emulate "normality". She believed that for feminism to move forward, this assumption must be set aside.

Beauvoir asserted that women are as capable of choice as men, and thus can choose to elevate themselves, moving beyond the 'immanence' to which they were previously resigned and reaching 'transcendence', a position in which one takes responsibility for oneself and the world, where one chooses one's freedom.

A new translation of The Second Sex for the first time gives access to the entire text in English, as Irene Gammel writes in a Globe and Mail review: "The single most important advantage of this new translation is its completeness, combined with the translators' courage to transpose Beauvoir's existential language, thereby giving readers a sense of Beauvoir's channelling of Hegel, Marx and others."

The Mandarins

Published in 1954, The Mandarins is set just after the end of World War II and won her France's highest literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. The book follows the personal lives of philosophers and friends among Sartre and Beauvoir's intimate circle, including her relationship with American writer Nelson Algren, to whom the book was dedicated. Algren was outraged by the frank way Beauvoir described their sexual experiences in both The Mandarins and her autobiographies.

File:Algren house Miller.jpg

Dunes cottage where Algren and Beauvoir summered in Miller Beach, Indiana.

He vented his outrage when reviewing American translations of her work. Much material bearing on this episode in Beauvoir's life, including her love letters to Algren, entered the public domain only after her death.

Later years

File:Núñez-Beauvoir-Sartre-Che Guevara.jpg

Antonio Núñez Jiménez, Beauvoir, Sartre and Che Guevara in Cuba, 1960

File:Sartre+Beauvoir grave.JPG

Beauvoir and Sartre's grave at the Cimetière du Montparnasse


The Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir in Paris

Beauvoir wrote popular travel diaries about her travels in the United States and China, and published essays and fiction rigorously, especially throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She published several volumes of short stories, including The Woman Destroyed, which, like some of her other later work, deals with aging.

In 1980 she published When Things of the Spirit Come First, a set of short stories centered around and based upon women important to her earlier years.[20] The stories were written long before the novel She Came to Stay, but Beauvoir did not think they were worthy of publication until about forty years later.

Sartre and Merleau-Ponty had a longstanding feud, which led Merleau-Ponty to leave Les Temps Modernes. Beauvoir sided with Sartre and ceased to associate with Merleau-Ponty. In Beauvoir's later years, she hosted the journal's editorial meetings in her flat and contributed more than Sartre, whom she often had to force to offer his opinions.

Beauvoir also notably wrote a four-volume autobiography, consisting of: Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter; The Prime of Life; Force of Circumstance (sometimes published in two volumes in English translation: After the War and Hard Times); and All Said and Done.[20]

In the 1970s Beauvoir became active in France's women's liberation movement. She signed the Manifesto of the 343 in 1971, a list of famous women who claimed to have had an abortion, then illegal in France. Some argue most of the women had not had abortions, including Beauvoir, but given the secrecy surrounding the issue, this cannot be known.[citation needed] Signatories were diverse as Catherine Deneuve, Delphine Seyrig, and Beauvoir's sister Poupette. In 1974, abortion was legalized in France.

Her 1970 long essay La Vieillesse (The Coming of Age) is a rare instance of an intellectual meditation on the decline and solitude all humans experience if they do not die before about age 60.

In about 1976 Beauvoir and Sylvie Le Bon made a trip to New York in the USA to visit Kate Millett on her farm.[25]

In 1981 she wrote La Cérémonie Des Adieux (A Farewell to Sartre), a painful account of Sartre's last years. In the opening of Adieux, Beauvoir notes that it is the only major published work of hers which Sartre did not read before its publication.

After Sartre died, Beauvoir published his letters to her with edits to spare the feelings of people in their circle who were still living. After Beauvoir's death, Sartre's adopted daughter and literary heir Arlette Elkaïm would not let many of Sartre's letters be published in unedited form. Most of Sartre's letters available today have Beauvoir's edits, which include a few omissions but mostly the use of pseudonyms. Beauvoir's adopted daughter and literary heir Sylvie Le Bon, unlike Elkaïm, published Beauvoir's unedited letters to both Sartre and Algren.

Death, honors and legacy

Beauvoir died of pneumonia in Paris, aged 78.[26] She is buried next to Sartre at the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.


  • L'Invitée (1943) (English - She Came to Stay)
  • Pyrrhus et Cinéas (1944)
  • Le Sang des autres (1945) (English - The Blood of Others)
  • Who Shall Die? (1945)
  • Tous les hommes sont mortels (1946) (English - All Men are Mortal)
  • Pour une morale de l'ambiguïté (1947) (English - The Ethics of Ambiguity)
  • Le Deuxième Sexe (1949) (English - The Second Sex)
  • L'Amérique au jour le jour (1954) (English - America Day by Day)
  • The Mandarins, (1954)
  • Must We Burn Sade?, (1955)
  • The Long March, (1957)
  • Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, (1958)
  • The Prime of Life, (1960)
  • Force of Circumstance, (1963)
  • A Very Easy Death, (1964)
  • Les Belles Images, (1966)
  • The Woman Destroyed, (1967)
  • The Coming of Age, (1970)
  • All Said and Done, (1972)
  • When Things of the Spirit Come First, (1979)
  • Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, (1981)
  • Letters to Sartre, (1990)
  • A Transatlantic Love Affair: Letters to Nelson Algren, (1998)


  • Patrick O'Brian was Beauvoir's principal English translator, until he attained commercial success as a novelist.
  • Philosophical Writings (Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2004, edited by Margaret A. Simons et al.) contains a selection of essays by Beauvoir translated for the first time into English. Among those are: Pyrrhus and Cineas, discussing the futility or utility of action, two previously unpublished chapters from her novel She Came to Stay and an introduction to Ethics of Ambiguity.


  • Prix Goncourt, 1954
  • Jerusalem Prize, 1975
  • Austrian State Prize for European Literature, 1978


  1. Bergoffen, Debra, "Simone de Beauvoir", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mussett, Shannon. Simone de Beauvoir Biography on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 11 April 2010
  3. Thurman, Judith. Introduction to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Excerpt published in The New York Times 27 May 2010. Retrieved 11 April 2010
  4. Bair, p. 60
  5. Menand, Louis. "Stand By Your Man". The New Yorker, 26 September 2005. Retrieved 11 May 2010
  6. Bair, p. 155–156
  7. Bair, p. 157
  8. Bair, p. 156
  9. 9.0 9.1 Schneir, Miriam (1994). Feminism in Our Time, Vintage Books.
  10. includeonly>Appignanesi, Lisa. "Our relationship was the greatest achievement of my life", The Guardian, 10 June 2005.
  11. Bergoffen, Debra, "Simone de Beauvoir", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  12. A dangerous liaison: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, By Carole Seymour-Jones (London 2008), page 216 and 274
  13. New studies agree that Beauvoir is eclipsing Sartre as a philosopher and writer, The Independent, by Lesley McDowell, Sunday, 25 May 2008
  14. Contingent loves: Simone de Beauvoir and sexuality, By Melanie Hawthorne (London, 2000), pages 65–78
  15. BBC Radio 4 Start the Week BBC Radio 4, Andrew Marr, 21 April 2008
  16. Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée (1994, LGF – Livre de Poche; ISBN 978-2-253-13593-7/2006, Balland; ISBN 978-2-7158-0994-9)
  17. Tête-à-tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Hazel Rowley, HarperCollins, 2005 , page 130-35, ISBN 0-06-052059-0; ISBN 978-0-06-052059-5
  18. Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky, Paul Johnson, Harper Perrenial, 1988 , page 238-238, ISBN 978-0-06-125317-1
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Simone de Beauvoir
  21. Bergoffen, Debra, "Simone de Beauvoir", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  22. Appignanesi 2005, p. 82
  23. Appignanesi 2005, p. 89
  24. 24.0 24.1 Moi, Toril 'While We Wait: The English Translation of "The Second Sex" in Signs 27(4) (summer, 2002), pp., 1005–1035.
  25. Appignanesi 2005, p. 160


  • Appignanesi, Lisa, 2005, Simone de Beauvoir, London: Haus, ISBN 1-904950-09-4
  • Bair, Deirdre, 1990. Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography. New York: Summit Books, ISBN 0-671-60681-6
  • Rowley, Hazel, 2005. Tête-a-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Suzanne Lilar, 1969. Le Malentendu du Deuxième Sexe (with collaboration of Prof. Dreyfus). Paris, University Presses of France (Presses Universitaires de France).
  • Fraser, M., 1999. Identity Without Selfhood: Simone de Beauvoir and Bisexuality, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Axel Madsen, Hearts and Minds: The Common Journey of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, William Morrow & Co, 1977.
  • Hélène Rouch, 2001–2002, Trois conceptions du sexe: Simone de Beauvoir entre Adrienne Sahuqué et Suzanne Lilar, Simone de Beauvoir Studies, n° 18, pp. 49–60.
  • Seymour-Jones, Carole (2008). A Dangerous Liaison, Arrow Books.
  • Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Yourcenar, Nathalie Sarraute, 2002. Conférence Élisabeth Badinter, Jacques Lassalle & Lucette Finas, ISBN


Bibliographic sources

  • Beauvoir, Simone de. Woman: Myth & Reality,
    • in Jacobus, Lee A (ed.) A World of Ideas. Bedford/St. Martins, Boston 2006. 780–795
    • in Prince, Althea, and Susan Silva Wayne. Feminisms and Womanisms: A Women's Studies Reader. Women's Press, Toronto 2004 p. 59–65.

Further reading

  • "Le Malentendu du Deuxième Sexe", by Suzanne Lilar, 1969

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