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Beauvoir, Simone de

sartre paul jean war

(French, 1908–86)

De Beauvoir read philosophy at the Sorbonne and was placed second to Jean-Paul Sartre, whose life-long partner she became. She wrote novels, plays, and essays, and is best known for her ground-breaking feminist study, The Second Sex (1949), and for her fascinating and detailed three-volume autobiography, opening with Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958). Her novels explore the philosophical and political ideas which were central to her life, in particular existentialism, which demands that the individual assume complete responsibility for all choices and actions he/she undertakes. This is clearly expounded in The Blood of Others (1948), set just before and during the Second World War, in which the hero, Blomart, leaves his wealthy bourgeois home to become a worker, then soldier, then a Resistance leader. The question of whether France should join the war after the annexation of Austria is debated and Blomart agonizes over whether he should try to persuade his countrymen to fight the Nazis and ‘pay with the blood of others’, or to ‘shamefully’ accept whatever happens in order to preserve peace. She Came to Stay (1943) is about a couple whose lives are disrupted by the man's affair with a beautiful younger woman, a friend of both. It fictionalizes aspects of de Beauvoir's relationship with Sartre. De Beauvoir's characters deliberate the motives for their actions with scrupulous honesty, and are at times in danger of becoming cyphers; her non-fiction, where real people are acutely observed, is much more rewarding to read.

Doris Lessing, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus  JR

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