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SARTRE & DE BEAUVOIR, WE HARDLY KNEW YOU

A DANGEROUS LIAISON: A Revelatory New Biography of Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre - Carole Seymour-Jones

Though the book started off a bit slow for me, once the lives of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre became intertwined at the time of their introduction in 1929 (when both were students at the École Normale Supérieure), I could hardly tear myself away. I set myself to reading 2 chapters a day.

I was surprised to discover how apolitical the 2 were during the 1930s. Both were then firmly set on establishing careers for themselves and having sexual relationships with impressionable young women. Many of these women like the Kosackiewicz sisters, Natalie Sorokine, and Bianca Lamblin (nee Bienenfeld - a Jew whom both de Beauvoir and Sartre abandoned as the Germans tightened their grip on France in the late spring of 1940). De Beauvoir later felt guilty for how shabbily she and Sartre had treated Lamblin and after the war, she and Lamblin would take annual trips together. (Lamblin, Seymour-Jones reveals, wrote her own memoirs in which she spoke fully of her betrayal and the nervous breakdown she suffered after having fought with the Maquis in the Vecours against the Germans.)

Sartre (and de Beauvoir to some extent) greatly understated their Resistance activity during the Second World War. In truth, both felt that the German occupation was likely to last 20 years and, like most French, largely accomodated themselves to Hitler's New Order in France. In contrast to Albert Camus, a mutual friend, Sartre and de Beauvoir played almost no part in the Resistance. 

Sartre shortly before the war had begun to make a name for himself as a writer and existentialist thinker through his first successful book, 'La Nausee'. For de Beauvoir, the war helped her to find her voice as a writer. 

In the postwar world, both became politically active and in the 1950s and 1960s, dupes of the Soviet Union. Eventually, both became disillusioned with the USSR. De Beauvoir became more deeply engaged in feminist causes during the latter stages of her life. It was part of a calling that de Beauvoir had felt all her life and first cristallized in her famous book, "The Second Sex", in 1949. 

I invite any reader with an interest in the lives of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre to read this book. It is indeed REVELATORY and shows the uniqueness of their 50 year "special relationship" as well as their strengths, shortcomings and all too human frailties.