Becca Anderson, author of The Book of Awesome Women, has written a new blog post on the life and career of writer and feminist Simone De Beauvoir.
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Existentialist writer Simone de Beauvoir was the founder of the feminist movement in France. Her book The Second Sex immediately took a place of importance in the feminist canon upon its publication in 1949 and established de Beauvoir’s reputation as a first-rate thinker. Although her brutally honest examination of the condition of women in the first half of the twentieth century shocked some delicate sensibilities, others were gratified to have someone tell the truth of women’s experience as “relative beings.”
Born in 1908 to what she characterized as “bourgeois” parents, she met the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in her early twenties in a salon study group at Paris’ famed university, the Sorbonne. They recognized each other as soulmates immediately and stayed together for fifty-one years in a highly unorthodox partnership, wherein they left openings for “contingent loves” so as not to limit their capacity for enriching experience. She eschewed motherhood and all forms of domesticity; the duo preferred cafés for all their meals. They lived together only very briefly during World War II and had difficulty protecting their privacy as word of the trendy new philosophy they espoused spread and their international prestige heightened.
While Sartre is generally credited as the creator of existentialism, de Beauvoir and the circle of leftist intellectuals that surrounded them were intricately involved in defining the movement. Her treatise Existentialism and the Wisdom of the Ages postulates the human condition as neutral, neither inherently good nor evil: “[The individual] is nothing at first,” she theorized; “it is up to him to make himself good or bad depending upon whether he assumes his freedom or denies it.”
De Beauvoir’s first literary efforts were fictional. In 1943’s She Came to Stay, she fictionalizes the story of Sartre’s youthful protégée Olga Kosakiewicz, who entered into a triangular living relationship with the two French intellectuals. Next, she tackled the male point of view in her epic treatment of death, All Men Are Mortal, a novel whose central character was an immortal she tracked for seven centuries. In 1954, after the success of The Second Sex, de Beauvoir returned to fiction with The Mandarins, a novelization of the splintered and disenchanted French intelligentsia, including thinly disguised portrayals of Sartre, Albert Camus, and Nelson Algren, among others, which won the illustrious Goncourt Prize.
She continued to write and publish, creating a weighty body of work. Her penetrating mind is perhaps most evident in the series of five memoirs she wrote, the most famous of which is the first, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter. She outlived Sartre and died on a Paris summer day in 1986 after a long and thoughtful life, leaving a legacy of significant contributions to gender and identity issues as well as to philosophy and literature.
One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman.The first line of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex
The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever
Crime and punishment. During his life and even after his death, Captain William Kidd’s name was well known in England and the American colonies. He was infamous for the very crime for which he was hanged, piracy. Rebecca Simon dives into the details of the two-year manhunt for Captain Kidd and the events that ensued. Captain Kidd was hanged in 1701, followed by a massive British-led hunt for all pirates during a period known as the Golden Age of Piracy. Ironically, public executions only increased the popularity of pirates. And, because the American colonies relied on pirates for smuggled goods such as spices, wines, and silks; pirates tended to be protected from capture.