The “Memoirs” of Simone de Beauvoir, diary of her time


Reading time: 12 min
“His memories are ours; Speaking of her, Simone de Beauvoir tells us about us » , wrote François Nourissier . Double homage: the malicious one of the semicolon, which it uses a lot, that also of a unique memory cycle, in that it embraces at the same time the autobiographical account, testifies of the intellectual life of the second half of XX e century, draws the intimate and political portrait of Sartre and carries several battles, from communism to feminism, through anticolonialism. The couple Sartre-Beauvoir, one has long eclipsed the other. This is no longer the case today. In a way, bring together in two volumes of La Pléiade the memoirs de Simone de Beauvoir puts the supporting role in the foreground. We are not born icon, we become it Supporting actor? Obviously no. Posterity is teasing. Today it is Simone de Beauvoir who is read, commented on, studied – much more so than Jean-Paul Sartre. The latter remains a reference, but his thinking seems far removed from the contemporary world. Conversely, Beauvoir arouses much more current and personal readings of younger generations. Because the novelist of mandarins (Prix Goncourt 1954) is less read than the political philosopher, theorist of feminism. Yesterday companion of the Women’s Liberation Movement (MLF), now inspiring younger feminists, his thinking is hot news. She is so fashionable that the weekly She, identifying the bags, turbans and T-shirts with her image, calls her “pop-star” . She would have smiled, no doubt. Above all, his thought is studied relentlessly, especially in the United States. In France, an essayist, in the United States, a philosopher “There are not many specialists from Beauvoir in France, where one classifies his works in the category of tests , observe Jean-Louis Jeannelle, professor of literature at the University of Rouen , in charge of publishing at La Pléiade. This feminist vogue has little impact on university research. It is very different in the Anglo-Saxon countries, where his works are studied like those of a philosopher. ” As an example, he immediately released from his library an imposing and recent A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir , published by Wiley editions. “In the United States, she is one of the most studied authors at the moment, with many theses and articles.” His writings are questioned with those of “Sartre and Hegel, but also Merleau-Ponty , Levi-Strauss, Lacan … ” We even bring “The question of motherhood, which is controversial at home, that of consent and rape in Foucault, with whom it has yet little to see”. In France, however, her report to Sartre imposed on her, she writes, “To be secondary” what she has “accepted” . Off the Atlantic, it is almost Sartre who would be the guy of Beauvoir. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre on the beach of Copacabana in Rio (Brazil), September 21, 1960 | STF / AFP “We have long seen Simone de Beauvoir under the influence of Sartre, continues Jean-Louis Jeannelle. Now, and Anglo-Saxon feminists have very clearly shown, it inflects the thought of Sartre when she thus raises the question of existentialism: what is a woman? This allows one to embody an existentialism hitherto very disembodied, as in Being and Nothingness . She invents another form of philosophy, which is anchored in ordinary life – even if she does not recognize herself as a philosopher, preferring to say that she does philosophy. ” A memorialist lost in the land of men But she is a writer first, animated very early by this desire. “The fact is that I am a writer: a woman writer, she is not a housewife who writes, but someone whose whole existence is commanded by writing” , she says in The Force of Things , highlighting the desire to go beyond simple self-narrative. In XX e century, women are rather “Relegated to the autobiographical genre” , analyzes Jean-Louis Jeannelle. It departs from it in all conscience and, in its continuity, writes a cycle of memoirs “Without equivalent” . It’s about, “From the 1930s to the 1970s, to write a living story, in a very incarnate way” , with a status of committed witness – which seemed then reserved for political or military actors (Malraux, De Gaulle …). So men, whereas in this genre had formerly illustrated George Sand ( Story of my life ) Manon Roland , Germaine de Staël , Marguerite de Valois … “At that time, you do not expect a woman to write her memoirs.” We want to see the writings of women from the angle of intimacy In her case, it is all the more unexpected because she is “Mid-career” and that she refuses the facility of intimate writings. “It’s not his project. On the one hand, it is we today who are obsessed with intimacy. On the other hand, we want to see the writings of women in this light. ” This explains a form of “Coldness when she talks about her life. A clinical observation, not at all usual with regard to other writers of the century: Colette, which translates the enchantment with stylistic virtuosity, or Yourcenar – who never talks about her. It opens the way for others, like Camille Laurens or Annie Ernaux because there is no longer “Need to tamper with his existence”.
“She makes a point of not saying everything to respect the privacy of people who are still alive. She did hide her lesbian love. ”

Jean-Louis Jeannelle, professor of literature, in charge of publishing memoirs at La Pléiade
Of course, she “forgets” or minimizes some episodes, ignoring “The romantic relationships she formed with some of her former students (Olga, Bianca and Nathalie /” Lise “)” that his letters and his journal do not omit. Besides that it “simplifies” the couple formed with Sartre , “She obliges herself not to say everything in order to respect the intimacy of people still alive. She did hide her lesbian love , which many feminists have blamed him for. “A lesbian stream feels abandoned. In fact, for her, I think it was not important. It’s a generation phenomenon: we do not talk about it very much. It’s very different in Violet Leduc , where sexuality is a writing project-which is not the case at Beauvoir. ” Multiple Memories As there are several Simone de Beauvoir, there are several readings of his memoirs . The busiest is the one that leads to Sartre, as a direct source of his life. The most unexpected is that of the constantly renewed enthusiasm for travel, recounted in detail. The rarest is that of humor, the writer being rather cold, despite some projections – “I sat on the terrace of a cafe at the corner of Avenue d’Orleans. Le Figaro criticized the demonstration. Humanity announced 500,000 demonstrators, which disappointed me because I thought we were really 500.000 “- or schoolboy memories – “Chateaubriand’s tomb seemed so ridiculously pompous in its false simplicity that, to mark his contempt, Sartre pissed on it.” François Mauriac was indignant at the “Sartre’s urination” , announcement of a new era, “That of spitting or peeing on the illustrious graves” He was not wrong. The most moving, although she retains her pen, is that of the woman in love, who caresses a dream with Nelson Algren , finds a body and a youth with Claude Lanzmann, seventeen years younger, while she is already afraid to join the world of “Old skins” . Old age is an obsession for her: “I was forty-four, I was relegated to the land of shadows”; with him, she has “found [his] body […] . He returned to Paris two weeks after me and our bodies found themselves in joy. ” Like a freedom gained on the “decline” : “The presence of Lanzmann with me delivered me from my age.” Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Claude Lanzmann in Giza, Egypt, March 4, 1967 | AFP Write the immediate story Remains a reading, arduous, contradictory, annoying and stimulating, that of the political commitment of a woman ” scattered all over the world ” . Because we have the distance that provides the knowledge of the events it relates, and it is easy to list the mistakes and errors of judgment. Easy but not very honest, this story of the century being written in almost immediacy. In this, already, the commitment is essential, and the fights with. But the intellectual she is striving not to omit anything, drawing from abundant documentation, reading a lot, taking notes, showing a remarkable rigor. ” It’s amazing: there are almost no date or name mistakes! ” exclaims Jean-Louis Jeannelle, for whom the index of La Pléiade has become a “nightmare” so much is it provided. Writing the immediate story is also “A form of courage; she knows she can be wrong. ” Communism without the communists? With the prism of history is the blindness of a generation of intellectuals and intellectuals, fascinated by communism and ready to forgive everything. A consenting myopia when the dream comes up against reality. There are bribes that say an era: the Kravchenko trial is barely touched but “The existence of labor camps” is now proven. “We began to wonder whether the USSR and the people’s democracies deserved to be called socialist countries.” During a visit to Prague in 1954, she scrupulously notes, but without analyzing, some testimonies: “We passed an immense statue of Stalin; warning a comment, a young woman said curtly, “No, she does not like us at all.” “As we were visiting a library, one of the administrators was for a moment alone with us; He abruptly muttered, “There are terrible things going on here, right now.” Two years later, she lives, dazed, the crash of the Budapest uprising : “What a shock on the 24th, when buying France night at a kiosk in Piazza Colonna, we read the headline:” Revolution in Hungary. Soviet army and aviation attack insurgents ” […] . We nervously rehearsed the events without understanding them. ” Companions of road, but not inserted in the Communist Party, she and Sartre then measure the weight of the propaganda. “The communist press persisted in lying; the “Smile of Budapest” by André Stil remained across many gorges. ” It will be a question of continuing to defend the ideal, disregarding men. The “discouraging platitude” of the Little Red Book Yet, she sometimes shows a refusal to see who becomes a dangerous offhand. Does not she write in The Force of Things (1963), about China that it is “The only underdeveloped country that has triumphed over hunger?” , ignoring the Great Leap Forward from 1958, organized famine causing at least twenty million deaths. Later, she will confess her dismay with Mao’s China. “When the” cultural revolution “broke out, no one could convincingly explain to us what these words were.” The information given to him are “Disjointed and contradictory” ; people come back “Dumbfounded” . She delivers in bulk testimonials, and admits in all simplicity that The Little Red Book is her “Fallen from the hands. Doubtless the quotations that fill it start a development that has been suppressed: remain the first truths of a discouraging platitude. If it adheres to the objectives of «” The new man “, close to the one whom Marx hoped for the advent» she remains cautious: “I can not give China this blind trust that the USSR once inspired in so many hearts.” She probably did not read President Mao’s New Clothes (1971) -Simon Leys is not quoted – but she does not succumb to the cult of personality, where part of the left, on the side of Tel Quel , sank. The Algerian war, internal exile This short-sightedness, which affects a whole generation, is all the more striking as Simone de Beauvoir has shown a complete and immediate lucidity in choosing to lead the right fight of anticolonialism. She feels the war in Algeria “With his guts” a real awareness of history that she had previously lived in a detached way. She feels guilty, sees herself as a collaborator, notes with bitterness the indifference of her compatriots: “At first we hated a few men and a few factions: we had to gradually recognize the complicity of all our compatriots and in our own country, our exile.”
“These people in the streets, consenting or stunned, were Arab executioners: all guilty. And me too. “I’m French.” These words flayed my throat like the admission of a blemish.

Simone de Beauvoir
Nothing is missing, discussions with strangers – especially a taxi driver – who revolts her at bogus trials – she personally commits herself to the defense of Djamila Boupacha , FLN activist raped and tortured, including articles and demonstrations, not to mention the plastic attack on Sartre’s apartment at 42 rue Bonaparte. But everything focuses on the haunting, obsessive, permanent vision of repression and torture. A gap that sends her back to Nazism, makes her hate France and feel – it is not neutral in a country at war – the shame of being French. “I could not stand this hypocrisy, this indifference, this country, my own skin. These people in the streets, consenting or stunned, were executioners of Arabs: all guilty. And me too. “I’m French.” Those words narrowed my throat like the admission of a flaw. For millions of men and women, old men and children, I was the sister of the torturers, the arsonists, the sweepers, the murderers, the hungry; I deserved their hatred because I could sleep, write, enjoy a walk or a book. ” Socialism and misogyny Finally, the ultimate commitment, commitment of a lifetime, the one that earned her its topicality, here she fully supports the feminist cause in the 1970s. The case Boupacha, for which she was asked by Gisèle Halimi, was already well aspects the form of a feminist fight. She has long understood that socialism and social struggles hardly serve the struggle of women. “Women have found that leftist movements and socialism have not solved their problems. Changing the relations of production is not enough to transform the relations of individuals among themselves, and in particular in no socialist country has woman become the equal of man. Many women activists Women’s Lib or the French MLF have experienced it personally: in the most truly revolutionary groups, the woman is confined to the most thankless tasks and all the leaders are males. When Vincennes a handful of women raised the banner of revolt, leftists invaded the room shouting: “The power is at the end of the phallus.” The Americans have done similar experiments. As much as she and Sartre miss out on the generation question, no doubt, as much she is fully engaged in this new struggle, which arises almost immediately afterwards. She is old but not tired; his fighting spirit is intact. She signs the manifest of 343 sluts , scrolls with the MLF. She who wrote The e Second Sex when feminism appeared as “An outdated fight, ridiculous” accepted “We use his notoriety for the cause” , analyzes Jean-Louis Jeannelle. In 1949 she had “Recreating political feminism, but without being aware of the impact” of this book, beyond vehement reactions he aroused . “I knew now that the course of the world is the very texture of my own life” The singularity of these memoirs , the true backbone of his work, undoubtedly lies in the strength of commitment and the capacity to transform the “I” of the narrator into “us” of a generation, as attested by the words of François Mauriac: “This adversary, who only writes my name with hostility or contempt, and of which almost every option is violently opposed to mine, nothing can make his story not be my story: to come back to his memories, is back to mine. ” Today, the collapse of the communist dream makes the engagement of the traveling companions less important. But whether it is the Algerian war, with badly closed scars, or feminism, renewed and sometimes divided, his strong words still illuminate our discussions. It is the strength of a philosopher, a writer, a memorialist-all those women of letters who were Simone de Beauvoir.

memoirs , Simone de Beauvoir

Two volumes

The Pleiade (Gallimard), under the direction of Jean-Louis Jeannelle and Éliane Lecarme-Tabone

69 and 70 euros; introductory price: 62 and 63 euros

Written by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, his adopted daughter, the album 2018 is dedicated to him.


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