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Piers Rowlandson FRCP
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The real

Simone de Beauvoir

 

Impossible not to be in awe of Simone de Beauvoir. Most rational of writers, she is objective, but passionate about the plight of women. Yet her four volume autobiography betrays very little emotion. The Second Sex is a wonderful encyclopedia. The personality behind the facts is forceful but non-judgemental and committed to a better scientific understanding of the human condition. But what did Simone feel about her relationship with Sartre and his relationships with other women? I had thought that the emotion came through in the novels. But for me the real Simone de Beauvoir is revealed in Beloved Chicago Man.

 

In her letters to Nelson Algren written in English (because he never even attempted to learn French), she is very funny indeed. She describes most vividly her daily life in Paris. In these letters she is not the logical thinker that was the power behind Sartre. She is the proud tenant of a new flat, giving a dinner party where the main meal was tinned potatoes and ham out of another tin. “you would have been proud of my skill with a can opener, but I could have done with your help.” A bottle of whiskey saved the day.

 

She was an adventurous cyclist, walker and skier as well as into driving her car across the Sahara. Not something one associates with nights spent in intense existentialist conversation in the bars and cafes of Paris and Chicago. She came off her bike and lost a tooth, as can be seen in the picture of her and Nelson. She was unable to swim and nearly drowned in Lake Michigan.

 

The real Simone de Beauvoir is elusive. I visited Les Deux Magots but found it hard to imagine her working at one of the tables; coffee cups competing with writing materials on the small table. Her flat from the outside looks very ordinary. Visiting her grave was intensely emotional but what were all those metro tickets doing? Who placed them so reverently on her grave?

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