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Friday, June 05, 2020

The inseparables

The author of ‘Nausea’ held his nose when shown a manuscript by Simone de Beauvoir. In hindsight, it was pretty dumb

By: Editorial | Published: May 5, 2020 4:25:23 am
The inseparables Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir rest side by side in the Montmartre cemetery in Paris, with a common headstone.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir rest side by side in the Montmartre cemetery in Paris, with a common headstone. Pilgrims from all over the world visit the existentialist couple every day, and leave behind votive offerings of flowers, Metro tickets and rude notes urging de Beauvoir to tell Sartre to stuff it in the afterlife, if such a thing exists. The message sought to be conveyed by the Metro tickets is an eternal enigma — perhaps it is a modern tribal practice — but one does take flowers to cemeteries. And the feelings expressed in the notes is understandable. Sartre was less than kind to his lifelong companion. Now, an unpublished work by de Beauvoir is to appear. Sartre had “held his nose” when she showed it to him, according to her autobiography, Force of Circumstance. The avalanche of rudeness in Montmartre will acquire fresh vigour.

It is generally accepted that Simone de Beauvoir laid the foundations of modern feminism in The Second Sex, the 1,000-page broadside against the patriarchy which appeared in 1949. Many arbiters of literary taste suspected it to be pornographic, and the Catholic church promptly put it on its list of banned books. Five years after that, she finished Les Inséparables, a short coming of age novel about the passionate relationship between two young women, based on her own friendship with Elisabeth ‘Zaza’ Lacoin, who died of encephalitis at the age of 21. Sartre, with whom de Beauvoir began a personal and philosophical relationship when she was 21, sniffed at it.

The moral of the story is that even if you have written Nausea and are regarded as the authority on estrangement and the sickness of the human condition, it is never a good idea to hold your nose when you are presented with a book by Simone de Beauvoir.

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