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15.4.04

Naughty Little Beaver

Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex (1949)

Letters to Nelson Algren (from BBC Online)

Simone de Beauvoir Web site (Suzanne Roy)
Sometimes I think that private correspondence should remain just that—private. This is nowhere truer than with that most personal type of correspondence, the love letter. You used to be able to believe in certain truths in the world of literature, and one of them was that Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were the ideal intellectual couple. They were both devastatingly and elegantly intelligent, and they were meant to be together forever in the Café de Flore, although they never married, which would have been a shameful concession to the bourgeoisie. Then we learned a few years ago that le Castor, or the Beaver, as de Beauvoir was nicknamed, had carried on a secret and obsessive love affair with an American writer from Chicago named Nelson Algren. In an article (Simone de Beauvoir: Ces lettres qui ébranlent un mythe [Simone de Beauvoir: those letters that shake up a myth], April 15) in Le Point, Jacques-Pierre Amette reviews a new edition of some of de Beauvoir's letters. Now it turns out that our naughty little Castor was also intimately involved with Jacques-Laurent Bost, who was Sartre's brilliant student, from 1937 to 1940. Here is my translation of an excerpt from the article:
Beauvoir repeats on every line, "I am going crazy thinking about you." Wow! I challenge any reader not to fall in love with this honest-seeming young woman, with the face bathed by some sort of interior dignity. Any man would have wanted to walk out of the Rhumerie on the arm of this pretty professor "all torn up with the desire to see you," as she wrote. For the whole story, we learn that it was September 21, 1939, that she bought a turban, which became her mythological symbol. We remain stunned at the way the feeling of love makes her storytelling talent pour out on nothing and frees her personality. . . . She had drunk the magic potion. She goes crazy over Picon-cassis, faces, meetings, uniquely, it seems, for the happiness of speaking to "little Bost" and helping him, reassuring him, supporting him, distracting him, saving him from his military nightmare. So, we ask ourselves a question: how could she have bound herself so strongly, officially speaking, to this Sartre who described sexuality only as a sickness. . . . What a poorly matched couple! How could she live with this "spectacle-ish" little man, with the lawyer's metallic voice, the rumpled blue suit, obsessed with crabs, homosexuals, with the roots, the mud of being, the Heideggerish jam, while she was so full of verve, fire, boldness, and freshness? What a mystery...
You can read a short excerpt of the letters: Beauvoir et Bost: L'amour secret du Castor (Le Nouvel Observateur, April 15, by Serge Lafaurie).

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