Social Scientist. v 14, no. 155 (April 1986) p. 64.


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Simone de Beauvoir : In Search of Freedom and Honesty

FEW LITERARY women of this century can have excited as much attention, admiration and controversy as Simone de Beauvoir. She was one of the philosophical leaders of the French existentialist movement, and extended its insights to incorporate the unique social position of women. De Beauvoir's prominence in the French left movement, her own major literary contributions arid her close, life-long association with Jean-Paul Sartre, made lier an object of extreme interest to women and leftists throughout the world.

Rarelv has any life been chronicled in such detail by the subject herself. Four volumes of autobiography, along with the recent memoir of the dying years of Sartre, provide a rich compendium of her situation in changing times. Recurrent themes are the quest for truth and the need for their relentless revelation of personal ambiguities, but also for their description of the social and moral difficulties of leftist intellectuals—epitomized by herself and Sartre—seeking to submerge themselves in a larger cause and movement, vet held back by the need to assert and maintain individual moral positions. The Mandarins—arguably her finest and most complex novel— develops this predicament of post-war French leftists in terms of the contending interplay of personalities reflecting the moral, ideological and 'human' (emotional) positions. The ideal that emerges in all these writings is one of people working closely with others against oppression, while maintaining absolute equality, separateness and respect for each other's freedom.

From the start of the Second World War, the story ofde Beauvoir's life is one of increasing politicisarion and active involvement with the major social movements of lier time. Les Temps Modemes, a post war journal, which, for many years, she edited with Sartre as part of a collective, was known for its anti-imperialist stance. It was critical of overt racism in the U.SPand incipient racism in France, as well as of imperialist foreign policies which threatened liberation movements in the Third World. In the 1950s, she and Sartre were active in their support of the Algerian freedom struggle. The Algerian war isolated those progressive intellectuals and workers who deplored the French colonial rule from other groups in French society. This losjs of a "common cause" with other segments of French people (in contrast to the period of



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