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178Philosophy and Literature e.g., "When he falls, he has something to fall back upon, whereas the intuitive type, whose sorrows and joys are extreme, represents a hit-or-miss approach to life" (p. 201)—and the text is further marred by a number of small grammatical and spelling errors. It is hard to know if the instructor would be more depressed by these than by what Nietzsche called "the boneless generality." University of PennsylvaniaMark Stein Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair; 718 pp. New York: Summit Books, 1990, $24.95. Perhaps because of the often-announced "death of the author," the last two decades have witnessed a proliferation of literary biographies. Needless to say, biography puts us back in contact with the authors of the books we like to read. Students of literature and philosophy are gready indebted to Deirdre Bair for her two authorized—she rightfully prefers "designated"—biographies. Her Samuel Beckett: A Biography (1978) won the National Book Award and the one under review here is of equal quality. Not that they were similar tasks, however. Whereas there was virtually nothing known about Beckett, the most reclusive and tight-lipped of men, de Beauvoir had written perhaps the most extensive autobiography ofany twentieth-century writer. She allowed her biographer to read unpublished correspondence and encouraged the use of tape recorders during the six-year period (1981-86) of interviews. Beckett, on the other hand, not only did not permit Bair to use a tape recorder, he refused to allow her to take notes in his presence. He had "conversations" with scholars, not "interviews" (p. 14). Not wanting an authorized biography, he would neither help her nor hinder her in her project. In each case, however, Bair has succeeded in writing an objective and independent study. She traces de Beauvoir's life chronologically, offering in-depth analyses at key moments, painting vividly, for example, the rigid bourgeois family life, the atheistic father who gave Simone secular books to read, cultivating her intellectual life, and the overbearingly religious mother who took charge of the spiritual life of her daughters, taking them to daily mass, conducting long devotions in the evenings, and learning Latin and English so that she could continue to supervise the content of their reading. Bair explores her subject's voracious appetite for books and her obsession with excelling in school. She studies the on-again, off-again seventeen-year affair with Nelson Algren—the Reviews179 only passionate love affair of de Beauvoir's life—the man she refused to marry in order to remain with Sartre even though they no longer had a sexual life together. The fifty-one-year "necessary" relationship with Sartre is thoroughly investigated amidst the series of "contingent" affairs of both parties. Her devotion is highlighted: she considered him a genius whose work came before hers. Until her death, she viewed herself "part of a couple, firm, fixed, and inviolate" (p. 294). As she narrates the life, Bair situates it in its historical and cultural context and not only probes the written works of her subject but shows convincingly how de Beauvoir constandy turned to writing, from LInvitée to Adieux, in order to understand her life, accept death, and achieve catharsis. As a literary critic, Bair is at her best in the novels where she finds "a bleak message of loneliness and alienation, more central to the French New Novel than to the literature of commitment where [they] are generally classified" (p. 307). Although de Beauvoir wrote Le Deuxième sexe in 1949, it wasn't until twenty years later that she truly considered herself a feminist dedicated "to the goals and needs of the movement" (p. 652). Until 1970, her life had been dominated by two concerns, her "commitment to Sartre and to [her] writing" (p. 362). By her own admission, it had taken her a long time to realize "that such a thing as a specifically feminine 'condition' existed" (p. 383). While her claim—"I am not a woman of action; my reason for living is writing" (p. 477)—remains accurate, she did, after 1970, take an active role in the feminist movement. If she paid no...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 178-180
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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