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  • État PrésentSimone De Beauvoir Studies
  • Ursula Tidd

In 2008, the centenary year of Simone de Beauvoir's birth, the renaissance in Beauvoir studies which began in the 1990s continues apace. Today, with a recent wave of new readings of her work, Beauvoir's status as an original philosopher and writer is consolidated. Until the mid-1990s, however, responses to her work were somewhat ambivalent. Such vicissitudes in its reception have been related to the nature of Beauvoir's philosophical collaboration with Jean-Paul Sartre, the role of women in intellectual history and philosophy more generally, and to the status of Le Deuxième Sexe —the text for which Beauvoir is still best known. The critical fortunes of her pioneering 1949 study of women have inevitably been linked to evolving wider debates concerning sex and gender in the respective fields of French and Anglo-American feminist theory and, importantly, to how post-1968 feminist debates in France have been constructed and have circulated within Anglo-American feminism. Materialist feminist Christine Delphy argued trenchantly in 1995 that 'French feminism' was largely an ideological invention by Anglophone scholars and one which had emerged from distorted representations of feminist activity in France as being predominantly concerned with psychoanalytic and linguistic approaches to sexual difference.1 In Delphy's view, this had artificially conflated French feminist theory with Jacques Lacan, Sigmund Freud, Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida and Luce Irigaray and neglected an important body of work by materialist feminists in France which developed in part from Beauvoir's thought.2 Toril Moi's 1987 anthology French Feminist Thought included essays by Beauvoir, Delphy, Michèle Le Doeuff and Elisabeth Badinter, as well as by Kristeva and Irigaray, even though their respective relationships to what constituted 'French feminism' at that time differed considerably.3 Moi noted then that the muted reception of French materialist feminism was the result of their work being 'less frequently translated and less well-known precisely because of their relative similarity: they have […] been perceived as lacking in exotic differencè.4 In the context of Beauvoir's own long-standing critique of psychoanalysis as a [End Page 200] theoretical base from which to think about gender, her antipathy towards post-structuralist concepts of the subject and her persistent focus on the material and phenomenological aspects of sexual oppression, Le Deuxième Sexe seemed theoretically out-of-step with what some Anglophone readers perceived as 'French feminist theory'. What was represented as Beauvoir's loyal adherence to existentialism and implicitly to Sartre, cast her theoretically adrift as a 'first wavè equality feminist, rooted in Enlightenment humanism, who appeared to be clinging to the life-raft of an autonomous rational subject at a time when feminine difference, the maternal erotic and sexual–textual jouissance were deemed to be the zeitgeist of French feminist thinking. The 'discovery' in the early 1990s of Beauvoir's phenomenological approach to understanding gender, combined with a recognition of her original syntheses of existentialism, Hegelianism, Marxism and anthropology in Le Deuxième Sexe, has led to a major re-evaluation of her contribution to feminist thought. Tragically for Beauvoir's reputation as a feminist philosopher, however, her importance could not have been registered by those Anglo-phone readers who read Le Deuxième Sexe in English, because the 1953 translation of Beauvoir's work by zoologist H. M. Parshley is marred by philosophical contresens, unacknowledged omissions (approximately fifteen per cent is excised from the original French), and rewritings on almost every page. As Toril Moi has noted, this has not only been damaging to Beauvoir's reputation as an intellectual but has also obscured understanding of her philosophical arguments concerning gender.5 Moreover, even though a new translation of Le Deuxième Sexe has been commissioned, as discussed below, the shortcomings of its original 1953 translation are not an isolated instance in Beauvoir's corpus because the English translations of her correspondence with Sartre and of her other philosophical and literary texts are in some cases similarly blighted.6

The nature of Beauvoir's intellectual and personal partnership with Sartre has proved to be a fertile ground for scholarship as well as for projection...


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pp. 200-208
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