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Simone de Beauvoir: Reflections on a Work in Progress1 Deirdre Bair F RANÇOIS MAURIAC^ BIOGRAPHER wrote “ I have no wish to be compared to the Frenchman of whom it was said that he had known Proust very well after his death, but I am very glad to have known Mauriac a very little while when he was alive.” 2It describes my professional friendship with Simone de Beauvoir during the few years I knew her, 1981-1986. I hesitated before settling on the phrase profes­ sional friendship, but I believe it is the best way to describe our relation­ ship because our meetings were always centered around the concept of work; in this case, the facts of her life as well as how she perceived and interpreted them. Throughout those years I conducted many hours of formal interviews and had many more informal conversations with her, the last on March 7, 1986, slightly more than a month before her death. “ I would never try to write a book about someone living,” wrote British biographer Ann Thwaite, recoiling from the problem of inter­ viewing anyone, especially her own subject.3 For me, however, the opportunity to talk to the person I wrote about, first Samuel Beckett and now Simone de Beauvoir, to question them and comment on their inter­ pretation of themselves, sometimes even to argue differently and even­ tually to insist upon another version of their reality, is not only a chal­ lenge of the highest order but increasingly—because of the times in which we live—a necessity. We are now in the age of instant communication, when we rely on the telephone, the photocopy and the fax machine the way that previous generations used letters, diaries and journals. In our time, the very speed of society has made leisurely reflection with pen and paper a rarity, resulting in a paucity of written records. The startling lack of documen­ tation, even by those who are writers and thus most likely to confide thoughts to paper, is forcing scholars who study and interpret contem­ porary history and culture to resort more and more to instant verbal techniques such as recorded interviews and conversations. Unlike pre­ vious generations, who waited a discreet number of years for history’s dust to settle before attempting the first biography, we risk losing too much if we wait too long to capture the memories and reflections of the VOL. XXIX, No. 4 75 L ’E spr it C r éa te u r subject and those who knew him or her, memories that now comprise the major documentation of a person’s life. I had Simone de Beauvoir’s full cooperation for this biography, which she often referred to as “ authorized” even though she knew it was a term I disliked. To me, the word seems to reflect the subject’s “ official party-line hagiography,” as I told her when I explained why I preferred “ designated,” a word I had used when trying to describe to Samuel Beckett the terms of the agreement I hoped to have with him. By “ designated,” I meant that he would cooperate with me to the degree he saw fit, and naturally I hoped it would be fully. He agreed to tell persons I wished to interview that they were free to do as they wished, to see me or not. He would grant access and permission to quote from all written documentation my research led to, such as unpublished letters, diaries, manuscripts or other documents; he would reserve the right to volunteer such information as he saw fit. He would not read the manu­ script before it was published and would do nothing to impose his view­ point on it, nor would he try to hinder its publication. He accepted this agreement at once, as the only honorable way for each of us to proceed. I did not realize until that book was actually published and I had heard countless stories from anguished biographers about the difficulties they had with their subjects just how fortunate I was, but once having had this agreement I did not see how I could work in any other manner. I sent a copy...


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