The life of Simone de Beauvoir closely parallels that of her colleague, friend, and lover Jean-Paul Sartre. Her life is well documented, due to her many autobiographical works. These works also follow the lives of Sartre, Albert Camus, and other prominent philosophers of the twentieth century. Early Years
Simone Ernestine Lucie Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was born on 9 January 1908, in Paris, to Françoise and Georges de Brauvoir. While Ernestine and Lucie were the names of her grandmothers, Marie was her “Christian” name to honor the Virgin Mary. The Catholic faith would be important to Simone until her adolescence. According to her autobiographies and interviews, Simone was reading by the age of three and attempting to write almost as soon as she could read. She obtained this love for words from her father, who had a passion for books and the theatre. Zaza
Simone met Elizabeth “Zaza” Le Coin as a schoolgirl. Simone admired Zaza’s outgoing personality; she could be bold and spontaneous, while Simone was generally shy. Like Simone, Zaza was from a bourgeois Catholic family. Social standing was important to both families, but Zaza’s experiences with social norms would shape de Beuvoir’s views of social order. It is possible Zaza’s life helped create de Beauvoir’s feminism and sense of social justice. As a student, Zaza met and fell in love with Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Unfortunately for the two lovers, Mr. Le Coin had already arranged a marriage for his daughter. Zaza’s parents demanded that she never see Merleau-Ponty or Simone again, as they deemed both to be corrupting influences. Elizabeth Le Coin died of encephalitis in 1929. Simone wrote of Zaza’s short life several times. For de Beauvoir, the death of her friend revealed how unreasonable French social order was and how unfair life could be. Career Woman
Within “proper” French society, a young woman of Simone’s class was expected to marry and raise children. Simone had other plans, deciding to pursue a career teaching and writing, much to the chagrin of her father. Yet there was little choice but to accept his daughter’s wishes; Georges lacked the financial security to attract an acceptable suitor. Again, Simone came to view French culture as absurdly preoccupied with matters of money and class. Simone began taking courses at the Sorbonne in 1926. She completed her “certificate of letters” in 1927, the first step towards qualifying as a teacher in France. She was a student with Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Claude Lévi-Strauss. In 1929, Simone began to study for the agrégation exam in philosophy. Passing the exam would qualify her for a teaching post. While studying, she met Jean-Paul Sartre. René Maheu had asked Simone to join a study group, which included Sartre. It was during these study sessions that Maheu nicknamed de Beauvoir “The Beaver,” or Castor in French. This nickname was based both on the English name for the animal and its reputation as a dedicated worker. Sartre corresponded exactly to the dream companion I had longed for since I was fifteen: he was the double in whom I found all my burning aspirations raised to the pitch of incandescence. I should always be able to every everything with him… — Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1959
Simone received a post at a lycée in Marseille in 1931, to the disappointment of Jean-Paul who received a post at in Le Harve. While the two never married, Sartre proposed to de Beauvoir in 1931, which would have resulted in them being placed together under French policies. To his dismay, Simone declined the proposal. Olga, Sartre, and a Novel
In 1932 Simone was transferred to Rouen. While teaching in Rouen, de Beauvoir began a relationship with a student of hers, Olga Kosakiewicz. When Sartre was added to the relationship, the complexity eventually overwhelmed the trio. While Simone imagined the trio would enforce an “authenticity” on relationships, the reality was that Olga later present a threat...