Simone de Beauvoir, By Ursula Tidd

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Reaktion has published a distinguished series of these shorter critical appraisals of famous literary figures, or "leading cultural figures of the modern period" as it would have it: Kafka, Joyce, Dalí and Baudelaire all feature in its list of 21 biographies.

Simone De Beauvoir is, surprisingly, the first woman to merit the distinction and while the purpose and size of the book (180 pages) do not allow for new archival research, Tidd does an excellent job of linking the life to the work.

De Beauvoir's philosophy is explained in the light of her experiences, both with men and women – her attempts to understand and explain the relationship between the self and the other seen in the light of her interactions with lovers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, her student Olga Kozakiewicz and the writer Nelson Algren. Because her philosophy was grounded in this need to live in the world, while also living apart from it, understanding her personal life is crucial to understanding her thinking.

This is an accessible study that doesn't reduce or simplify De Beauvoir's work in any way, while simultaneously attempting to understand her way of living. Hopefully now, more women will figure in the series.