scarecrow editorial

Monday, September 05, 2005


2: Act Now

We find it quite odd really, that a writer such as Simone de Beauvoir's stature is barely [if ever at all] mentioned these days. Is she still read? Do her numerous books sell? Do we carry her books into trendy cafes, order a double espresso, find a table by the window and open them for all to see like we do with so many other authors we could mention? She only ever, it seems, receives that all too elusive mention in conjunction with some long-gone, pug-faced, unwashed little man. You know the one we're talking about. The balding genius, perpetually photographed whilst bathed in blue/grey pipe smoke and an unhealthy smattering of acquiescent po-faced toadies.

Okay, the days of Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots are over, but we're sure you get the picture - that male dominated French intellectual scene we have all been aping to varying degrees of stupidity for the last fifty years or so in little dark pretentious pockets across the western world. And what fun we’ve had! Yet, and we know you’re thinking what we’re thinking, one thing seems to grate: Sartre and Camus are still read avidly yet Simone de Beauvoir isn’t - fact. Why is this so? Sadly, it seems we still like our literary and philosophical heros to be male. It's all very predictable don't you think?

Although ultimately remembered for her feminist call-to-arms The Second Sex [1949] it was the semiautobiographical The Mandarins [1954] that turned out to be her major breakthrough. Its pivotal protagonists’ Anne Dubreuilh and her husband Robert were a thinly disguised de Beauvoir and Sartre and the American Lewis Brogan was, quite obviously, Nelson Algren. Algren wanted to marry de Beauvoir after meeting her in 1947 when she toured America. Cue passionate intellectual transatlantic fling. She soon left Algren though to return to her Sartre [where she remained until the end of his life - give or take a few distractions along the way].

The book serves as a rallying call to her own kind: those bourgeois swaggering leftist intellectuals that populated the side-streets and cafes of post-war Paris in their droves. A prolonged one-woman bugle call daring each to deny their contrived social standing, to ignore elitism, to crawl back down from their ivory towers and engage in the real world once again below their feet, to become politically active and demand the impossible:

“Change your life today. Don't gamble on the future, act now, without delay.” [Simone de Beauvoir]

Lee Rourke © 2005.

Short Bibliography:

Le Deuxiéme Sexe, vol. 1-2, 1949 - The Second Sex
Le Mandarins, 1954 - The Mandarins
La Longue March, 1957 - The Long March
Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée, 1958 - Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
Perhetytön muistelmat La Forcede l'âge I-II, 1960 - The Prime of Life


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