Beauvoir, Sartre and L’invitée

Simone-Lucie-Ernestine-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir, born in Paris on January 9, 1908, graduated at Catholic Institute Santa Maria, was the youngest student ever to pass the rigorous examinations of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Sorbonne.

Simone de Beauvoir taught in Marseille and Rouen, however, it did not take long for her to devote herself exclusively to writing, making her first success with the book L’invitee (She came to stay), published in 1943, which depicts the experience of young artists during Nazi-occupied France.

The end of World War paved the way for another war.  The Cold War was a clash of ideologies, propaganda, and ideas that prevailed next half-century as Western intellectuals had to position themselves in favor of the United States and its allies, or pro-Soviet Union and communism. In France, the scene was not limited to ideological division between the conservative parties, liberal-democratic or socialist and communist,  but also to the field of ideas as intellectuals had to choose between neo-Thomism, represented by the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, backed by the Catholic Church (linked closely to the papacy), and the conservative classes in general, and Marxism ( related to the French Communist Party tied to the Soviet Union), supported by trade unions.

Both Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were advocators of Existentialism, a philosophical concept which asserts the primacy of existence over essence, according to the definition of Jean-Paul Sartre. For him, existence precedes and rules essence,  and new experiences always redefine one’s own ways of thinking.  By acquiring new knowledge, one owns freedom of choice.

Sartre, after doing studies on phenomenology in Germany, created the term using the French word existence as a translation from the German word Dasein, a term used by Heidegger in Being and Time.

Simone de Beauvoir’s novel, L’invitée,  portrays the free and somewhat bohemian life of a  small group of intellectuals and writers. Their lifestyle attracted the general public which was always sentenced to an anonymous, mediocre routine. Beauvoir’s characters were not subjected to conventions, much less inclined to follow the herd, but they lived, as Sartre and Simone,  in accordance with their own rules.

The protagonists Pierre and Françoise live a love triangle with their guest Xaviere, a sensual woman desired by both of them which generates jealousy and dispute. By portraying sexual freedom and same-sex desire, Beauvoir’s novel breaks conventions and challenge conservatism. As her narrator advocates:

…Sexual faithfulness is perfectly ridiculous. It leads to pure slavery. I don’t understand how you can tolerate it …. The way you were at twenty, I would never have thought you’d be a one- man woman. Especially considering that Pierre has affairs…

In the end, Beauvoir unveils the power of  Xaviere in this triangle, as it seems that both Pierre and Francoise need her to restore a sort of meaning to their lives.

1 Comment

  1. Great review! I haven’t read any of Simone de Beauvoir’s fiction, but this seems like a good title to start with.


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