Simone de Beauvoir : a biography /

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Main Author: Bair, Deirdre
Format: Book
Published: New York, : Summit Books, c1990.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This impressively researched biography by the author of Samuel Beckett is the most detailed account to date of the life and work of de Beauvoir (1908-1986). Based on many interviews, and discussing each of Beauvoir's works within the chronology of her life, Bair's magnum opus combines literary biography, intellectual and oral history and feminist theory, yet centers on de Beauvoir's extraordinary long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. Bair argues persuasively that de Beauvoir was affectionate, generous and witty, but also quirky, opinionated, witheringly honest and generally humorless. Awkard and ill-kempt, a woman who drank and cried to excess, she seemed unaware of her striking physical presence; she was nearly 40, contends the author, before she experienced an orgasm. Although never bound by the traditional constraints of marriage or family, she guarded Sartre jealously. Bair adds much to our knowledge of every aspect of de Beauvoir's life--her love affairs with Nelson Algren and Claude Lanzmann, her attitudes toward Camus, Giacometti, Koestler, Merleau-Ponty and many others--but, like Bair's own description of de Beauvoir's book on Sartre, the biography is sometimes ``detailed to the point of inducing fatigue and boredom.'' (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Bair, author of Samuel Beckett (a 1979 National Book Award winner), met with de Beauvoir for six years to compile this detailed biography of the writer best known for The Second Sex . She includes generous details about de Beauvoir's less attractive personal attributes (her slovenliness and self-centered behavior) and her questionable record during World War II. The book is an objective recording of events that shaped the life of a woman who, willingly, played down her own significant contributions to contemporary philosophical and political thought so as to remain Sartre's intellectual alter ego. Generous annotations document every chapter and provide material suggesting further research. An interesting, thought-provoking work that should dispel many myths, but Bair might well have given us a greater feel for the woman and emphasized her feminist stance.-- Danielle Mihram, Univ. of Southern California Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The author of Samuel Beckett (1978) offers the most complete and illuminating interpretation yet of the writer and feminist who forged the mythic alliance with Jean-Paul Sartre. In this exhaustively researched book, Bair argues that the author of The Second Sex was ""largely responsible for creating the current feminist revolution,"" but she tempers respect with skepticism. Pressing to see through the scrims that the ""high priestess of Existentialism"" lowered on her past, Bair judiciously searches troves of old and new evidence from scholars and contemporaries. Then she faces point-blank the contradictions. ""Publicly introspective,"" de Beauvoir was, she finds, by turns generous and self-centered. Despite her brilliance, and her literary success, this vocal advocate of independence claimed to be ""branded by Sartre's thought,"" and played down her own extensive role in his work. By intricately mapping de Beauvoir's shifting internal state, and setting the richly textured social context--beginning with the belle Époque haute bourgeoisie to which she was born--Bair elucidates the course of her thought and actions. Lucid interpretations of de Beauvoir's fiction and autobiography unveil the struggle to understand herself, and to escape Sartre's shadow. Long quotes in both the text and footnotes capture the still indomitable older de Beauvoir in the five years before her death in 1986, arguing that she enjoyed the feeling of ""privilege"" with Sartre to the end (""a less than honest comment,"" Bair contends), and snapping, ""Can't you shut that bastard up?"" when she hears that a new book is speculating on her opportunism during the war when she worked for a German-controlled radio station. To Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier's fine Simone de Beauvoir: A Life, a Love Story (1987), and Renee Winegarten's unsympathetic Simone de Beauvoir: A Critical View (1988), Bair's synthesis adds substance and scope. While riveting our eyes to de Beauvoir's father's book-lined study, or her upstairs table at the Cafe de Flore, this fascinating portrait engages us in the persisting questions of de Beauvoir's life and work. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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