The Spanish Civil War in Literature

By Janet Pérez; Wendell Aycock | Go to book overview

Simone de Beauvoir
and the Spanish Civil War:
From Apoliticism to Commitment

Alfred Cismaru

In 1936 Simone de Beauvoir was twenty-eight years old. If we compare the extent and the intensity of her activities in other areas, her noninvolvement in politics until the beginning of the Spanish Civil War emerges as a strange phenomenon. It is clear that in her case, as in the case of her mentor Jean-Paul Sartre, who was three years older, there was no commitment in the cradle; nor really during their adolescent or student years, nor as budding writers and philosophers, nor even after 1933 when Hitler rose to power. It was not until Franco's troops landed in Spain in July 1936 that the two Existentialists became aware that the advancement of a cause required less sympathy than action.

For the country itself, de Beauvoir had a particular penchant. Prior to the start of the hostilities, she and Sartre had visited Spain with great enthusiasm. She reports in La Force de l'âge that they did not have much money at the time. Sartre converted into pesetas the little that was left from a small inheritance; they knew that they were going to have to rough it in Spain, but they simply had to go. Recalling the voyage years later, de Beauvoir is not above becoming quite lyrical in the description of general and specific reactions.

Nous imaginions que chaque lieu, chaque ville avait un secret, une âme, une essence
éternelle et que la tâche du voyageur était de les dévoiler … pas seulement dans leurs
musées, leurs monuments, leur passé, mais au présent, a travers leurs ombres et leurs
lumières, leurs foules, leurs odeurs, leurs nourritures. (de Beauvoir, La Force, 87)

Afterward, she goes on to say that she agrees with André Gide, who, in Prétextes, had declared that drinking a cup of Spanish chocolate was the same as holding all of Spain in one's mouth (De Beauvoir, La Force, 87–88).

-67-

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