DANGEROUS LIAISON; Affairs of the Heart and Mind: Simone De Beauvoir with Lover Jean-Paul Sartre

Daily Mail (London), April 12, 2008 | Go to article overview

DANGEROUS LIAISON; Affairs of the Heart and Mind: Simone De Beauvoir with Lover Jean-Paul Sartre


Byline: Glenys Roberts

HE WAS one of the most brilliant minds. She was his lifelong companionwho pioneered feminism.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were perhaps the most influentialcouple of the 20th century.

Their legendary love pactthey never married but swore mutual devotion to each other with the freedom tohave affairswas an attempt to overthrow the stifling hypocrisy that, for so long, haddictated most people's lives.

Always pushing new boundaries, they explored their thoughts in novels, playsand philosophical works. It earned Sartre the world's greatest literaryaccolade, the Nobel Prize. Yet he refused to accept it because he thought itwould make him an establishment figure and thus silence his inquiring mind.

Their private lives were wildly experimental. Simone de Beauvoir had affairswith both men and women, while Sartre, despite his stunted stature and uglysquint, was always surrounded by adoring muses happy to pamper his genius.

When he died in 1980, 50,000 people turned out on to the Paris streets. Butthat was not the end of the story. For their influence continues to this dayoften with disastrous consequences.

For this luminous pair, who were at the peak of their fame just after World WarII, arguably legitimised the Godless and permissive society in which we nowlive.

On the other hand, de Beauvoir to her credit became an iconic figure forfeminism and the battle for equality between the sexes.

Yet a fascinating new book paints this supposedly high-minded duo as serialseducers bent on their own gratification and as a couple who used theirapparently lofty philosophy as a springboard to excuse their multiple liaisons,often with under-age teenagers who were broken by the experience.

And while Simone de Beauvoir preached her ideal of feminist independence andequality, eschewing such 'bourgeois' concepts as marriage and children, andclaiming women should behave just like men, the truth is such a lifestyle madeher bitterly unhappy and she became obsessively jealous over Sartre's countlessconquests.

Despite her high-flown rhetoric, it was only for revenge and out of frustrationthat she embarked on affairs, always secretly hoping they would provoke Sartreto return to her. And, astonishingly, it was her craven desire to please himthat led de Beauvoir to groom young female lovers for Sartre, commonly girlsshe had bedded herself.

In this sordid relationship of supposed equals, he was always one step ahead ofher though it didn't start that way.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir bonded as soon as they met as studentsin Paris in 1929. Simone had decided to qualify as a secondary school teacher,a calling only just available to women. She was one of the first women to takethe exams at Paris's Sorbonne university.

Sartre, three years older and driven by a hatred of his provincial stepfather,was a thief and a teenage tearaway, until he realised his brilliant schoolresults made him a magnet to women.

At the Sorbonne, Sartre liked to shock his fellow students. At one dance, heturned up naked; at a university ball he paraded a hooker in a red dress.

But when he met the beautiful, young Simone he was entranced. She was asintelligent as any man, and, similarly disenchanted with her bourgeois family,she shared his fascination with the Paris underworld.

After their finals, in which he passed top, and she second, Sartre proposedmarriage. Simone refusednot for any philosophical reason but because she was sleeping with one of hisbest friends.

And so on October 1, 1929, Sartre suggested their famous pact: they would havea permanent 'essential' love. They would sleep together and have affairs on theside which they must describe to each other in every intimate detail.

During the first years, Sartre embarked on the arrangement with gusto. He likedto sleep with virgins, after which he rapidly lost interest. …

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