Becoming Beauvoir by Kate Kirkpatrick

Becoming Beauvoir by Kate Kirkpatrick

Author:Kate Kirkpatrick
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: 2019-06-13T00:00:00+00:00

Figure 9 Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren in Chicago, 1948.

She was exhausted and probably depressed; she spent more time than usual sleeping. Sometimes she walked along the path to Port-Royal, which was decorated with a ‘very bad’ poem by Racine praising nature for its freedom, clarity and truth – and the ‘fecund solitude’ of this countryside. And she wrote to Algren, wearing his ring and using a red stylo he gave her. She didn’t usually wear rings, she told him, and her friends had noticed: ‘everybody in Paris was very amazed’.34

In Saint-Lambert at the end of May she re-read what she had written at the end of 1946 about women – the early material for The Second Sex – and had one of those days when she didn’t understand why anybody bothered to write anything.35 One of those days turned into a few days, and by 6 June she decided that she couldn’t do ‘the book about women’ until she’d written about her travels. So she turned her mind to writing America Day by Day and slowly began to find her stride again.

Beauvoir’s letters to Algren reveal much about her daily life: what she was writing, whom she saw at her publisher’s cocktail parties, etc. She wanted him to learn French and included paragraphs of prose for him to translate: they were the best bits, she told him, so he had an incentive to learn. Beauvoir told Algren about the way Myrdal’s American Dilemma and conversations with Richard Wright had inspired her book on women.36 This book, she told Algren, made her ‘begin again to think about the book I began about women’s situation. I should like to write a book as important as this big one about Negroes’.37 She wanted to do for women what Myrdal had done for African-Americans, showing the ways that racism and sexism were rooted in the contingencies of culture – that with women, too, people were hiding behind alibis.

But her letters were rather quiet on the subject of Sartre, and even quieter on Vanetti. In July Vanetti left France by boat, from Le Havre. Once again Vanetti made an ultimatum: if Beauvoir came back a next time, it would be for good. Sartre felt torn, but Beauvoir was feeling divided, too; it had been two months since she got back to France and ever since she had had a lingering disquiet. By July Algren had written that when she came back to Chicago he wanted her to stay forever. So on 23 July she replied that she could not. She loved him but could not give her life to him. She didn’t want to lie to him, and her heart had been aching with the question: ‘Is it right to give something of oneself without being ready to give everything’?38 Whatever happens, she said, she knew she couldn’t give him everything, and although she felt torn and anxious about this she wanted it out in the open.

He wrote back with a proposal of marriage.


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