Monday, April 28, 2014

Spectacular Simone de Beauvoir Archive $380,000-$470,000 At Christie's

by Stephen J. Gertz

An outstanding trove of over 350 original and unpublished signed autograph letters and postcards written by French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, social theorist, and author of the major work of Feminist theory, The Second Sex (Le Deuxième Sexe, 1949; 1953 in English), Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), is being offered by Christie's-Paris in it Importants livres anciens,  livers d'artistes & manuscrits sale, April 30, 2014. It is estimated to sell for $380,000-$470,000 (€280,000-€350,000; £250,000-310,000).

Spanning the years 1918-1957, the letters, each 1-10 pages in length and written to her mother, Françoise de Beauvoir (1887-1963), constitute an informal book by de Beauvoir, discussing her childhood and adolescence, life as an independent teacher, her emancipation, etc., and in detail recounts her daily life, travels, her readings (Dumas, Dostoevsky, Saint- Exupery, Faulkner, Celine, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, and many detective novels), meetings, and the progress of her literary work.

As the letters progress from youth to adulthood, discussion of her blood family ebbs and the tide flows to the "small family" she was adopted into, whose members, cited many times, included Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques-Laurent Bost, Olga Zuorro, Bianca Bienenfelds, Nathalie Sorokin Fernand, and Stephan Gerassi, and also Merleau-Ponty, Nizan,  Colette Aubry, the Morels, the Guilles, the Leiris, Raymond Aron,  etc.  

There is much discussion of Jean-Paul Sartre, whom she met in 1929, opening "a new era" in her life. Several letters detail her life with Sartre: a trip together to Spain in 1931; sojourns in Spain, Italy, Germany - where she joined Sartre  in an internship at the French Institute in Berlin in 1939 - in Greece (July-August 1937) and Morocco (summer 1938). She finds Nuremberg "covered with swastikas," and Morocco "horribly lousy, but extremely attractive." 

She discusses her June 1940 exodus from Paris - Sartre was taken prisoner and would not be released until April of the following year; Simone took refuge in La Poueze. She writes of taking a long bicycle trip with Sartre in the free zone to organize a resistance movement. "There is a dearth here," she wrote Sept. 13, 1940 from Cannes, "and twice I had a breakfast of dry bread." The Liberation and her immediate post-war life are covered.

She writes of her 1947 lecture tour in the United States, where she met novelist Nelson Algren, who took her for a walk on the wild side and became her lover. "New York absolutely delights me and life is delicious" (January 28, 1947). She talks about a trip to Sweden with Sartre, and another in the United States and Mexico with Algren in 1948, then Algeria  the following autumn, and with a ferocious appetite for life she describes her discoveries and impressions. Concurrently, she began The Second Sex: "J’ai envie de travailler le plus possible parce que ce livre sera très long à faire et je voudrais quand même bien qu’il soit fni dans un an," she writes in September 1948; the book would be published a year later. 

Additional Sartre, Algren, an important trip to China in 1955, and more through 1957 when the correspondence ends.

The provenance to the archive is rock-solid: from Henriette, Simone's sister, aka Helene de Beauvoir. Her adopted daughter, Mrs. Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, assisted Christie's with the dates to many  letters otherwise dateless.

The significance of this archive cannot be underestimated: it constitutes an epistolary autobiography of one of the towering figures in feminist thought and a major figure in twentieth century French literature.

Images courtesy of Christie's, with our thanks.

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