They are one of the world's legendary couples. We can't think of one without thinking of the other. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre -- those passionate, freethinking existentialist philosopher-writers -- had a committed but notoriously open union that generated no end of controversy. With Tete-a-Tete, distinguished biographer Hazel Rowley offers the first dual portrait of these two colossal figures and their intense, often embattled relationship. Through original interviews and access to new primary sources, Rowley portrays them up close, in their most intimate moments.
We witness Beauvoir and Sartre with their circle, holding court in Paris cafes. We learn the details of their infamous romantic entanglements with the young Olga Kosakiewicz and others; of their efforts to protest the wars in Algeria and Vietnam; and of Beauvoir's tempestuous love affair with Nelson Algren. We follow along on their many travels, involving meetings with dignitaries such as Roosevelt, Khrushchev, and Castro. We listen in on the couple's conversations about Sartre's Nausea, Being and Nothingness, and Words, and Beauvoir's The Second Sex, The Mandarins, and her memoirs. And we hear the anguished discussions that led Sartre to refuse the Nobel Prize.
The impact of their writings on modern thought cannot be overestimated, but Beauvoir and Sartre are remembered just as much for the lives they led. They were brilliant, courageous, profoundly innovative individuals, and Tete-a-Tete shows the passion, energy, daring, humor, and contradictions of their remarkable, unorthodox relationship. Theirs is a great story -- and a great story is precisely what Beauvoir and Sartre most wanted their lives to be.
Though Rowley identifies her engaging and accessible chronicle as the "story of a relationship," it is in fact the story of the many relationships forged by two of the most brilliant, unorthodox and scandalous intellectuals of the 20th century: Beauvoir and Sartre, who from 1929 until Sartre's death in 1980 remained "essential" to each other but never monogamous. Without undue prurience, Rowley (Richard Wright) romps through the major entanglements, loves, triangles, friendships and affairs engaged in by the authors of, respectively,the seminal feminist work The Second Sex andthe controversial autobiography Words. And to place these fascinating interactions into literary and biographical context, Rowley draws from vast stores of published and unpublished writings, correspondence and interviews. Though Beauvoir is the heroine of the book, Rowley offers revealing insights into Sartre: including the extent to which he juggled, depended upon and supported his many mistresses and the compulsive need he had to seduce women far more beautiful than he, despite his tepid sensuality. Intrigues aside, however, Rowley concludes that, for both Sartre and Beauvoir, the most enduring commitment was not to each other or to their many lovers but to their writing, politics and philosophical legacy. (Oct.)
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October 17, 2006
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