“There is a good principle that created order, light and man and a bad principle that created chaos, darkness and woman.” — Pythagoras
Simone de Beauvoir is recognized mostly for The Second Sex, the 1949 book credited with giving birth (oops) to the Second Wave of Feminism. I don’t mean to diminish its importance—Second Sex is filled with historical data on how women have been kept subservient to men for so long, and is way beyond my scholarly limits—but I do take issue with the fact that it’s all we seem to know de Beauvoir for.
Because when I think of Simone de Beauvoir, I think of her novels—some of the best ever.
The Mandarins, All Men are Mortal, and de Beauvoir’s other novels enter new territory: She writes women who aren’t beleaguered or heroic, just human, and whose character flaws are what makes them equal to men. From her insanely egotistical actress in All Men Are Mortal, tothe mother who hates her son for being shallow and materialistic, de Beauvoir’s novels unapologetically assume that every person is responsible for their behavior.
She Came to Stay is semi-autobiographical about a time when de Beauvoir and her lover, Jean Paul Sartre, invited a young, provincial girl into their love affair. Not a fan of lifetime monogamy, she goes so far in this book that she almost falls off the rails. This gives us an insight into her own faults… and makes her even more fascinating.
This Women’s History Month, skip the theory—we already know it’s unequal out there—and look through de Beauvoir’s fiction instead. You’ll see how the Second Wave of Feminism got so “bitchy” that we demanded equality.
And it’ll be one of the best reads of your life.