Beauvoir's liaison with Jean-Paul Sartre has been billed as one of the most legendary love affairs of the twentieth century. But for Beauvoir it came at a cost: for decades she was dismissed as an unoriginal thinker who 'applied' Sartre's ideas. In recent years new material has come to light revealing the ingenuity of Beauvoir's own philosophy and the importance of other lovers in her life. This ground-breaking biography draws on never-before-published diaries and letters to tell the fascinating story of how Simone de Beauvoir became herself.
...[an] excellent new biography ... Kirkpatrick’s biography shows why we’ve much more to learn from Beauvoir than the tiresome bad faith involved in being a woman in a crassly gendered world ... If it has been difficult to appreciate this radical Beauvoir until now, this is partly due to the trashing her reputation received immediately after her death ... The Beauvoir reintroduced to us in this book is a full and critical partner in Sartre’s existentialist project. Kirkpatrick has combed through Beauvoir’s student diaries (as yet untranslated), the more recently published letters with Lanzmann, and previously uncollected and unpublished writings to show us a complex woman who knew – long before her detractors – that the stakes in existentialism were profoundly moral and political ... If 'there’s one thing to learn from the life of Simone de Beauvoir', Kirkpatrick concludes, 'it is this: no one becomes herself alone'. More than 30 years after her death, we’ve barely begun to understand what this means.
Kate Kirkpatrick shows why Beauvoir’s life and ideas are worth revisiting, and its philosophical richness is one of the book’s greatest strengths. It introduces Beauvoir’s ideas and method, shows how they developed, clarifies those that are original to Beauvoir, and highlights Beauvoir’s criticisms of Sartre’s philosophy. Kirkpatrick does so in a manner that’s accessible and steady, making it likely to appeal not only to readers new to Beauvoir, but also those who learned about Beauvoir in the traditional way. After the opening chapter introducing her approach and justification, Kirkpatrick follows a fairly standard biographical trajectory from birth to death ... Kirkpatrick’s discussion of Beauvoir’s diaries is the historical highlight of the book ... Despite the blurred lines between Beauvoir and Sartre’s thinking, Kirkpatrick methodically draws out many instances where they split intellectually and emotionally ... Kirkpatrick’s style...provokes readers by asking questions about Beauvoir’s actions and motivations. It’s a bold move to infuse a biography with these sorts of conjectures, and some may seem to be a stretch ... Beauvoir’s life is a fascinating story in itself, but Becoming Beauvoir also shows how society has been grossly unfair in its judgment of her. In a subtle way, the book also challenges readers to reflect on their own prejudices and how society continues to apply ad feminam arguments to women more generally. Beauvoir is well overdue for the philosophical credit she deserves, and this book is an important step in correcting the narrative.
... I’d have liked to learn more about what De Beauvoir has to tell us today than we are given here. Her complex, ambivalent ideas about gender as both inherent and performed can be usefully brought to bear on the current dilemmas about transsexuality. We can’t ventriloquise De Beauvoir in the present, but it would be worth dwelling with these ideas for longer than Kirkpatrick does. She gives more space to De Beauvoir’s contrary relationship with feminism, and the discussion here is helpfully rich ... There isn’t much material here that’s unknown to scholars, but the letters to Lanzmann do constitute a major new resource ... Where Kirkpatrick’s biography is strongest is in clarifying and showing the strength of De Beauvoir’s ethical commitments, and how these were transformed into political commitments after the war.