Great European of the Week: Simone de Beauvoir

Feminist, philosopher, essayist and fictional writer, Simone de Beauvoir stands among the greatest figures in 20th Century Europe.

Simone de Beauvoir was a pioneering figure in feminist philosophy and literature.

Simone de Beauvoir was a pioneering figure in feminist philosophy and literature.

Born on 9th January 1908 to a middle-class Catholic family in Paris, her studies in mathematics and philosophy brought her into contact with some of those who would become major voices of the 20th Century: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and, most famously, Jean-Paul Sartre, who would later become her lover. The two retained a lifelong working and personal relationship (although not always a monogamous one) but she outlived him, finally dying of pneumonia on 14th April 1986.

Like so many great European intellectuals, de Beauvoir’s work spanned more than one field. Her most celebrated philosophical work, The Second Sex (1949), is complemented by numerous literary pieces including She Came to Stay (1943) and When Things of the Spirit Come First (1980) – yet throughout we can see the threads of her feminist and existentialist thinking. Indeed in feminist philosophy, de Beauvoir stands out as one of the historical giants alongside Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill.

De Beauvoir was not only a theorist; she was committed to real political change, manifest in her involvement with the women’s movements of the 1970s. Europeans can all learn from her fusion of thoughtfulness and practical engagement as we seek to change our society today.

Image: “Simone (Lucie-Ernestine-Marie Bertrand) de Beauvoir – 100 years – 100 anos – 100 ans” courtesy of *starrynight1, released under Creative Commons licence 3.0 share alike

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