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Beauvoir, Simone.

LETTER: ALS to William Phillips, editor of the Partisan Review. (w/ WP TLC).

Letter(s)

Beauvoir's First U.S. Lecture Tour
De Beavoir, Simone. Autograph letter signed "S. de Beauvoir," to William Phillips, March 10, [1947]; one leaf of lined paper; recto and verso covered. In a specially made cloth folder.
Boxed together with:
Phillips, William. Typed letter signed "William," to Harold Lazarus at Temple University, March 17, 1947; one leaf of scrap paper, recto only.
A letter to William Phillips, the founding editor of the Partisan Review. Addressing him as, "Dear friend," Beauvoir thanks him for organizing a lecture for her at Temple University, expressing trepidation about the prospect of lecturing in English: "But you know the way I speak English. If you honestly think it is good neough, well, I'll do it. Are you not afraid it is too weak? You may decide by yourself." She adds, "I could speak about intellectual life in France nowadays. Sure, I should like to do it because I need the money. But it must not be a [ ] for people. Explain it to your friend and I agree with whatever you think." She concludes by thanking Phillips for introducing his friends to her in New York, and apologizes for taking so long to write: "[e]xcuse too my English, I tried the best I could, that is not much." In charmingly broken English, she closes, "Goodbye, and thank you at our becoming 'd'amité.'"
Beauvoir met Phillips on February 4, 1947, at a party thrown in her honor by Jean Condit, of Vogue magazine. As she recalls in America Day by Day: "I found myself surrounded by the staff of a journal [Partisan Review] that calls itself 'left-wing' and 'avant-garde,' and their aggressiveness surprises me." A few days later, on February 8, Beauvoir joined Phillips and Philip Rahr from the Partisan Review at a Spanish restaurant in the Village for dinner. The men apologized for their anger from the previous evening and the trio shifted its discussion from politics to literature. She recounted the conversation:
They cannot name a single young writer who satisfies them; their ideals remain negative and very vague. They seem to be dreaming of a return to the psychology of analysis and a certain classicism - all things that bore us in France today. Besides, although they contrast America with France, they don't like any living French writers either.
In this letter, however, Beauvoir is all aglow: "I was so pleased with our discoveries and I thought you and your friends were so kind to me; you all made New York very appealing for me and thought I have the beautiful time in California I long to see New York again."
This letter was composed during Beauvoir's first trip to America, a four month lecture tour planned, in part, along the way. She balanced business duties with pleasure, scheduling trips to cities she was interested in exploring and meeting up with friends between lectures. Her lectures took her to Vassar, Oberlin, Lynchburg College, Smith, Wellesley, Yale, among other schools. She also visited New York City, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York State, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Death Valley, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon,  New Orleans, Charleston, Boston, and various cities in New Mexico and Texas. It was during this first journey to the States that she met the writer Nelson Algren, with whom she had a much-publicized affair. Beauvoir's diary of this trip was published in 1954 as L'Amerique au jour le jour (America Day by Day).
Also present is Phillips's letter to Lazarus conveying Beauvoir's interest in lecturing at Temple and asking when the lecture is scheduled to take place. He adds, "However, she is somewhat hesitant because she is afraid her English is not so hot. You remember what it's like, though it has probably improved somewhat." Beauvoir was offered $100 for this lecture.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) was the daughter of an established French family of high social class, but she flaunted her family's position with her radicalism, especially in her famous liaison with Jean Paul Sartre. When they met in 1929, she was finishing her philosophy studies. Although she was second in her class, behind Sartre, she was later labeled by some critics as the real philosopher of the two. Their intellectual partnership certainly formed the core of their life-long relationship in which Beauvoir became the most vocal proponent of the existentialism for which Sartre is known.
She also became Sartre's devoted editor and critic, making it difficult to this day to untangle what was actually written by her but attributed to him. Her first novel, L'Invitée, was published in 1943, followed by a deluge of books, essays, reviews, lectures, and even a play. However, her most influential work, Le Deuxième Sexe, took her fourteen months of research. In a later interview, Beauvoir discussed its origins: "One day I wanted to explain myself to myself. I began to reflect all about myself and it struck me with a sort of surprise that the first thing I had to say was 'I am a woman'" (quoted in Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair, NY: Summit, 1990, p. 380). In one of her memoirs-she wrote five autobiographical volumes between 1958 and 1972-she commented: "Wanting to talk about myself, I became aware that to do so I should first have to describe the condition of woman in general."
During those fourteen months, Beauvoir thought about a number of different forms for her book in her attempt to reconcile the philosophical and the personal. She settled on dividing it into two volumes. Book I consists of a historical overview of women entitled "Facts and Myths," employing biographical, psychoanalytical, and historical materialistic analyses of women. The second book, "Women's Life Today," is a more intimate volume, discussing topics like sexuality and childhood and incorporating stories Beauvoir collected from women during her travels. One of her realizations-that women's experiences were generic and not just individual-would help shape the burgeoning women's movement. Her idea that the "otherness" of women had to be looked at when looking at each woman's life was revolutionary and influential. In fact, the content and format of the questions Beauvoir posed continue to direct philosophical thought about women's status world-wide.
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