In the summer issue of Quarterly Conversation, Lauren Elkin discusses Simone de Beauvoir on the occasion of the French publication of her second volume of journals.
It is proof, if proof were needed, of Simone de Beauvoir’s mythic stature in France, that to commemorate the centenary of her birth the French news weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published a photograph of Beauvoir’s naked derriere on its January 3rd cover.
Taken in 1952, when Beauvoir was in Chicago visiting her then-lover, Nelson Algren, the photograph shows the great feminist standing in the bathroom, wearing not a stitch of clothes, looking at herself in the mirror. And it was not Algren who took it, but his close friend, the photographer Art Shay. The way Shay tells it, Beauvoir heard the shutter snap behind her and, laughing, chastised him: “Naughty Boy!” (No word on why Shay was around while Beauvoir was in the altogether).
The author of The Second Sex would have turned 100 this year, and in spite of all the tributes, assessments, analyses, and appreciations—a special issue of Le Magazine Littéraire, a three-day conference under the direction of Julia Kristeva, several new books—it is the sexy, controversial aspects of her life that have been emphasized, once again, in the mainstream media: her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, their pact not to marry and to tell each other everything of their extracurricular conquests, their tendency to pass lovers back and forth and how it was all his idea. Beauvoir comes off as a doormat every time—which suits popular opinion just fine, thriving as it does on human fallibility. What sells more papers: a fair and balanced portrait of the “greatest feminist theorist of our time,” or a photograph of her ass?Note: I don't know Lauren Elkin, but Facebook is absolutely convinced we should be friends.