no. 2 existentialist

“Last week, we had a talk with Simone de Beauvoir, the French novelist, playwright, and No. 2 Existentialist, just before she left town on a coast-to-coast tour. Aware that Mlle. de Beauvoir is regarded in Paris as the female intellectual counterpart of Jean-Paul Sartre, we were all set for a grim half hour. Well, surprise! Mlle. de B. is the prettiest Existentialist you ever saw; also eager, gentle, modest, and as pleased as a Midwesterner with the two weeks she spent in New York.” (Talk of the Town, The New Yorker, Feb 22, 1947)

My latest project as a Wikipedian (into which ranks I fell in order to improve the Admission Possible entry, as per my role on the communications team) is making the entry on Beauvoir not bring pained tears to your eyes. Whilst researching her biography, I came across the above piece in The New Yorker, which references both her tour across the US (from which she would write America Day by Day, which is a really fascinating account of America from the outsider’s perspective) and a forthcoming “very serious book about women” (I will let you guess the title of that one).

Talk of the Town is generally written in a flippant manner, but it’s not usually combined with friendly sexism, which makes this really a treat to peruse. Of course, it was Beauvoir’s ‘very serious book about women’ that delineated the boundaries of sexism, so we won’t hold it against Anonymous, here, for still being in the dark.

Other gems include referring to Beauvoir as ‘Sartre’s opposite number’, and this sentence: “Mlle. de Beauvoir said that her conception of Existentialism couldn’t be explained in three words either but in general she strings along with Sartre.”

Also, the cartoons back then were simply not funny.


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