Abortion's Mother: Early Works of Simone de Beauvoir
Germain Kopaczynski, O.F.M.Conv.
Simone de Beauvoir's first novel, , has as its epigraph
Hegel's comment: "Each consciousness pursues the death of the other."1 The
fundamental hostility of human beings toward each other remains constant in
Beauvoir's works all her life long. In a sense, her whole literary output as well as her
life can be regarded as a long, running commentary upon
epigraph. In the French feminist's stance on the practice of human abortion, we witness
the same clashing of human consciousnesses ending in death:
The immorality of women, favorite theme of misogynists, is not to be wondered at;
how could they fail to feel an inner mistrust of the presumptuous principles that men
publicly proclaim and secretly disregard? They learn to believe no longer in what men
say when they exalt woman or when they exalt man; the one thing they are sure of is
this rifled and bleeding womb, these shreds of crimson life, this child that is not there.
It is at her first abortion that woman begins to "know." For many women the world will
never be the same.2
The Mother of a Movement
Simone de Beauvoir's is the of contemporary
feminist readings. Camille Paglia has it exactly right:
remains for me the supreme work of modern feminism. Most
contemporary feminists don't realize to what degree they are merely repeating,
amplifying, or qualifying its individual sections and paragraphs.3
Though she devotes a sizeable section of the book to the topic of motherhood, Simone
de Beauvoir spent her whole life avoiding it.4 Her attitude toward motherhood never
wavered: she never wanted to become a mother and spent much of her talent first as a
writer5 and then as a feminist urging women either to avoid motherhood completely or
else to choose the timing of it very carefully, going so far as to state repeatedly that
such motherhood should preferably be carried out by means of artificial insemination
in order to have a life planned as one wished.6 Never a biological mother, Simone de
Beauvoir has nevertheless become the mother of a movement.7
With allowances made for the varieties of feminism, Simone de Beauvoir is
either at the source of the second feminist wave or else serves as a transition figure
between the first and second feminist waves. Wherever she is situated, she is a
formidable presence. She is the closest thing to a revered figure by modern feminists, as
much for her lifestyle as for her thought,8 and this despite some recent studies strongly
suggesting that she was more a pseudo-bourgeois housewife doing the best she could
picking up the pieces after Sartre's love affairs than total mistress of her destiny.9
After first examining Beauvoir's indebtedness to Sartre which includes
existential ethics and atheism, we will examine how the mother of modern feminism
regarded the practice and the ethics of abortion in several works written before . What she has to say in these early works may help us to see that, while
the practice of human abortion is by no means an essential feature of feminism , abortion and the killing that is concomitant with it is a key feature of the sort of
feminism that Beauvoir eventually came to promote, a feminism grounded in Hegelian
dialectic _ "Each consciousness pursues the death of the other" _ and taking root in
Sartrean soil: "L'enfer, c'est les autres."
Regarding abortion, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre began writing on
the topic at approximately the same time. Not surprisingly, they think along the same
lines.10 Not only was written by Beauvoir to follow up on a
suggestion made to her by Sartre, what passes for a plot in Sartre's novel revolves around its protagonist finding the money for his lover's abortion.11
Something similar takes place in Simone de Beauvoir's first literary treatments of the
"La Grande Sartreuse"12
It is practically that a study of Simone de Beauvoir must include
her lifelong relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.13 While some feminists are uneasy with
what they consider Beauvoir's somewhat subservient relationship with Sartre,14 others
take comfort in the view that Sartre's existential philosophy is congenial to feminist
aims and demands them as its logical complement.15 Her devotion to Sartre is
complete. In her posthumously-published Beauvoir often speaks of
Sartre as "my little absolute."16 It is probably not coincidental that Simone de Beauvoir,
despite the acclaim heaped on her by grateful legions of feminist admirers, accepted the
label of "feminist" only in 1973 as Sartre's own health declined.17
At the end of her autobiographical volume, , Simone de
Beauvoir treats at some length the oft-raised question: did she owe her success to
Sartre? Jean Guitton had said that with another man, Beauvoir may well have become a
mystic. The French feminist takes umbrage, seeing in the Catholic critic's comments
nothing more than the old ideas of her father,18 namely, that woman is made by others:
"But people in our society really do believe that a woman thinks with her uterus _ what
low-mindedness, really!" (, p. 644). She then goes on to lament
the fact that while Sartre earned fame, she reaped only opprobrium.
Beauvoir once remarked of herself and Sartre that freedom was their very
substance.19 If liberty was their substance, then death was their message. This was
precisely as it had to be, according to Simone de Beauvoir. In point of fact, as "Notre-
Dame de Sartre" read the evidence of women's oppression in her key of existentialism
as filtered through Sartre's gaze, violence and killing were regarded as the keys to the
whole mystery of woman's secondary status.20 Why has man always been superior to
woman? Beauvoir answers:
It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why
superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that
which kills (, p. 58).
Simone de Beauvoir then adds the pregnant comment: "" (ibid., author's emphasis).
For those who would equate the feminist movement with the change in society's
sexual mores, that is, for those who accept in principle and live out in practice the
sexual revolution, abortion is regarded as little more than a routine hazard of an active
sex life.21 In another sense, especially in the hands of Sartre's and Beauvoir's version of
existential philosophy, abortion is to be nothing less than the harbinger of the entrance
of woman into full humanity. To Simone de Beauvoir, the sex that kills is the sex that is
honored. Indeed, killing is the key to the whole mystery.22
Beauvoir and Ethics
In 1947, two years before , Simone de Beauvoir published an
elaboration of existential ethics.23 Here we find some of the key strands of what will
pass for her moral philosophy. In this work she defends atheistic existentialism against
the charge of being amoral. On the contrary, says the French existentialist, it is precisely
because God does not exist that human actions take on an absolute character. God is
able to pardon and compensate for sins, but "if God does not exist, man's faults are
inexpiable" (, p. 16). She attempts a definition of the sort of
humanism she espouses: the moral world is not a world that is given but rather a world
as it is by human beings, precisely as their will expresses its authentic reality.
Being moral and being free is the same choice.
Existentialist ethics is an effort to become aware of and then to avoid , bad faith, bad willing, the free choice to let others shape one's destiny, resulting in
the anomaly of a free adult human being living in an infantile world. How is it
possible? As Descartes observed, children have no choice but to live in this way (, p. 35). Women, on the other hand, have a choice, yet they
often choose to live in bad faith. That women, free and rational beings, choose freely to
live in bad faith, is a theme to which Simone de Beauvoir will return in her later
Several times in Beauvoir discusses three categories
of persons that she will examine in greater detail in : the infant, the
slave, and the woman.25 As she nears the end of her treatise on existential ethics, after
discovering the complexity of human ethical behavior, Beauvoir tells her readers that
ambiguity is not to be confused with absurdity.26
Though the terminology is ours and not hers, if we were to question Simone de
Beauvoir for a moral methodology, it seems clear that hers would be decidedly
teleological. In discussing a question pertaining to violence, for example, she observes
that human beings can never judge the good in a given situation 27 As the
very title of the work suggests, Beauvoir is also mindful of the difficulty of the subject
matter of human ethical action: "What makes the problem more complex is that the
freedom of one man almost always concerns that of other individuals" (, p. 143).
Is existential ethics open to the charge of individualism? Yes, but then again,
opines Beauvoir, so is Christianity, so is Kantianism. Free human beings find their law
in freedom (p. 156). The volume ends with a plea for an existential ethics cut to human
and earthly standards; her atheism will not permit her to admit that there are any
When we slice through the existential rhetoric of ,
Simone de Beauvoir's existential ethics looks remarkably like the ethics of secular
humanism. Both are enamored with the perfectible human subject, both pin their hopes
on the power of modern technology to bring about a more just, humane society, and
both herald the advance of secular civilization which will succeed despite noticeable
religious obscurantism. The atheism that animates both is by no means the least of their
Beauvoir, Atheism, and Religion
Always religious as a young girl, Simone de Beauvoir stopped believing in God
when she was fourteen, as she recounts at some length in the first volume of her
autobiography. The loss of faith in God was gradual.29 The foundations of her girlish
faith were weakened in an episode that took place with her confessor, Abbe Martin.30
The example given by her father continued the gradual process of unbelief.31 Her faith
in God finally toppled one evening at Meyrignac. Reading the forbidden Balzac and
realizing just how much she loved the world, the precocious fourteen-year old Simone
de Beauvoir became an atheist:
"I no longer believe in God," I told myself, with no great surprise. . . . That was proof: if
I had believed in Him, I should not have allowed myself to offend Him so light-
heartedly. I had always thought that the world was a small price to pay for eternity; but
it was worth more than that, because I loved the world, and it was suddenly God
whose price was small: from now on His name would have to be a cover for nothing
more than a mirage. For a long time now the concept I had had of Him had been
purified and refined, sublimated to the point where He no longer had any countenance
divine, any concrete link with the earth or therefore any being. His perfection cancelled
out His reality. That is why I felt so little surprise when I became aware of His absence
in heaven and in my heart. I was not denying Him in order to rid myself of a
troublesome person: on the contrary, I realized that He was playing no further part in
my life and so I concluded that he had ceased to exist for me.32
We might find it strange, therefore, that despite her atheism, and even if only
indirectly, Simone de Beauvoir tells us that her Catholic faith had a large hand in
shaping her vision of the world.33 Her social consciousness, for example, she attributes
to her Catholic faith:
My Catholic upbringing had taught me never to look upon any individual, however
lowly, as of no account: everyone had the right to bring to fulfillment what I called
their eternal essence. My path was clearly marked: I had to perfect, enrich, and express
myself in a work of art that would help others to live.34
In a volume which includes several interviews, French critic Francis Jeanson
reiterates what Beauvoir has related regarding the great lessons her faith taught. Chief
among them is the infinite worth of the individual, women as well as men.35 Perhaps it
is this religious upbringing that haunts Simone de Beauvoir when she approaches the
question of abortion.36
Two Early Fictional Accounts
While her most elaborate statement regarding abortion is found in , Simone de Beauvoir treats the topic of abortion in several of her earlier writings.
These initial attempts to deal with the abortion issue are remarkably similar: in fictional
narratives, Beauvoir describes situations in which there is no love between the man and
the woman who conceive the child; there is disgust at the situation, dehumanizing
language is utilized to refer to the child in the womb, and in both accounts we discover
a suffused, smoldering rage at the human condition. points out the hypocrisy of bourgeois morality on abortion; uses the abortion decision to make a point about woman's power to choose.
When Things of the Spirit Come First, ca. 1937
Written, as Beauvoir remarked, "a little before I was thirty," but not published
until 1979,37 is Beauvoir's taking issue with
what she considers the hypocrisy of her bourgeois milieu, including the Catholicism
which she blamed for bringing about the death of her best friend, Elizabeth Mabille,
affectionately known as Zaza.38 In this youthful work we locate the first mention in the
writings of Simone de Beauvoir of the child developing in the womb.39 In the story
"Chantal," we find one of the characters, Monique, facing an unplanned pregnancy. It is
she who is speaking to her friend, Andree, about the father of the child, Serge:
"I went to bed with him three months ago and I'm pregnant. I don't know what
will happen to me."
Andree gazed at her friend with horror, though she could not yet quite believe
her. It seemed impossible that a mysterious bit of rot should be spreading in that slim,
graceful body. . . .
Andree shivered. She looked at Monique but without being able to overcome an
immense disgust. Under the blue silk dress, under her belly's satiny skin there was
something shapeless, something living, that grew and swelled with every minute. . . .
(, pp. 85-86).
The two friends decide to go to their teacher, Plattard,40 in hopes of coming up
with a way out of the embarrassing situation. Andree reassures Monique of their
"Let me tell her; she'll understand," said Andree, gently stroking Monique's hot,
feverish hand. "She has no prejudices. She will be able to advise us _ tell us about
something you can take, the address of a midwife. They say it's easy: all you have to
know is what to do." (, p. 86).41
Approaching Plattard on behalf of her friend, Andree tells her of the disaster that has
befallen Monique. Believing initially that Monique is in fact Serge's mistress, Plattard
agrees and asks Andree: "What will her parents say? There will be the most appalling
scandal." Beauvoir continues the narrative:
The trouble and the look of reprobation that Andree saw in Plattard's eye froze
her heart; in a hesitant voice she said, "But isn't there a way of not having babies? Don't
you know any? Or people that could tell us?"
Plattard looked at her with a kind of horror. "God, what filth!" she said in a
deeply shocked voice. "To think that such an idea can have come into Monique's head,
and into yours, Andree. It's unbelievable."
Andree went white . . . "But why?" she cried passionately. "Why is it wicked?
Monique can't have her whole life ruined because of this nonsense."
Plattard's features grew sharp. "Who has been influencing you? Have you no
moral sense at all? It's monstrous!" (, p. 88).
Much of Simone de Beauvoir's writing in the future will be an effort to exonerate
Andree and silence what Beauvoir considers the false moralizing and hypocrisy of
Plattard who, in Beauvoir's eyes, is guilty of bad faith. These themes of hypocrisy and
bad faith recur in Beauvoir's other treatments of abortion, most notably in .
The Blood of Others
Another fictional treatment of abortion follows, an abortion undergone by the
heroine, Helene Bertrand, who dies at the end of , not of the
abortion but while fighting in the French Resistance in World War II.42 She is perhaps
the most heroic female protagonist in all of Beauvoir's writings.43 Ironically, her death
is practically an act of self-sacrifice on behalf of the male hero, Jean Blomart.44
The description of the abortion scene has some parallels to her earlier treatment.
In both instances, the abortion is sought because there is no true love between the man
and the woman. (In fact, Blomart is not even the father of Helene's child.) The language
Beauvoir uses is also similar, especially that of refusing to acknowledge any sort of
human standing to what Beauvoir calls "that thing in the womb."
It is Jean Blomart who is doing the narrating:
She [Helene] stood outside my room with a timid expression that I had not seen before;
she carried a big parcel under her arm. My last hope faded: Yvonne had not lied, it was
no jest. Under Helene's blue dress, beneath her childish skin, was that thing which she
fed with her blood" (, p. 113).
But in a room there was Helene with that thing in her womb. . . . Her teeth were
chattering violently and her hands were clutching the sheet. "Do I disgust you?" "My
poor child, what do you take me for?" "But it's disgusting,"she said brokenly. A tear
rolled down her cheek (, p. 114).45
Beauvoir paints a bleak and somewhat contrived picture in detailing the
abortion episode. Nine references to and occur in the five pages of the
abortion scene. There is talk of disgust, things feeding on blood, vague odors filling the
room, a practically blind old abortionist, unsanitary conditions, and guilt on the part of
both protagonists (cf. , pp. 118-119).
Blomart regards the pregnancy experience and the abortion which Helene will
shortly undergo as her coming of age:
How young she was! She liked chocolate and bicycles and she went forward into life
with the boldness of a child. And now she lay there, in the midst of her red woman's
blood, and her youth and her gaiety ebbed from her body with an obscene gurgling
(, p. 118).
Helene feels relief after the abortion: "It's all over," she said. "I can't believe it. I
feel so well!" There follows an exchange on freedom and choice. Helene tells Blomart:
"I'm not a little dog. . . . You have said to me so often that you respect other people's
liberty. And you made decisions for me and treat me like a thing" (, p. 120).
Blomart replies: "I didn't want you to be unhappy." Helene answers:
"And if I prefer to be unhappy? It's for me to choose." She leaned her cheek against my
hand. "I have chosen." She repeats once again: "It's for me to choose" (, p. 120).
Perhaps it is only fitting that "It's for me to choose" ends this discussion of Simone de
Beauvoir's first attempts to deal with the abortion question. Much of contemporary
feminism will follow her lead in this regard. Indeed, in these early works, "Notre-Dame
de Sartre" is, in effect, laying the groundwork for a popular feminist pro-abortion
chant: "Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide."
We began this discussion of Simone de Beauvoir by citing the epigraph of her
first novel, : "Each consciousness pursues the death of the other."
As we conclude, we go to the novel's final words.
In a recent article attempting to establish a right to abortion, American feminist
Gloria Steinem begins with the words:
The most crucial question of democracy, feminism, and simple self-respect is not:
gets decided? That comes second. The first question is: decides?46
That Steinem is being a dutiful daughter of Simone de Beauvoir we see in the final
words of the latter's first novel, , the tale of an ill-starred that ends with what seems to be an inexplicable act of gratuitous violence in
which Françoise kills Xaviere. Why did she do it? In the last words of the novel,
Alone. She had acted alone: as alone as in death. One day Pierre would know . . . But
even his cognizance of this deed would be merely external. No one could condemn or
absolve her. Her act was her very own. It is I who will it. It was her own will which
was being accomplished, now nothing at all separated her from herself. She had at last
made a choice. She had chosen herself (, pp. 408-409).
As it was in the beginning, so now at the end. "Each consciousness pursues the
death of the other," indeed. The stage is now set for Beauvoir's existential musings on
abortion that we find in . Her early works give a clear indication: in
Beauvoir's version of feminism, replete with its Hegelianism and Sartreanism and
atheism, "killing is the key to the whole mystery."
Rev. Germain Kopaczynski, O.F.M. Conv. is chairman of the Philosophy department of
St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Granby, Massachusetts.
1 Cf. Simone de Beauvoir, (Paris: Gallimard, 1943). It was translated into
English as , translated by Yvonne Moyse and Roger Senhouse
(Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1975).
2 Simone de Beauvoir, , translated and edited by H. M. Parshley
(New York: Bantam Books, 1962), p. 249. This is a one-volume English abridgement of
Beauvoir's two-volume (Paris: Gallimard,
1949; renouvele en 1976).
3 Cf. Camille (New York: Vintage Books,
1992), p. 112: See also Judith Okely, (New York: Virago
Pantheon Pioneers, 1986), p. 1. Among the many who acknowledge the role of as a consciousness-raising tool for their feminism is Carol Ascher, "On
'Clearing the Air': My Letter to Simone de Beauvoir," in Carol Ascher, Louise DeSalvo,
and Sara Ruddick (eds.), (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), pp. 85-
4 Despite what Beauvoir said at the Bobigny trial, two recent biographers agree that
Simone de Beauvoir herself never had an abortion. According to Deirdre Bair, (New York: Summit Books, 1990), p. 547, even though
Beauvoir signed the Manifesto of the 343 and then led a pro-abortion march through
the streets of Paris, the French feminist told Bair that she never had an abortion. Basing
herself on comments made by Beauvoir's sister, Margaret Crossland, in (London: Wm. Heinemann, Ltd., 1992), reaches
the same conclusion. Beauvoir's deposition at the Bobigny trial is found in Claude
Francis and Fernande Gontier, (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), pp. 510-513.
5 Yolanda Astarita Patterson, (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989), p. 188, points out texts in which
Beauvoir spoke of writing as a sort of surrogacy for parenthood. When her childhood
friend Zaza opined that being a mother was as important as writing books, Beauvoir
chafed at the thought.
6 Beauvoir's is replete with references to artificial insemination as a
method of choice for women who want to become mothers. See for example p. 111 and
p. 464. Her influence is wide-ranging. Here is how one Catholic theologian, Anita
Röper, views artificial insemination: "Until the time when human beings are produced
in laboratories, instead of having to be brought into the world by women, men will
have an essential advantage over women, and they will exploit it. Until that time, then,
the notion of 'equal rights' will remain an unrealizable dream." Text found in Manfred
Hauke, , translated by David Kipp (San Francisco: Ignatius Press,
1988), p. 42.
7 Despite Beauvoir's inconsistencies and limitations, she is our first generation feminist
mother. This is the view of Dorothy Kaufmann, "Simone de Beauvoir: Questions of
Difference and Generation," Yale French Studies no. 72 (1986), p. 131. Cf. Lisa
Penguin Books, 1988), p. 2. She hints at the irony in Simone de Beauvoir having no
children yet being the mother of a movement. Appignanesi's esteem for the French
feminist grew especially when Beauvoir took part in pro-abortion marches in Paris.
Appignanesi notes the irony in this because she herself was pregnant when she wrote
her book on Simone de Beauvoir (p. 5).
8 On Beauvoir herself as a model of behavior for the liberated woman, see Bonnie S.
Anderson and Judith P. Zinsser. (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), II, pp. 407-409.
9 Cf. John Weightman, "Summing Up Sartre," New York Review of Books (August 13,
1984), pp. 42-46.
10 Yolanda Astarita Patterson, , p. 124, links Beauvoir's with Sartre's on the issue of abortion.
11 According to Joseph McMahon,
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 119, in Sartre the desire to abort is the
desire to destroy what one cannot possess or dominate.
12 On the epithet, see (Paris: Gallimard,
1963), rendered into English as , translated by Richard
Howard (London: Andre Deutsch and Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1965), p. 46: "I had
grown used to living inside a writer's skin and nowadays scarcely ever caught myself
looking at this new character and saying: It's me. But I enjoyed seeing my name in the
papers, and for a while the fuss about us and my role as a 'Parisian figure' gave me a
good deal of amusement. In many ways, of course, I found it unpleasant. Not that I was
oversensitive; when people called me 'la grande Sartreuse' or 'Notre-Dame de Sartre' I
just laughed, but certain looks men gave me left their mark; looks that offered a lewd
complicity with the Existentialist, and therefore dissolute, woman, they took me for."
13 On the success of her relationship with Sartre, see Beauvoir's comments in , p. 643. A recent biography of Beauvoir devotes over three pages in the
index to references to Sartre. See Deirdre Bair,
(New York: Summit Books, 1990), pp. 710-713. Cf. also Mona Tobin Houston, "The
Sartre of Madame de Beauvoir," Yale French Studies no. 30 (1963), pp. 23-29.
14 Among those who view with some trepidation the relationship between Sartre and
Beauvoir are Lisa Appignanesi, Simone de Beauvoir, and Carol Ascher, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1981). What did Beauvoir herself
think of the "allegation?" Alice Schwarzer, After , translated by Marianne Howarth (New York: Pantheon Books,
1984), p. 13, is speaking about May 1970: "Just a few months before, the first French
feminist collective publication (L'an zero) had been at great pains to take Simone de
Beauvoir to task for being 'Sartre-fixated' and, worse still, for writing for a male
publication (). Today Simone de Beauvoir still recalls that 'I
was very angry about that.' " Her anger notwithstanding, the charge of "Sartre-
worship" is still being levelled against Beauvoir, even in the popular press. See, for
example, Peter McKillop with Benjamin Ivry, " 'Second Sex' Revisited,"
(March 12, 1990), p. 50.
15 Cf. Hazel E. Barnes, "Sartre and Sexism," 14 no. 2
(1990), pp. 340-44. Going against the grain in contending that is
actually written against Sartre's version of existentialism is Linda Singer,
"Interpretation and Retrieval: Rereading Beauvoir," 8 no. 3 (1985), pp. 231-238.
16 Cf. the two volumes of Simone de Beauvoir, (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), passim. A
shortened English edition is , translated and edited by Quintin
Hoare (New York: Arcade, 1992). Cf. the comment made by Elaine Marks, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press,
1973), who, after citing a text from , in which Beauvoir declares that
Sartre's existence justified the world for her, goes on to add: "What Simone de Beauvoir
is in fact saying is God is dead; long live Sartre" (p. 30).
17 Alice Schwarzer, After , contains the interview, "I Am a Feminist," which appeared in in 1972. Cf. Elain Marks, " Yale French Studies no. 72 (1986), pp. 181-200. Sartre's
incontinence made him like a woman, powerless and immanent.
18 The role of her father in the shaping of Simone de Beauvoir's perspective toward life
is especially prominent in her first autobiographical volume, (Paris: Gallimard, 1958); is its title in
English, translated by James Kirkup (London: Penguin Books, 1963). Her relationship
with her father and its importance upon her eventual feminism is emphasized by
Francis Jeanson, (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1966), pp. 100ff. On the other hand,
Yolanda Astarita Patterson, , stresses the importance of Simone de Beauvoir's relationship with her
19 Cf. Simone de Beauvoir, (Paris: Gallimard, 1960). Its English
translation is , translated by Peter Green (Cleveland: The World
Publishing Company, 1962), p. 17: "We had no external limitations, no overriding
authority, no imposed pattern of existence. We created our own links with the world,
and freedom was the very essence of our existence."
20 When reading Beauvoir, the reader should be on the lookout for the word "mystery."
Beauvoir's rationalism impels her to contest and unravel mysteries wherever she finds
them. Hence Yolanda Astarita Patterson can write about "Simone de Beauvoir and the
Demystification of Motherhood," Yale French Studies no. 72 (1986), 87-105. Carol
Ascher, "On 'Clearing the Air': My Letter to Simone de Beauvoir," in Carol Ascher et al.
(eds.), , argues that Beauvoir's rationalism was a reaction to the
Roman Catholicism of her childhood (p. 94).
21 One author who approaches the question of abortion in this fashion is Beryl Lieff
Benderly, (Garden City: Dial Press, 1984).
22 Michele Le Doeuff, "Operative Philosophy: Simone de Beauvoir and Existentialism,"
in Elaine Marks (ed.), (Boston: G. K. Hall and
Company, 1987), pp. 150-154, stresses the fact that while Beauvoir regards this as the
key to the whole mystery of woman's second-sex status, Le Doeuff herself has some
reservations regarding Beauvoir's contention. See especially p. 154 note 7.
23 Simone de Beauvoir, , nouvelle edition, Les essais
xxvi (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), translated into English by Bernard Frechtman as (New York: Philosophical Library, 1948).
24 See, for example, Beauvoir's comments in , p. xxviii.
25 Cf. , pp. 35ff. and 141ff. Beauvoir returns to the topic of
women and children once more in (Paris:
Les editions Nagel, 1948) in which she cautions women against seeking in their
children the justification for their own existence.
26 Cf. , p. 129.
27 Cf. , p. 142. Despite her teleological leanings, Beauvoir
will nevertheless aver a few pages later: "Lynching is an absolute evil (p. 146)." , Beauvoir, after noting that existentialism defines human
beings by their actions, clearly enunciates a teleological standpoint for her ethics: "I
have never directed my actions according to principles but according to ends" (p. 13).
28 Cf. Paul Kurtz, (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1981), a
reprint of an article which appeared in the first issue (Winter 1980) of Free Inquiry:
"The problems that humankind will face in the future, as in the past, will no doubt be
complex and difficult. However, if it is to prevail, it can do so by enlisting
resourcefulness and courage. Secular humanism places trust in human intelligence
rather than in divine guidance. Skeptical of theories of redemption, damnation, and
reincarnation, secular humanists attempt to approach the human situation in realistic
terms; human beings are responsible for their own destinies." Beauvoir, though she is
not mentioned in the Declaration, could not have said it better.
29 On Beauvoir's preoccupation with death in general, see Elaine Marks, . Chapter three deals with the death of God.
30 Recounted in , pp. 134-135. Konrad Bieber,
(Boston: Twayne, 1979), pp. 25-26, suggests that this episode
was the beginning of the end of religion for Beauvoir.
31 Simone de Beauvoir wrote (Paris: Gallimard, 1964) to
chronicle the death of her mother, Françoise. The volume was rendered into English as
, translated by Patrick O'Brian (New York: Warner Books, 1973).
Seeing her father come home drunk at eight in the morning with stories of poker which
her mother accepted led the impressionable young Simone to observe: "Her case alone
would be enough to convince me that bourgeois marriage is an unnatural institution"
32 Simone de Beauvoir, , p. 137.
33 Soon after God died for her, the young Simone de Beauvoir made another discovery:
"One afternoon, in Paris, I realized that I was condemned to death. I was alone in the
house and I did not attempt to control my despair: I screamed and tore at the red
carpet" (, p. 137.
34 , p. 191. On Catholicism's legacy to Simone de
Beauvoir, Renee Winegarten, (Oxford: Berg
Publishers Limited, 1988) comments: "It was all or nothing, now or never. With a kind
of spiritual absolutism preserved from her Catholic childhood, she (Beauvoir) wanted
the absolute perfection of the ideal _ something to be striven for, no doubt, but scarcely
likely to be attained overnight in an imperfect world" (p. 96).
35 Cf. Francis Jeanson, , pp. 257-258. He states that Beauvoir's very
religious infancy helped her neutralize the problem of femininity since she felt herself a
human soul. Further, God loved her as if she were a man. All things considered,
Jeanson believes that the positive contributions of her Catholic faith upon young
Simone's self-esteem were quite impressive.
36 Beauvoir's atheism should cause us to be wary when she handles religious topics.
Right on target in this regard is Ruth Colker, (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. A
Midland Book, 1992): identifying Beauvoir with religious feminists is as misleading as
saying that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Wallace were both Democrats (p.
xiii). On Beauvoir's adolescent atheism, a comment of Alice Schwarzer, After , translated by Marianne
Howarth (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), may prove helpful: "Simone de Beauvoir
is not a particularly introspective person" (p. 20). This does not mean that Beauvoir was
not brilliant; it does mean that her brilliance was that of an adolescent who never grew
up. Cf. on this point Alice von Hildebrand, "Edith Stein," in Ralph McInerny (ed.), (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), p. 79.
37 Simone de Beauvoir, (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), p. vii.
Beauvoir acknowledges the youthful character of the work, yet decides it is valuable
enough to be published forty years after it was written. There is an English translation
by Patrick O'Brian, (New York: Pantheon,
38 Was it Catholicism or a Jansenist substitute that passed for Catholicism in the milieu
of the Beauvoir family? Hilda Graef, (Chicago:
Regnery, 1959), and A. M. Henry, O.P., (Paris: Artheme Fayard, 1961), agree on the infantile and rationalistic
religion known to the Beauvoirs. Georges Hourdin,
(Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1962), pp. 126-128, notes that Jansenism did treat women
39 Cf. , pp. 85-89.
40 "Plattard" is the name which Andree uses for the "Chantal" of the story. Elizabeth
Fallaize, (New York: Routledge, 1988), is helpful
to understand the shifts that take place in this youthful work. Terry Keefe, (Totowa: Barnes and Noble Books, 1983), p. 142,
while acknowledging that one of the weaknesses of the "Chantal" story is "Beauvoir's
juggling with conflicting perspectives," finds the tale important because it chronicles
"Beauvoir's revolt against provincialism."
41 For a real-life parallel, see the episode recounted by Beauvoir in , p. 191.
42 Simone de Beauvoir, (Paris: Gallimard, 1945). It has been
translated into English as , translated by Roger Senhouse and
Yvonne Moyse (New York: Pantheon, 1948). Roger Cottrell, (New York: Ungar, 1975), regards as Beauvoir's most underrated book.
43 See Yolanda Astarita Patterson, , p. 90, who takes note of the favorable picture Beauvoir paints of Helene;
Jean Leighton, , foreword by Henri Peyre
(Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1975), p. 131, comments that
Helene is the only character in the novel to engage in heroic masculine action. Elizabeth
Fallaize, , pp. 44-66, analyzes , including the abortion scene, at some length.
44 Elizabeth Fallaize, , p. 63, makes this
45 Catherine Savage Brosman, (Boston: Twayne
Publishers, 1991), p. 60, speaks of the "metaphysical disgust" permeating the abortion
46 Gloria Steinem, "A Basic Human Right," Ms. 18 (July/August 1989), p. 39.
This article was taken from the Winter 1994 issue of "Faith & Reason". Subscriptions
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