‘My intimacy with Simone de Beauvoir was distinctive… it was love’ | Simone de Beauvoir

“Simone de Beauvoir was haunted by the dying of her childhood good friend Zaza… I believe she spent the remainder of her life searching for the intimacy they’d had,” says Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir. “For a very long time she didn’t succeed, however I consider she discovered it with me.”

For all however probably the most ardent followers of the Twentieth-century feminist and creator of The Second Intercourse this assertion might come as a shock. De Beauvoir is most famously linked to fellow author and thinker Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she loved – and at occasions endured – a 50-year open relationship.

Now The Inseparables, an autobiographical De Beauvoir novel written in 1954 however simply revealed for the primary time in English, has thrown mild on two relationships with girls that bookended the author’s life: the primary, her intense coming-of-age friendship with classmate Elisabeth “Zaza” Lacoin; the final, with Le Bon de Beauvoir, who was her companion for greater than 25 years and whom De Beauvoir adopted to cross on her literary legacy.

As De Beauvoir informed a biographer: “You may clarify my feeling for Sylvie by evaluating it to my friendship with Zaza. I’ve stored my nostalgia for that my complete life.”

The Inseparables – as Le Bon de Beauvoir has named it within the absence of a title on the unique manuscript – is a brief, intimate account of De Beauvoir’s finally doomed relationship with Zaza, who died abruptly of viral encephalitis aged 21, and was written after she gained the celebrated Goncourt literary prize in 1954.

The story was by no means revealed in De Beauvoir’s lifetime, not, Le Bon de Beauvoir insists, as a result of it was “too intimate” – as was recommended when it got here out in France final yr – and even as a result of Sartre was sniffy and dismissive of it, however as a result of the author needed to maneuver away from fiction to focus on her memoirs.

“She wasn’t pleased with it as a result of it wasn’t what she needed to do on the time. She needed to write down an autobiography, not one other novel. However she stored it, which suggests a sure judgment of it, as a result of she destroyed the works she didn’t need to preserve,” Le Bon de Beauvoir says. “I knew the manuscript existed as a result of she had spoken about it, however after she died there have been different works that I felt must be revealed first.”

Simone de Beauvoir, proper, and Elisabeth ‘Zaza’ Lacoin, with whom the author had an intense coming-of-age friendship, 1928. {Photograph}: Editions de L’Herne

At 80, Le Bon de Beauvoir, like De Beauvoir a former philosophy professor, is a strikingly elegant and discreet determine who within the 35 years for the reason that author’s dying has hardly ever spoken at size or written about her love for De Beauvoir, partly, she suggests, to defend herself.

“I consider our relationship was essential in her life, however that is my life. I even have to guard myself,” she says.

The story of how the celebrated feminist thinker, then in her 50s, met and have become hooked up to a younger philosophy undergraduate from Rennes 33 years her junior is in itself worthy of a novel. Le Bon was 17 and nonetheless at highschool when she wrote to De Beauvoir, expressing her admiration and asking if they may meet. Later, after she moved to Paris to review, De Beauvoir invited her to her dwelling, a two-floor artists’ studio in an artwork deco constructing in Rue Victor Schoelcher, in Paris’s 14th arrondissement.

“A lot of individuals wrote to her, particularly younger girls and particularly philosophy college students like me, and she or he at all times replied,” she says.

Within the fourth quantity of her memoirs, devoted “To Sylvie”, De Beauvoir writes that on the time she believed “nothing vital might occur to me from then on, besides unhappiness”. Le Bon’s look in her life was, she wrote, “a stroke of luck”, even when her visitor appeared “very intimidated” and so nervous “she twisted her fingers and spoke with a strangulated voice”.

“I was very intimidated, however she succeeded in placing me comfortable and requested me about my research and my household. I used to be very moved by her curiosity and I keep in mind very nicely that first rendezvous,” Le Bon de Beauvoir says.

The dying of De Beauvoir’s mom, Françoise, three years later introduced the 2 girls even nearer. “One thing occurred between us that, like love, just isn’t explicable. She let me into her life and introduced me to her buddies in her entourage together with Sartre. After which we started travelling collectively within the summers.”

She provides: “I used to be additionally nervous at first after I met Sartre, however that shortly handed as a result of he was so very cheerful, open and beneficiant. He paid numerous consideration to what you stated, when you spoke a few e-book or a file, he would afterwards provide it to you. There was nice kindness in Sartre.”

Earlier than she died, in April 1986 – the day earlier than the sixth anniversary of Sartre’s dying – De Beauvoir, who by no means married or had kids, formally adopted Le Bon to permit her to inherit her assortment of unpublished correspondence, notebooks and manuscripts. Le Bon de Beauvoir, as she has since been identified, says the adoption was a authorized, not filial transfer.

“Our relationship was in no way mom and daughter,” she says. “She adopted me so I might handle her work after she died however this and the very fact she was a lot older prompted individuals to speak of her as my ‘mom’. In the beginning that irritated me, however now I settle for it. It’s not that vital.

“I used to be very near her for 26 years and she or he trusted me; regardless of the age distinction we have been buddies, equal buddies. There was love, a really robust love, and clearly personally there was additionally large admiration for her.”

De Beauvoir informed her American biographer, Deirdre Bair, that Le Bon was “the perfect companion of my grownup life” and stated she had “elevated Sylvie to a separate airplane” inside her life, “one parallel if not equal to Sartre’s”. Le Bon de Beauvoir herself informed Bair: “What made it difficult is that neither considered one of us was ready, particularly me, to like somebody who was a lady. However that’s what it was, love, that’s all.”

Simone de Beauvoir (and Jean-Paul Sartre in Copacabana, Rio.
Simone de Beauvoir (and Jean-Paul Sartre in Copacabana, Rio. {Photograph}: STF/AFP

In France, some have seen Les inséparables as an account of a nascent lesbian affair and proof of De Beauvoir’s bisexuality, which she had at all times denied. French Self-importance Truthful described De Beauvoir and Zaza’s relationship as “ambiguous” whereas the newspaper Libération pulled no punches, suggesting it was De Beauvoir’s “first lesbian love story” underneath the headline “Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sexuality”.

Whereas De Beauvoir’s relationships with girls have been opaque and scandalous on the time – as a philosophy professor she was accused of seducing younger feminine college students – she by no means spoke publicly of her sexuality, which Le Bon de Beauvoir says “wasn’t vital to her”. Lauren Elkin, who translated the UK version from French, stated: “It’s positively a queer love story within the sense that it’s ambiguous within the context of what the De Beauvoir character’s emotions are for Zaza. It’s one thing greater than a crush, greater than only a platonic friendship.”

Le Bon de Beauvoir, nonetheless, disagrees. “It’s absurd to discuss a lesbian relationship [in the novel] when need and the physique usually are not concerned. It was love. We are able to say that Simone liked Zaza however it’s what we name a flamme, an passion, the form of sentiment in childhood that’s so terribly vital and marks the entry into maturity,” she says. “Simone’s love for Zaza was nothing to do with intercourse. Nothing in any respect. That doesn’t imply it wasn’t intense.”

The connection clearly haunted De Beauvoir, who tried to resurrect Zaza in her writing, returning to her story on 4 events, most notably within the first quantity of her four-part autobiography, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter. However it’s in The Inseparables that we see the total depth and keenness.

“Simone considered it as an assassination, that Zaza had been murdered by her milieu,” says Le Bon de Beauvoir. “She was extraordinarily shocked and revolted by Zaza’s dying, which opened her eyes to the oppression of ladies within the bourgeoisie and this was a figuring out issue that led her to write down The Second Intercourse. For her, this wasn’t only a story; there was a message to be drawn from Zaza’s life that touched the feminine situation, that spoke of how they [women] have been prevented from turning into complete human beings.”

De Beauvoir was nonetheless dwelling on the residence in Rue Victor Schoelcher, close to Montparnasse – the place she first met Le Bon, who says she visited the author virtually day by day in the direction of the tip – when she died in 1986 aged 78.

“It was the tip of every thing for me. I liked her and my complete world collapsed,” she says. “What saved me was that she had left me her oeuvre, her legacy, and it was this accountability that saved me as a result of it gave me work, and that work was marvellous as a result of it enabled me to search out her once more via her manuscripts. However the first yr was horrible and it took me a while to get again on my ft.

Simone de Beauvoir, centre, at a demonstration for women’s abortion rights in Paris, c1972.
Simone de Beauvoir, centre, alongside Sylvie Le Bon at an illustration for ladies’s abortion rights in Paris, c1972. {Photograph}: Sipa Press

“As an individual, Simone was heat and completely happy, it was immediately clear she was somebody who liked life and was enormously involved in different individuals. This wasn’t in any respect a pretext to speak about herself. She was genuinely involved in you and this was very stimulating and inventive. She actually was probably the most open, cute, radiant particular person and to hearken to her, to be together with her, was a supply of inspiration.”

I ask if Le Bon de Beauvoir is tempted to write down her personal model of their relationship. “Maybe I’ll write about her someday – I’ve at all times stored notebooks so perhaps I’ll do it otherwise. As a result of you’ve requested, I’ll give it some thought.” Does she have a younger protege, a “Sylvie” in her personal life?

Non, non, non,” she says emphatically. “Historical past doesn’t repeat itself like that. The connection I had with Simone was distinctive. It can’t be reproduced.”

The Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir is revealed by Classic (£12.99). To assist the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply costs might apply

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