Tête-à-Tête with Paris’ Most Scandalous Lovers
The morning before leaving for Thanksgiving week in the States, it was annoying to have to trek to the Post Office to retrieve a package, of what or from whom was a complete unknown. Luck have you, it was a fresh review copy of Hazel Rowley’s new book, “Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre” — which was quickly stuffed into my carry-on bag before heading for the airport.
We’ve all heard the tales about the charismatic and scandalous lovers, their long hours spent in the “literary” cafés of Paris — Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots, Brasserie Lipp, Le Dome, La Coupole…, writing down their impressive existential thoughts, discussing profound philosophical topics, holding court with their array of fascinating friends and colleagues. It’s one of the primary reasons Americans flock to these same cafés, book their hotels in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés “quartier”…just to have walked on the same cobblestones and sat at the same tables as the dynamic duo.
By coincidence, a few weeks ago, I purchased a copy of Simone de Beavoir’s “The Second Sex” at Shakespeare & Co., by recommendation of a friend who is privy to my feminist sentiments on sexuality. He said, “Every woman should read it — it will either change your point of view, or further support it, but will no doubt open your eyes to de Beauvoir’s brilliant thoughts.” This is no light reading, but even after a few pages, it was obvious my astute friend was quite right. It had both skewed my point of view, supported my own theories and enlightened me.
Also coincidentally, this past June 22nd marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jean-Paul Sartre who both won and refused the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964. In explaining the meaning of existentialism, Sartre once wrote for a lecture in 1946: “If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence.” When Sartre died in 1980, 100,000 people attended his funeral in Paris’ Montparnasse cemetery.
When I got on the plane and settled in, I opened up the book with no pre-conceived notions about it, its subjects or its author. In fact, despite all the tales and rumors or the pages of The Second Sex that had already been mulled over, I really had little knowledge of the intricacies of their relationships, with each other, their friends and lovers, of which there were many.
Biographer Hazel Rowley had the chance of a lifetime when Simone de Beauvoir agreed to an interview with her in the summer of 1976 at the age of 68, at a time when she was preoccupied with both her work and the task of caring for Sartre, who had been left blind, helpless and depressed by a series of strokes. She was seeing very few people and Rowley knew she had been granted a rare audience. In a recent interview by Belinda McKeon for The Irish Times, Rowley explained, “I asked her burning questions, like was she ever jealous about Sartre’s other lovers, did this arrangement with Sartre have any problems, about double standards for men and women, and she said never, none, that there were no problems.”
“Tête-à-Tête” is more than just a “page-turner.” While it is brilliantly written and conceived, an amazing account of the lives of two of the most fascinating people of the 20th century, it will give you much to contemplate about “human nature,” sexuality and relationships, helping one realize that we need not trade one loving relationship for another, but can have them all, or at least many, as we are capable of loving many, in many different ways, without trespassing on the others. It’s a philosophy I have found to endure in this Latin culture, where love and sex are not dirty words.
In further reflection of my own personal cause for women to be NOT the “second” sex, but the “other” sex, I applaud Rowley for her outstanding achievement to uncover the core of their lives, de Beauvoir and Sartre for their fearless pursuit of freedom and truth, and all of you who will read their wor
ds and open your minds to a deeper understanding of the head and heart.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]
P.S. Hazel Rowley will be presenting “Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre” Thursday, January 12th at 7 p.m. at The Village Voice, 6 rue Princesse, 6th. Although the book does not come out in the UK until January 4th, the UK edition (Random House) is already out in English-language bookstores in Paris. For more information, visit http://www.hazelrowley.com/tete.htm and to purchase the book visit /parlerparis/books/byamericanauthors.html