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Thirty-six years after Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir joins the Pléiade canon

STF/AFP | French writer Simone de Beauvoir in June 1970.

At long last, the works of feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir will join those of Jean-Paul Sartre in La Pléiade, 36 years after her philosopher companion first entered the French language’s most prestigious literature collection.

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The compendium of iconic leather-bound volumes, each etched in gold, highlights the most treasured of classics in the French language. It has been published by France's Gallimard publishing house since 1931, beginning with a tome of the complete works of Charles Baudelaire.

In the Beauvoir works released within the collection on Thursday, the publisher has chosen to spotlight her autobiographical chronicles, 32 years after the Paris-born author’s death at 78, in 1986. That editorial stance means two of Beauvoir’s best-known works do not feature: her 1949 feminist classic “The Second Sex” and her 1954 novel “The Mandarins”, which won the Goncourt Prize.

Jean-Louis Jeannelle and Eliane Lecarme-Tabone, who shepherded the project, explain that while the notion of chronicling her own life seemed, to Beauvoir herself, a digression at first, it became progressively essential to the direction her body of work would take as a whole.

The new Pléaïde tomes – two volumes of Beauvoir’s work that weigh in at 1,584 and 1,696 pages – do include five of the author’s memoirs: “Memoirs Of A Dutiful Daughter” (1958), a moving recollection of her childhood and adolescence, “The Prime Of Life” (1960) on her experience of the 1930s and Nazi occupation, “Force Of Circumstance” (1963) on her post-war years, “All Said And Done” (1972), and “Adieux: A Farewell To Sartre” (1981) on the final years of her existentialist partner’s life, published the year after Sartre’s death. The publishers also added “A Very Easy Death” (1964) to the collection, a work chronicling the passing of Beauvoir’s mother.

In these collected memoirs, Beauvoir can hardly be accused of embellishing the past. Also clearly in evidence in these assembled works is her strikingly modern tone, a style that was disparaged in her day for its alleged dryness.

In “Adieux”, looking back on her unique life with Sartre – a half-century together, never married, with lovers interspersed – she writes, “His death separates us. My death will not reunite us. That is how it is; it is already beautiful that our lives could be in harmony for so long.”

Now at least, the pair’s influential work will finally stand side-by-side in the Pléaide, their classics united in the canon.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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