When Simone de Beauvoir Wrote for France-Amérique

Between February 23 and June 29, 1947, Simone de Beauvoir wrote four original articles for France-Amérique during her first stay in the United States. She discussed the place of women’s writing in France, poetry in the Far West, and existentialism, attempting to present the concept to American readers.
Simone de Beauvoir at the Les Deux Magots café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, 1944. © Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho

Entitled “Problems in Women’s Writing” and “Women of Letters,” Simone de Beauvoir’s first two texts for France-Amérique highlighted the excessive timidity of French female writers of her generation, whose work, according to her, was too focused on the search for happiness and intimate subjects. Applauding the daring of feminist writer Violette Leduc, who tried to “deliver authentic sensuality” in her work Asphyxia, she insisted that women venture further to “express universal truths.”

Published in two parts on May 11 and 18, “Poetry and Truth of the Far West” is a literary report on California, “a land of legend that, as any land of legend, belongs to the past of all humanity and to its dreams.” She found the Hollywood studios to be sad and cold, preferring the vast open spaces of the Far West, which she compared to the legends and “the poetic image given to us by cowboy movies and memories of Buffalo Bill.” While visiting Death Valley, where Erich von Stroheim filmed his movie Greed, she was struck by the weight of history in the landscapes where past and present combine, and where the ghosts of Gold Rush pioneers appeared from behind motels and restaurants.

“It would be necessary to write an entire book,” wrote Beauvoir, unable to describe everything that fascinated her in California, such as the majestic Rockies, the old Spanish houses in Monterey on the Pacific Coast, and the “abalone shells sold for five cents in the harbor of San Francisco.”

Published after her return to France, “What is Existentialism?” answered numerous questions from French and American readers looking to understand existentialism “in brief.” “It imagines the value of an individual as the source and reason for being of all meanings and values, but it admits that an individual’s only reality is in their engagement with the world,” she wrote, after warning her readers about the popularization of philosophical and scientific theories.

Article published in the March 2020 issue of France-AmériqueSubscribe to the magazine.