Simone de Beauvoir: Biography & Books

Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

Writer, philosopher, and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir broke ground in every way. Read about her literary and political accomplishments, as well as her compelling life choices.


Simone de Beauvoir (full name Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir) was born in Paris, France, on January 9, 1908. From the beginning, de Beauvoir was seen as curious and outspoken. Her father encouraged her intellect as a child. Due to their financial struggles, she lost her dowry, and along with it, her chance at marrying well. The silver lining in this was that this allowed de Beauvoir to invest herself in studies rather than society.

Photograph of Simone de Beauvoir, 1968
Simone de Beauvoir

While in school, de Beauvoir made a best friend whom she called Zaza. De Beauvoir watched Zaza suffer from an unwanted arranged marriage, and was convinced that Zaza died from this suffering. It was Zaza's premature death that sparked de Beauvoir's outrage with female oppression. For the remainder of her career, de Beauvoir sought to use Zaza's heartbreaking story as a means of calling attention to the gender inequality among her society.

Between 1925 and 1927, de Beauvoir began pursuing a career in teaching philosophy. In 1929, she made the second highest score on the agrégation exam, an extremely competitive philosophy test. She was outscored only by Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the leading figures of the 20th century's French philosophy. Merely 21 years old at the time, de Beauvoir became the youngest person to ever pass the exam. While studying for this exam, she and Sartre developed a romantic relationship that would last for the remainder of their lives. Their relationship was frequently talked about among society, due to its open nature (as they were known to take outside lovers) and their combined intellect.

Photograph of Sartre and de Beauvoir
Sartre and de Beauvoir

In 1931, she began her teaching career, but it was rocky from the start. She was reprimanded and fired several times for her 'radical' teachings and inappropriate conduct with her students. In fact, she was said to have seduced several of her young female students. It was in 1943, when she was fired yet again, when she decided to turn to writing. Her work, both fiction and nonfiction, attained much critical success worldwide. It would come to find a permanent place in history, breaking societal norms and unearthing injustices. Later on in her life, de Beauvoir focused more and more on female empowerment. She even helped to launch the French Women's Liberation movement in the 1970s.

On April 14, 1986, in Paris, France, de Beauvoir died from pneumonia. She'd outlived her lover Sartre by only a few years. They now share a grave.

Photograph of the shared gravesite of Sartre and de Beavoir
Sartre and de Beauvoir gravesite


The novel L'Invitée (She Came to Stay) (1943) was de Beauvoir's first big break. Pulling from her own experience with a love triangle between herself, Sartre, and one of de Beauvoir's students, this novel revolves around a couple during World War II who open their relationship up to a third person. The affair evokes in the female character a search for personal freedom and identity. The themes of female anguish and self-doubt will carry into much of her critical texts later on in her career.

Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) (1949) was the text that solidified her position in society as a feminist leader, though she'd never considered herself a feminist per se, but rather a writer and philosopher. In The Second Sex, she calls to women to rise above their statuses. She analyzes how the patriarchal society has come to justify men's dominance over women. By normalizing women as weak in everyday life--in politics, religion, and society--they normalized the myth that women should be the inferior sex. Its English publication in the 1950s catapulted the feminist movement in America.

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