Sartre, Simone & others - Part II - Poets & Storytellers
05-03-2019    69 times
Sartre Simone

Like other writers of the time, Simone personally did not take any part in the Resistance. Sartre's war record was equally doubtful. In 1940, when the Germans occupied Paris, Sartre started to preach resistance, but soon he lost interest and accepted the teaching post of a Jewish professor, who was forced to leave by the Nazis. However, ultimately he was captured by the Germans, but he became so much friendly with his guards that somehow he managed to arrange his release in 1941. However, he intimated Simone about his release after spending two weeks in Paris with another woman.

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Sartre never joined the French Communist Party, but he was one of France’s best-known communists and often spoke out in support of the USSR and its policies. In 1954, he visited the Soviet Union. However, after the invasion of Hungary by Soviet forces, Sartre denounced the Soviet intervention.

As the couple was free to move, the war proved one of the most exciting periods of their lives. They had a wonderful time and enjoyed themselves to the extreme, while writing in the pavement cafes of St Germain in Paris, with Picasso and his mistress at the next table, and going to nightclubs to have fun and frolic. During that time, they had at least five lovers between them, which include men and girls and all sleeping with each other. Probably they were expecting the Germans would remain in Paris for at least 20 years.

Sartre Simone

In the mean time, in 1943 Simone de Beauvoir was formally charged for debauching her pupil Natalie Sorokine in 1939. The parents of the girl also charged her for acting as procurer in handing their daughter over to Sartre and as a result Simone had her license to teach in France permanently revoked. Coincidentally, Sartre's weighty philosophical work ‘Being And Nothingness’ was also published that year. The book was the vociferate call of existentialism, that preaches there is no God and that man and woman are, therefore, free to do as they like. In the book Sartre infamously described the female sex organ as a voracious mouth, which devours the penis and gives the idea of castration - the sexual act is castration of a man but, above all, the female sex organ is a hole. The book was warmly taken up by liberals all over in the West, and yet it was practically ignored at first. However, according to Simone de Beauvoir, the author of ‘ The Second Sex’, sex with Sartre could be exhausting, waiting for him to climax.

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During that time, the handsome, tall, dark Algerian Albert Camus made his presence in the scene. He joined in most of the couple's sex games and slept with all their impressionable young girls. But, he could not bring himself to sleep with Simone, whom he found a chatterbox, an unbearable intellectual woman.

 As an Allied victory became inevitable, Sartre again began to present himself as a Resistance fighter and was lauded when he visited America in 1945. According to him,   the best way to learn about a country is to sleep with its women. Therefore, in New York he immediately chose Dolores Vanetti, a radio journalist, without any delay, within two days he was in her bed and was soon proposing marriage.

Hex Dolores Vanetti Ehrenreich
Dolores Vanetti Ehrenreich

This was a big blow for the highly sexed Simone, now teaching philosophy, constantly frustrated, despite the lovers she took. She fought back by sleeping with a succession of married men and depicting Sartre all about it in details. Yet, when Sartre finally returned to Paris, he ignored her completely. In her turn, Simone paid a visit of her own to America in 1947 and wrote her most important book, ‘The Second Sex’.

Sartre Simone

The Americans did not treat Simone, as they had treated Sartre. In fact, they disliked her drinking habit, mocked her clothes and hated the faint whiff of her body odour. Simone, on the other hand, disliked the American women who are ready to do everything they could do to please their men and the woman she really did not care for was her love rival Dolores Vanetti. As if to take revenge on Dolores and Sartre, she fell into bed with the Chicago writer Nelson Algren and immediately informed Sartre all about the man, who is a Bohemian, a leftist minded rebel and could match her drink for drink.

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Despite her frank confession, Simone earnestly longed for Sartre to insist on her immediate return to Paris. However, in his reply, Sartre told her not to come back, as Dolores had joined him. Sex starved Simone at that age of 39 had not had a lover for many months. Shocked and stunned by Sartre’s rejection, she now completely surrendered herself to Algren and for the first time in her life, she experienced a 'complete orgasm' and fell in love. Algren gifted Simone a cheap and most ordinary silver ring which she would wear for the rest of her life. But Algren was not prepared for Simone's fidelity to Sartre, which ultimately resulted in their separation. Her relationship with Algren lasted from 1947 to 1951 and after that she became involved with Claude Lanzmann, with whom she lived from 1952 to 1959.

Simone at the residence of Nelson Agren in Chicago 1950, on a hot summer day
Simone at the residence of Nelson Agren in Chicago 1950, on a hot summer day

Born in Paris in 1925, Claude Lanzmann comes from a Jewish immigrant family from Eastern Europe. At the onset of World War II, his family was directly affected by the Nazis’ racial policies in Vichy France. He joined a communist youth organization and then the French Resistance, fighting against the Nazi occupation. After the war, he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and went to West Germany to teach. There he was introduced to Sartre and at his instance, joined his radical journal ‘Les Temps moderns.’ Subsequently they became close friends and worked as Sartre’s secretary. Lanzmann was 26, when he met 44 years old Simone. While she was in American, Simone lived with him from 1952 to 1959.

Lanzmann, Simone & Sartre in Egypt
Lanzmann, Simone & Sartre in Egypt

Simone de Beauvoir wrote 112 love letters to Claude Lanzmann from Amsterdam, later published by ‘Le Monde’. The French feminist icon Simone’s mad passion for a lover, 18 years her junior, has been revealed in those letters, where she called him as her ‘darling child’, her ‘first absolute love’. The staunch feminist, who condemned marriage as an obscene institution that enslaved women, wrote to the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann in 1953 that, she would throw herself into his arms and will stay there forever. The letters also revealed that she was never sexually satisfied by her partner, Jean-Paul Sartre. Though Sartre had many other lovers and always kept a separate apartment, he could never satisfy her physically. But, she loved Sartre, because of the love he had for her, without any real intimacy and without ever giving to him from inside of herself.

In 1960, during the afterglow of the Cuban revolution, Sartre and Simone took a trip to Havana, which Sartre described as the honeymoon of the revolution. They were included in a group of leftist intellectuals who were invited to Cuba to attend cultural congresses. Fidel Castro wined and dined them during their month in Cuba. There they also met Che Guevara and talked for hours.

Simone, Sartre and Che Guevara in Cuba, 1960
Simone, Sartre and Che Guevara in Cuba, 1960

While walking through the streets of Old Havana, Sartre and Simone were moved and impressed to see a spontaneous public fund-raising campaign for a new consignment of arms. De Beauvoir was also bewitched by the sensual and fervent sight, where Young women stood selling fruit juice and snacks to raise money for the State. Later she wrote that, it was the first time in their lives, when they witnessed happiness that had been attained by violence. However, Sartre predicted that, it is a comforting sight, but it would not last forever. In fact, later that year in October, when Sartre and Simone returned to Cuba, they were somewhat disappointed, as they found the streets of Havana had little of the joy as the previous year. Ultimately, Beauvoir and Sartre, along with a bunch of other intellectual luminaries like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz, denounced Castro for the arrest of Cuban poet Herberto Padillo.

Simone was determined to always maintain the image of her professed model life intact. She never married and never had a child. She never shared a house with Sartre and though their sexual relations were more or less over by the end of 1950s, for much of their life and certainly at the last, they saw each other more or less regularly. However, in public, she and Jean-Paul was still an item. They were still the globetrotting celebrities, as they went everywhere in the world to support the latest popular cause.

Sartre with Arlette Elkaim
Sartre with Arlette Elkaim

However, Sartre shattered the world for Simone in a way she could never have imagined. The couple had never wanted children and it had been a part of their pact. Yet, in 1965 Sartre adopted a Jewish Algerian girl, Arlette Elkaim as his child. Sartre met her in 1956, when she was a 19 year old girl, studying philosophy. Gradually, she became closely attached to him, just like a member of the household and now she was adopted by him as his daughter. It was a big blow for Simone and it was the ultimate betrayal. It meant, she was no longer her mentor's executor in control of his posthumous reputation. However, that was not the end of the massive blow. On the brink of his death in 1980, Sartre was also flirting with Judaism and Simone was hurt and appalled, since to embrace God would have been to reverse their entire lives' work.

Sartre frequently drank until he collapsed. He was a chain smoker, followed by sleeping pills and red wine. Apart from that, for many years he had kept himself going with amphetamines, a hallucinogenic drug, for feeling high. These bad habits, which continued for a very long period, might have contributed to the deterioration of his health. He suffered from hypertension and became almost blind in 1973. In fact, he stopped writing in 1975 because of failing eyesight, leaving unfinished the last volume of a four-volume colossal biography of Flaubert. He also became a victim of diabetes and his mind occasionally unravels. Sometimes he reported on imaginary visitors or saw his cigarettes burning up in the gutter. Sometimes he looked gloomy and dejected with a strange fixed smile on his lips, a smile caused by a slight paralysis of the facial muscles due to a stroke.

Sartre breathed his last on 15 April 1980 in Paris from edema of the lung. After he died, Simone was left alone with his body in the hospital and she crawled under the sheet to spend one last night with him, at last she had him where she wanted him. And so she wrote her nihilistic epitaph for the tomb they would ultimately share, 'His death separates us, my death will not reunite us,' it read. They were never married, but Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were buried next to one another in the Cimetiére du Montparnasse in Paris.

Simone and Sartre's grave at the Cimetière du Montparnasse
Simone and Sartre's grave at the Cimetière du Montparnasse
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Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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