Ménage à Terrible…

Laura Smith, in the Guardian, romanticises the open relationship of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. She approvingly quotes the author of The Second Sex‘s claim that it was the “one undoubted success in my life” and concludes that “there are many ways to live and love”.

Somehow missing from the piece is the fact that Sartre and De Beauvoir were predatory creeps. As Louis Menand writes…

Their customary method was to adopt a very young woman as a protégée—to take her to movies and cafés, travel with her, help her with her education and career, support her financially…For Sartre and Beauvoir, the feeling that they were, in effect, sleeping with their own children must, as with most taboos, have juiced up the erotic fun.

Nice. So, what happened to these girls once the two existentialists tired of them? Menand writes, of one Bianca Lamblin…

Sartre and Beauvoir kept up the pretense that they were both in love with her until they had had enough, and then, prompted by Beauvoir, Sartre wrote a letter announcing the end of the affair.

Lamblin later wrote, after enduring periodic bouts of depression, that the two philosophers “did me only wrong”. Even as they were exploiting this poor protege, Sartre and De Beauvoir began an affair with a 17-year-old student, Nathalie Sorokine. Her parents complained and De Beauvoir had her teaching license revoked.

None of this should come as news to Ms Smith, for she quotes Menand. Somehow, exploiting young women, which feminists have often rightly condemned, becomes forgivable if it also flouted traditional mores.

Smith, idealising open relationships, writes that “the story where the woman wants just one guy for ever is easier to tell – especially when men are the ones telling it”. Few of us would benefit from having our romantic lives subjected to critique but if they are publically praised they can be publically deplored. Sartre and De Beauvoir proved that sexual libertinism can be a pretense for sexual exploitation.

About bsixsmith

I am a writer of stories and poems - published by Every Day Fiction, The London Journal of Fiction, 365 Tomorrows and Det Poetiske Bureau - and a columnist for Quillette, Areo and Bombs & Dollars.
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