Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) was a French writer, philosopher and activist who became a feminist icon. She is as well known for her fifty-year-long open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre as for her achievements. A brilliant student, in 1929 she became the youngest person ever to obtain the agrégation in philosophy; she came second only to Sartre, and the judges later admitted it was a close-run thing and that in their deliberations they did not focus exclusively on their performance. She wrote novels, monographs on philosophy, politics, and social issues, essays, travel books and biographies; she also wrote four volumes of autobiography: Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter; The Prime of Life; Force of Circumstance; and All Said and Done. Her book The Second Sex became one of the fundamental texts for feminists and she herself was active in France’s women’s liberation movement, famously signing the ‘Manifesto of the 343’ in 1971 which led directly to the legalisation of abortion in France.
Her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre began in 1929 and continued until his death in 1980: both of them having numerous other lovers, some shared, as well. Their relationship was based the primacy of their own relationship, on telling each other – mostly – everything, and on openness. It also had its darker aspects: they both lied to their other lovers, Sartre routinely, while accepting that lying to someone was the most effective means of making them imprison themselves; a number of their lovers were emotionally damaged, one to the point of suicide, and some, including Lacan, have argued that the damage was caused or aggravated by the nature of their relationships; de Beauvoir had what would today, as by the Vichy government, be regarded as inappropriate relationships with her students and then effectively procured them for Sartre.
Given her fame, her central position in post-war Parisian cultural life, her importance to feminism, the scandalised reaction both to existentialism and to her relationship with Sartre at the time, and the revelations contained in the posthumous publication of their correspondence it is somewhat surprising that she has appeared as a significant character in only a handful of movies.