He was one of the most brilliant minds. She was his lifelong companion who pioneered feminism.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were perhaps the most influential couple of the 20th century.
Their legendary love pact – they never married but swore mutual devotion to each other with the freedom to have affairs – was an attempt to overthrow the stifling hypocrisy that, for so long, had dictated most people’s lives.
Serial seducers: Simone de Beauvoir and lover Jean-Paul Sartre, whose writing paved the way for our Godless permissive times, lived private lives of utter depravity
Always pushing new boundaries, they explored their thoughts in novels, plays and philosophical works.
It earned Sartre the world’s greatest literary accolade, the Nobel Prize.
Yet he refused to accept it because he thought it would make him an establishment figure and thus silence his inquiring mind.
Their private lives were wildly experimental. Simone de Beauvoir had affairs with both men and women, while Sartre, despite his stunted stature and ugly squint, was always surrounded by adoring muses happy to pamper his genius.
When he died in 1980, 50,000 people turned out on to the Paris streets.
But that was not the end of the story. For their influence continues to this day – often with disastrous consequences.
For this luminous pair, who were at the peak of their fame just after World War II, arguably legitimised the Godless and permissive society in which we now live.
On the other hand, de Beauvoir to her credit became an iconic figure for feminism and the battle for equality between the sexes.
Yet a fascinating new book paints this supposedly high-minded duo as serial seducers bent on their own gratification and as a couple who used their apparently lofty philosophy as a springboard to excuse their multiple liaisons, often with under-age teenagers who were broken by the experience.
And while Simone de Beauvoir preached her ideal of feminist independence and equality, eschewing such ‘bourgeois’ concepts as marriage and children, and claiming women should behave just like men, the truth is such a lifestyle made her bitterly unhappy and she became obsessively jealous over Sartre’s countless conquests.
Despite her high-flown rhetoric, it was only for revenge and out of frustration that she embarked on affairs, always secretly hoping they would provoke Sartre to return to her.
And, astonishingly, it was her craven desire to please him that led de Beauvoir to groom young female lovers for Sartre, commonly girls she had bedded herself.
In this sordid relationship of supposed equals, he was always one step ahead of her – though it didn’t start that way.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir bonded as soon as they met as students in Paris in 1929.
Simone had decided to qualify as a secondary school teacher, a calling only just available to women. She was one of the first women to take the exams at Paris’s Sorbonne university.
Sartre, three years older and driven by a hatred of his provincial stepfather, was a thief and a teenage tearaway, until he realised his brilliant school results made him a magnet to women.
At the Sorbonne, Sartre liked to shock his fellow students. At one dance, he turned up naked; at a university ball he paraded a hooker in a red dress.
But when he met the beautiful, young Simone he was entranced. She was as intelligent as any man, and, similarly disenchanted with her bourgeois family, she shared his fascination with the Paris underworld.
After their finals, in which he passed top, and she second, Sartre proposed marriage.
Simone refused – not for any philosophical reason but because she was sleeping with one of his best friends.
And so on October 1, 1929, Sartre suggested their famous pact: they would have a permanent ‘essential’ love.
They would sleep together and have affairs on the side which they must describe to each other in every intimate detail.
During the first years, Sartre embarked on the arrangement with gusto. He liked to sleep with virgins, after which he rapidly lost interest.
This left the highly sexed Simone, now teaching philosophy, constantly frustrated, despite the lovers she took.
It was when she developed a relationship with one of her young female pupils that the first of her love triangles with Sartre came about.
When Sartre had a breakdown after experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, Simone asked her new lover to nurse him.
But she was not prepared for the crippling jealousy she felt when Sartre tried to seduce not only the girl but her younger sister as well.
Simone’s reaction to Sartre’s faithlessness was to sleep with another of her pupils, and when Sartre retaliated by deflowering another virgin, Simone pinched her lover’s 21-year-old boyfriend.
If this couple expected their arrangement would spare them the trials and heartache of a conventional marriage, they were wrong.
Their multiple affairs went on until World War II when Sartre was called up and their sex games had to be conducted through letters.
Left behind in Paris, Simone continued to seduce both men and women, writing titillating descriptions of her activities to Sartre behind the Maginot Line, which reveal her heartlessness and the vulnerability of her conquests.
Today, she would be behind bars for her sexual activities with her young pupils, but in those days she got away with it.
Tragically, the lives of these girls, who were pathologically jealous of each other over their teacher’s attentions, were permanently blighted.
One took to self-harming, another committed suicide. Most remained pathetically unfulfilled and dependent on the childless Simone, who perversely referred to them as her ‘family’.
Yet Simone had no maternal feelings for them at all. She showed no empathy even when one of them, a Jewish girl whom she seduced when she was 16, nearly lost her life at the hands of the Nazis who were advancing on Paris.
Simone’s lack of scruples extended to her war record.
She took no part in the Resistance, like other writers of the time, concentrating on her sex life.
Indeed, the only thing that aroused her to action was the pregnancy of one of her entourage.
She found the condition of pregnancy ‘insulting’ because it was an impediment to woman’s self-fulfilment in the wider world, and Simone arranged an illegal backstreet abortion which nearly ended the girl’s life.
Sartre’s war record was equally dubious. Captured by the Germans, he got on so well with his guards that he managed to engineer his release in 1941.
But he did not rush straight into Simone’s arms. He had been in Paris with another woman for two weeks before he told her he was free.
In 1940, when the Germans occupied Paris, Sartre’s first reaction was to preach resistance, yet he soon lost interest and, instead, accepted the teaching post a Jewish professor had been forced to leave by the Nazis.
Sartre even fraternised with the German censor when he wanted his work published.
Since the couple were free to come and go as they pleased, the war proved one of the most exciting periods of their lives and the one which has gone down in history.
Writing in the pavement cafes of St Germain, with Picasso and his mistress at the next table, and going to nightclubs with the black-clad singer Juliette Greco, they enjoyed themselves to the hilt, fully expecting the Germans would remain in Paris for at least 20 years.
They now had at least five lovers between them – men and girls – all sleeping with each other.
It was too much for the mother of one pupil who brought an official complaint in 1943 against de Beauvoir, accusing her of corrupting a minor and acting as procurer in handing her daughter over to Sartre.
The charges failed to stick because de Beauvoir’s little ‘family’ closed ranks and lied.
And though Simone lost her teaching job, she compensated for it by publishing her first novel.
Born from her real life experiences, it was about a menage a trois. Sartre’s weighty philosophical tome Being And Nothingness was also published that year.
This was the rallying cry of existentialism, the creed that preaches there is no God and that man and woman are, therefore, free to do as they will.
It would become the bible of our licentious times, taken up by liberals everywhere in the West, and yet it was practically ignored at first.
Sartre drowned his sorrows at its lack of success with rampant womanising, this time in the company of the writer of the moment – the handsome, tall, dark Algerian Albert Camus, who joined in most of the couple’s sex games.
Camus slept with all their impressionable young girls, but he could not bring himself to sleep with Simone herself whom he found ‘a chatterbox, a blue stocking, unbearable’.
As an Allied victory became inevitable, Sartre began to paint himself once again as a Resistance fighter and, as such, was lionised when he visited America in 1945.
Sartre had always said the best way to learn about a country was to sleep with its women.
In New York he chose Dolores Vanetti, a radio journalist. Within two days he was in her bed and was soon proposing marriage.
Left behind in Europe, de Beauvoir fought back by sleeping with a succession of married men and telling Sartre all about it. Yet when he finally returned to Paris, he ignored her completely and moved in with his mother.
Simone threw herself into her work and, after a visit of her own to America in 1947, she wrote her most important book, The Second Sex.
The Americans did not take to Simone as they had to Sartre. They disliked her drinking, they mocked her clothes and they noticed her faint whiff of body odour.
She, in turn, disliked the bland faces of American women who did everything they could to please their men. The American woman she really did not care for was, of course, her love rival Dolores Vanetti.
And it was to take revenge on Dolores and Sartre that she fell into bed with the Chicago writer Nelson Algren.
The two had much in common, as she couldn’t wait to tell Sartre. Algren was a Bohemian, a rebel, a Leftwinger – and he could match her drink for drink.
As she committed such details to paper, she longed for Sartre to insist on her immediate return to Paris. But he told her not to come back – Dolores had joined him.
Stunned by his rejection, Simone abandoned herself to Algren. She was 39, she hadn’t had a lover for many months, and now, for the first time in her life, she experienced a ‘complete orgasm’ and fell in love.
Before she left America, Algren bought her a cheap silver ring which she would wear for the rest of her life.
But he was not prepared for Simone’s fidelity to Sartre. Though she professed in many letters that she loved Algren passionately, she would not leave Jean-Paul.
‘I am awfully greedy,’ she wrote. ‘I want everything from life, I want to be a woman and to be a man.’
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