the inseparable

Image: João Nitsche


Commentary on a recently published unpublished book by Simone de Beauvoir

"If I have tears in my eyes tonight, is it because you died or is it because I'm alive?" Thus begins the unpublished book by Simone de Beauvoir, Les inséparables (The inseparables), first published in October 2020 in France by her adopted daughter, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, but redacted in 1954.

In this biographical novel, the philosopher goes back in time among us by narrating her long and deep friendship with Elisabeth Lecoin, “Zaza”, one of the encounters that most marked her youth. The context of the writing of the work is therefore very peculiar.

Written after more than twenty years of torment due to the premature, brutal and mysterious death of her brilliant friend in 1929, at the age of twenty-one, the thinker chooses, in 1954, to use fictional writing to say goodbye to her friend. She resorts, in a style that is her own and that permeates the whole of her work, the novel form, which mixes biographical elements, philosophical thought and social criticism.

Until then, the public knew Zaza's role in Simone Beauvoir's life thanks to her youth memories, which ended with her friend's brutal death. “Together we had fought a hostile fate, and I thought for a long time that I had paid the price of my freedom in her death” [1]. In light of the rediscovery of the novel published today, this ending takes on a fuller dimension.

In this sense, it constitutes a fabulous opportunity to rediscover the complexity of Beauvoir's thought, Simone de Beauvoir's own intellectual and personal trajectory as a feminist philosopher, as well as her process of appropriation and understanding of the issue of specific oppression of women in society. bourgeois, crossed by the crisis of liberalism at the beginning of the XNUMXth century.

Through the tragic fate of her friend, Simone de Beauvoir actually offers a portrait of the loss of meaning in women's lives in a society that prevents them from existing by and for themselves. Zaza, devoid of control over her own existence, thus appears as the opposite of the path taken by Simone.

While the latter progressively breaks away from her original social environment, gains financial independence and finds fulfillment in philosophy, Zaza finds herself increasingly trapped in a social and family universe of the French elite penetrated by the irrationalist and authoritarian thoughts of the 1920s, and within the which women constitute appendages, being only considered as transmitters of the family patrimony, house managers and representatives of their environment in meetings outside the home.

The encounter with herself becomes impossible for the friend, and will only come about in death. At the same time a real friend, a memory of the past and a literary character, Zaza becomes, therefore, in this work, a symbol of the psychic and physical suffocation of women by bourgeois society, crushing subjectivities to the point of suffocation which she will not survive, and which her philosopher will never stop fighting.

*Annabelle Bonnet holds a PhD in sociology from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the Graduate Program in Social Policy at the Federal University of Espírito Santo (PPGPS-UFES).



Simone deBeauvoir. Inseparable. Paris, L'Herne, 2020.


[1] Memoirs of a Well-Behaved Girl. New Frontier, Rio de Janeiro, 2017 (1958)


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