Read It and Weep: Margaret Atwood on the Intimidating, Haunting Intellect of Simone de Beauvoir

1960s: Days of Rage

“How exciting to learn that Simone de Beauvoir, grandmother of second-wave feminism, had written a novel that had never been published! In French it was called Les inséparables and was said by the journal Les libraires to be a story that ‘follows with emotion and clarity the passionate friendship between two rebellious young women.’ Of course I wanted to read it, but then I was asked to write an introduction to the English translation. My initial reaction was panic. This was a throwback: as a young person, I was terrified of Simone de Beauvoir. I went to university at the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s, when, among the black-turtleneck-wearing, heavily eyelinered cognoscenti—admittedly not numerous in the Toronto of those days—the French Existentialists were worshipped as minor gods. Camus, how revered! How eagerly we read his grim novels! Beckett, how adored! His plays, especially Waiting for…

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