Simone de Beauvoir would have been a hundred year old in 2008, if she had lived that long. Her major contribution to non-fiction literature, “the second sex”, published in 1949, has nourished the feminist movements of the seventies, and is still a reference.
This anniversary was celebrated by two interesting documentaries on public cultural French television channels (“la 5” and “Arte”), and by literary press.
In this harmonious appropriate praise concert, the false note came from “le Nouvel Obs'”, which is not exactly a tabloid.
What? Scandalous she may have been in her writings as well as in her life, but she was never known as a play mate. So rose the first protest choir : How shameful it is to dig out this nude picture of a dignified writer and put it on first page, just to sell more copies !
Then, of course, the original photo came out, which started a righter contest : the real indecency was to use Photoshop to model her figure according to modern taste.
It seems that Simone de Beauvoir never asked for this picture to be taken, but was not really mad at Art Shay : he was a professional photographer, a friend of Simone’s american lover Nelson Algren, and she left the bathroom door opened.
I don’t know if it was appropriate to put this picture on a front page, but I think it was certainly not to modify it, for it’s a really good picture. For myself, I am glad that it came out. I think it makes her look really cool, just pushing up her hair looking in the mirror, feeling just comfortable to stand naked and not bothering to close the bathroom door. It reminds us that she was not only a solemn thinker, nor her life time companion Jean-Paul Sartre eternal “girl friday”: she had the unconventional way of life which matched exactly with the ideas expressed in her writings, and she never tried to hide it (which can’t be told of all male writers).
Shay’s beautiful portrait of Simone de Beauvoir in Chicago in 1952 is as accurate as the more conventional ones. To read his version of the facts, go to : http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites/culture/20080115.OBS5331/photo_de_simone_de_beauvoir__art_shay_raconte.html
To get an idea of the passion it rose, go to : http://www.rue89.com/2008/01/07/le-nu-de-beauvoir-excite-la-blogosphere
We’ll never know what she would have thought about this. “Much ado about nothing”, maybe?
And by the way, did you read “the second sex”? If you prefer the english version, go to : http://www.amazon.com/Second-Sex-Simone-Beauvoir/dp/0679724516