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Beauvoir and Sartre at fairground

Lessons on Rebellious Love With Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir


The couple explored many paths, schemes, taboos and traditions, until they found the right way of loving each other: they discovered how to “simply” be with the other.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir formed one of the strongest philosophical and emotional bonds of the twentieth century. Our culture tends to sacralize and search for idols where anomalies and irreconcilable differences lie; thus, despite all the biographies and the documentaries that narrate the nature of their relationship, the most palpable testimony of their romantic discipline can be found in the letters Witness to My Life: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone De Beauvoir, 1926-1939.

To call the pact that bound Sartre and De Beauvoir together for most of their lives “an open relationship” is to reduce and vulgarise what they had: it was above all a mutual agreement of respect and admiration, as well as a friendship that would resist the passing of time and would become stronger with all the vicissitudes. A “romance” in the ancient meaning of the term would also prove insufficient to describe their bond: their letters do not reveal the urgency of a seducing lover, but of a companion that presents himself in the most transparent form in the presence of the other, as if he was standing alone.

At the age of 24, Sartre wrote the following letter to Simone (who was around 21), after she refused to marry him:

My dear little girl

For a long time I’ve been wanting to write to you in the evening after one of those outings with friends that I will soon be describing in “A Defeat,” the kind when the world is ours. I wanted to bring you my conqueror’s joy and lay it at your feet, as they did in the Age of the Sun King. And then, tired out by all the shouting, I always simply went to bed. Today I’m doing it to feel the pleasure you don’t yet know, of turning abruptly from friendship to love, from strength to tenderness. Tonight I love you in a way that you have not known in me: I am neither worn down by travels nor wrapped up in the desire for your presence. I am mastering my love for you and turning it inwards as a constituent element of myself. This happens much more often than I admit to you, but seldom when I’m writing to you. Try to understand me: I love you while paying attention to external things. At Toulouse I simply loved you. Tonight I love you on a spring evening. I love you with the window open. You are mine, and things are mine, and my love alters the things around me and the things around me alter my love.

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