The odd couple’s special relationship

From The Guardian:

A Dangerous Liaison by Carole Seymour-Jones.
Book It was Dostoevsky who first espoused the notion that if God is dead, everything is permissible. It became one of the founding tenets of existentialist philosophy, but until reading Carole Seymour-Jones’s excellent new biography of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, I hadn’t quite realised the diabolic glee with which this pair applied the belief to their daily lives. Having got the business of God out of the way with precocious ease before they hit puberty (for de Beauvoir, He ‘ceased to exist’ at secondary school; for Sartre, God ‘vanished without explanation’ when he was 12), they launched themselves into a vortex of depravity with all the alacrity of teenagers breaking a parental curfew.

For five decades, they pursued an open partnership that allowed them to engage in ‘contingent’ relationships with others. It was their radical answer to the outworn convention of marriage: in achieving total transparency with each other, they hoped to experience the true freedom of essential love. ‘To have such freedom, we had to suppress or overcome any possessiveness, any tendency to be jealous,’ said Sartre. ‘In other words, passion. To be free, you cannot be passionate.’ They hoped to devise new ways of living in a godless world, unrestricted by detested bourgeois institutions. But, in reality, Seymour-Jones demonstrates that their quest became a darker, more collusive joint enterprise through the 51 years of their partnership, with deeply unpleasant consequences for those who found themselves towed under by the viscous currents of the Sartrean ‘family’.

De Beauvoir became a glorified procuress, exploiting her profession as a teacher to seduce impressionable female pupils and then passing them on to Sartre, who had a taste for virgins. One of them, Olga Kosakiewicz, was so unbalanced by the experience that she started to self-harm. In 1938, the 30-year-old de Beauvoir seduced her student Bianca Bienenfeld. A few months later, Sartre slept with the 16-year-old Bianca in a hotel room, telling her that the chambermaid would be surprised as he had already taken another girl’s virginity the same day.

More here.

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