In our effort to try to have a deeper understanding of an artist’s mind, we’re capable of looking at every detail of their lives to comprehend what made them such important figures. We analyze behaviors and dig into their past, hoping we’ll find something we can relate to, a fragment that connects us to that person we admire. But there are moments when it’s the creative’s opinion on how to navigate this world that we want. Literature allows us to search through that icon’s mind, teaching us more about life than about the artist.
The strange, and even revolutionary, relationship between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, has been quite researched over the years. They were life partners but never married. They kept an “open” relationship. It’s said that Simone was the one who established said agreement due to certain factors such as, but not limited to, her attraction to women (particularly young ones). But beyond her role as the mother of Existentialism, as referred to by The Guardian, this kind of ideas where part of the reasons why the headlines announcing her death read: “Women, you owe her everything!”
“What we have is an essential love; but it is a good idea for us also to experience contingent love affairs.” Sartre said when speaking of his partner. Though together, they weren’t constantly in each other’s lives. This caused a shocked public to try and investigate the reasoning, motivation, and consequences of this agreement to know if the agreement was simply an artistically exclusive sort of dynamic, or if there was another underlying situation.
Simone left Sartre during the 1940s and began an affair with Nelson Algren, an American writer. They were together for several years but they grew apart because he wanted a more stable relationship.
The following is part of a letter written by Beauvoir on September, 1950 on her way back to Paris. She expresses her love fully aware that this is the end. Not only does the test show us another side of the writer, but also serves as a life lesson.
I am better at dry sadness than at cold anger, for I remained dry eyed until now, as dry as smoked fish, but my heart is a kind of dirty soft custard inside.[…]
I am not sad. Rather stunned, very far away from myself, not really believing you are now so far, so far, you so near. I want to tell you only two things before leaving, and then I’ll not speak about it anymore, I promise. First, I hope so much, I want and need so much to see you again, some day. But, remember, please, I shall never more ask to see you —not from any pride since I have none with you, as you know, but our meeting will mean something only when you wish it. So, I’ll wait. When you’ll wish it, just tell. I shall not assume that you love me anew, not even that you have to sleep with me, and we have not to stay together such a long time —just as you feel, and when you feel. But know that I’ll always long for your asking me. No, I cannot think that I shall not see you again. I have lost your love and it was (it is) painful, but shall not lose you. Anyhow, you gave me so much, Nelson, what you gave me meant so much, that you could never take it back. And then your tenderness and friendship were so precious to me that I can still feel warm and happy and harshly grateful when I look at you inside me. I do hope this tenderness and friendship will never, never desert me. As for me, it is baffling to say so and I feel ashamed, but it is the only true truth: I just love as much as I did when I landed into your disappointed arms, that means with my whole self and all my dirty heart; I cannot do less. But that will not bother you, honey, and don’t make writing letters of any kind a duty, just write when you feel like it, knowing every time it will make me very happy.
Well, all words seem silly. You seem so near, so near, let me come near to you, too. And let me, as in the past times, let me be in my own heart forever.
Your own Simone
More than simply presenting a genuine love, Simone clearly knows the perfect words to end a relationship. The letter, though emotional, ensures that the recipient will remain calm and will feel a strange sort of hope in that the ball has been left in their court, letting them know they are the only ones that can decide if the game will continue or not.
By starting the letter speaking about herself, Simone winds up in a melancholic situation, assuring she is also shaken by the end of the relationship. She’s honest and unwaveringly accepts she feels different. But she also declares Nelson to be faraway yet close, providing a poetic twist before establishing the two facts that make create a desired “future.”
She never says the reason why she’d like to meet again. She simply establishes what she wants, that she wholeheartedly regrets what has happened, and places the decision in his hands. Her intelligence gets ahead of her own thoughts, as she is sure that he will not think he needs anything from her. It is at this moment when Simone comes clean about the fact that though the decision will be his, she wishes he will ask for her at some point.
Any other person upon realizing that they are at the end of a relationship could choose to forget ever seeing that person again, but Simone does not. She sees the beauty of what was and how it shaped her life. She ends with an absolutely poetic confession: she still loves him and hopes to continue reading his words, without him feeling obligated to write them.
Not only is Simone’s letter a glimpse into her mind and personal space; it also reminds us that all breakups are terrible or need to be. She teaches us that sometimes we must just accept that things end. Beyond the understanding of that concept is also that of acceptance. When a relationship has been transcendental, it has amazing moments that nobody can erase. They might be forgotten, but they have already become part of our history.
Not only does Simone keep a calm honesty, but she is completely open to Nelson and herself, while expressing her feelings. She loves him and deeply regrets what is happening, but understands it is a necessary process. Perhaps they will meet again someday, once the resentment and anger is past. Then they’ll see the relationship from the outside, as a beautiful memory.
The end is just another part. Why not turn it into something of beauty as well?
The letter creeps into our curiosity towards the writer’s feelings and lets us peek through the keyhole into the functionality of her relationship with Sartre. But Simone’s words show us a different side of not only her, but of humanity.