It is my pleasure to take this opportunity to honor the monumental work of research and publication that the Beauvoir Series represents, which was undertaken and brought to fruition by Margaret A. Simons and the ensemble of her team. These volumes of Simone de Beauvoir’s writings, concerning literature as well as philosophy and feminism, stretch from 1926 to 1986, that is to say throughout almost her entire life. Some of them have been published before, and are known, but remain dispersed throughout time and space, in diverse editions, diverse newspapers, or reviews. Others were read during conferences or radio programs and then lost from view. Some had been left completely unpublished. What gives them force and meaning is precisely having them gathered together, closely, as a whole. Nothing of the sort has yet been realized, except, on a much smaller scale, Les écrits de Simone de Beauvoir (The writings of Simone de Beauvoir), published in France in 1979. Here, the aim is an exhaustive corpus, as much as that is possible.
Because they cover more than 50 years, these volumes faithfully reflect the thoughts of their author, the early manifestation and permanence of certain of her preoccupations as a writer and philosopher, as a woman and feminist. What will be immediately striking, I think, is their extraordinary coherence. (p.xii) Obviously, from this point of view, Les cahiers de jeunesse (Diaries of a Philosophy Student), previously unpublished, constitute the star document. The very young eighteen-, nineteen-, twenty-year-old Simone de Beauvoir who writes them is clearly already the future great Simone de Beauvoir, author of L’invitée‚ (She Came to Stay), Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté (The Ethics of Ambiguity), Le deuxième sexe (The Second Sex), Les Mandarins (The Mandarins), and Mémoires (Memoirs). Not only is her vocation as a writer energetically affirmed in these diaries, but one also discovers in them the roots of her later reflections. It is particularly touching to see the birth, often with hesitations, doubt, and anguish, of the fundamental choices of thought and existence that would have such an impact on so many future readers, women and men. Torments, doubt, and anguish are expressed, but also exultation and confidence in her strength and in the future—the foresight of certain passages is impressive. Take the one from June 25, 1929, for example: “Strange certitude that these riches will be welcomed, that some words will be said and heard, that this life will be a fountain-head from which many others will draw. Certitude of a vocation.”
These precious Cahiers will cut short the unproductive and recurrent debate about the “influence” that Sartre supposedly had on Simone de Beauvoir, since they incontestably reveal to us Simone de Beauvoir before Sartre. Thus, their relationship will take on its true sense, and one will understand to what point Simone de Beauvoir was even more herself when she agreed with some of Sartre’s themes, because all those lonely years of apprenticeship and training were leading her to a definite path and not just any path. Therefore, it is not a matter of influence, but an encounter in the strong sense of the term. They each recognized themselves in the other because each one already existed independently and intensely. One can all the better discern the originality of Simone de Beauvoir in her ethical preoccupations, her own conception of concrete freedom, and her dramatic consciousness of the essential role of the Other, for example, because they are prefigured in the feverish meditations, pen in hand, which occupied her youth. Les cahiers constitute a priceless testimony.
I conclude by thanking Margaret A. Simons and her team again for their magnificent series, which constitutes an irreplaceable contribution to the study and the true understanding of the thoughts and works of Simone de Beauvoir.