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Simone de Beauvoir Letters to Françoise and Hélène de Beauvoir


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections


Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) was a French writer, philosopher, and feminist theorist known for her contributions to feminist existentialism and ethics, as well as for her novels and memoirs. She was born in Paris to Georges Bertrand de Beauvoir and Françoise de Beauvoir (née Brasseur). Her family of origin was Catholic and middle class, though they lost much of their wealth shortly after World War I. Beauvoir and her younger sister, Hélène (Henriette) de Beauvoir, were educated at a convent school, after which Simone completed a degree in philosophy at the Sorbonne and sat in on classes at the École Normale Supérieure. From 1929 to 1943, Beauvoir worked as a teacher at lycées in Marseilles, Rouen, and Paris, while traveling extensively. She participated in the French Resistance during World War II and became active in France's women's liberation movement in the 1970s. Her book Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex, 1949) is a canonical work of feminist literature. Beauvoir spent most of her adult life in a long-term open relationship with French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, and she had non-monogamous relationships with other men and women throughout her life. She wrote about her relationships and family structure frequently in her novels and memoirs, including L'Invitée (She Came to Stay, 1943) and Les Mandarins (The Mandarins, 1954). Beauvoir died in Paris 1986 and was survived by her companion, adopted daughter, and literary executor Sylvie Le Bon-de Beauvoir.

This collection consists of over 400 letters from writer, philosopher, and feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) to her mother, Françoise de Beauvoir (1887-1963), and sister, Hélène de Beauvoir (1910-2001), who was also known as Henriette, dating from October 1918 to December 1968. These letters contain extensive documentation of Beauvoir's personal life, travels, writings, and intellectual process. Roughly fifty of the letters were written from when Beauvoir was 10 to 19 years old and provide important documentation of her childhood and youth.

In total, there are 440 handwritten letters, 38 postcards, and two telegrams, as well as several handwriting practice sheets from Beauvoir's childhood. Correspondence sent to Beauvoir's mother comprises 315 letters (from one to ten pages in length), as well as postcards and telegrams, dated from October 1918 to September 20, 1957, many of which were sent during her travels and are often written on letterhead from breweries, restaurants, or hotels. These letters are rarely precisely dated, though several have been dated later by Françoise or Hélène. Some are also signed by Hélène, often under the pet name "Poupette." Correspondence sent to Beauvoir's sister, who was a painter, comprises 92 letters dated from November 1924 to December 1968 (mostly 1949-1966). Most of these letters are dated with red ink by Hélène, who added the name of places she stayed when she received them. Letters to Beauvoir's mother span from her childhood and early adulthood, her relationship with Elisabeth "Zaza" Lacoin, her teaching job in Marseille, life in Paris and participation in the French Resistance during WWII, through the peak of her writing career. She describes her life in much detail, including about trips, what she was reading, her relationships, and her progress in her writings. Over time, she begins to write more openly about her non-monogamous extended family structure (which she called her "petite famille") that included Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques-Laurent Bost, Olga Kosakiewicz, Bianca Bienenfeld, Natalie Sorokin, Michel and Louise Leiris, Raymond Aron, Alberto Giacometti, and others. Beauvoir's letters to her sister also discuss her friends and lovers, including Nelson Algren and Claude Lanzmann, as well as her travels, reading, and writing, but are more spontaneous in nature and provide additional anecdotes on her books such as Les Mandarins and Le Deuxième Sexe. The letters overall provide significant insights into Beauvoir's most famous published works, as well as her personal and professional life.

Materials are arranged in the order in which they were received. While letters are often not precisely dated, they appear to be in rough chronological order.

From Hélène (Henriette) de Beauvoir.

Purchased from Christie's Paris in 2020 (AM 2021-40).

This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in January 2021. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in January 2021.

No materials were removed from the collection during 2021 processing.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Author
Kelly Bolding
Finding Aid Date
Processing of this collection was sponsored by the Delafield Fund.
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to Special Collections Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form.

Collection Inventory

Handwriting Practice Sheets, circa 1914. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Letters to Françoise de Beauvoir, 1918-1930. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

68 letters.

Physical Description

1 folder

Letters to Françoise de Beauvoir, 1931-1939. 2 folders.
Scope and Contents

163 letters.

Physical Description

2 folders

Letters to Françoise de Beauvoir, 1940-1957. 2 folders.
Scope and Contents

128 letters.

Physical Description

2 folders

Letters to Hélène (Henriette) de Beauvoir, 1924-1968.
Scope and Contents

92 letters and one postcard from Hélène to her mother.

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