Simone De Beauvoir

1908 – 1986 • France

FeministAuthor • Philosopher

A major writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist from the 1940s to the 1980s.

In Paris in 2016, I was still walking round following dreamers and lovers. It was 30 years since Simone de Beauvoir died. Along with George Sand, she is probably close to the top in France (and with a world-wide reputation) when it comes to fighting for women’s rights – both politically and personally.

Simone de Beaouvoir lived in a first floor flat above the café brasserie at the centre of the Montparnasse art scene before the First World War


So I headed back to La Rotonde on the boulevard du Montparnasse. When I first had a drink there with the ghosts of Trotsky and Rivera I didn’t know that when they were there in August 1914, the six-year-old Simone was living above their heads in the posh flat where she was born. That didn’t last long. Her maternal grandfather, who had funded her wannabe-actor legal secretary dad (his Breton name including ‘de’ doesn’t mean he was an aristocrat), went bankrupt after World War 1.

In 1919 the family was forced to move to a sixth floor (ie servants’) flat) at 71 rue de Rennes, without (like most Parisian working class families at the time) running water. (It’s not like that today!!). From there she went first to the Catholic Cours Desir secondary school in the Rue Jacob and then to the Lycée Fénelon, the first girls’ lycée in Paris that had opened in 1893 in the Rue de l’Éperon. It’s just down the road from where my father’s partner for 30 years still lives (she’s over 94 and going strong).
Simone de Beauvoir became an atheist at 14, around the time a close friend died.

She passed her Bac exams in 1924 and became the ninth woman to get a degree at the Sorbonne University where, at 20, she first saw the 23-year-old Jean-Paul Sartre at philosophy lectures.

In 1928, still living at home, she completed the equivalent of a Masters dissertation on Leibniz under the supervision of the husband of the leading feminist, Cecile Brunschvicg.

Philosophy student Jean-Paul Sartre in his 20s

A year later, she had moved out to the Avenue Denfert-Rochereau. That same year, in 1929, De Beauvoir and Sartre met again at the Cité Universitaire (where I first lived in Paris in the Maison de la Tunisie in 1964), and that was it. For the rest of their lives they kept a close intimate and work relationship going. Over the years, De Beauvoir had many other lovers, men and women, while Sartre had many women lovers.

Simone De Beauvoir in 1945 at the end of the Second World War


From 1929 to 1943 de Beauvoir taught at various lycées to support herself. Her independence was crucial to her thought. In 1931 and 1932 she was allocated to Lycées outside Paris teaching first in Marseille and then in Rouen.

In 1936-37 she was back in Paris, teaching at the Lycée Molière in the wealthy 16th arrondissement while living in the royal Bretagne hotel in the Rue de la Gaîté. On mornings when she wasn’t teaching, she used to have breakfast at the Dôme, the haunt of many German refugees who read newspapers there and played chess.

At one point Sartre proposed marriage to her so that they could both be sent to the same region of France, but she rejected this idea. Her independence was not for sale.

In September 1937 both de Beauvoir and Sartre were assigned teaching posts in Paris, and they both rented rooms in the Hôtel Mistral in Rue Cels. They lived there until September 1939 when Sartre was called up. This was where de Beauvoir began to work on her first novel (L’Invitée, published in 1943, in English ‘She Came to Stay’). There is now a joint plaque to them outside the Hotel.

After Sartre was mobilised into the army, de Beauvoir moved to the Hotel Danemark in the Rue Vavin. From there she moved to the Hotel d’Abusson on the Rue Dauphine. When Simone was thrown out of teaching in 1943 after being subject to political and personal criticisms the pair moved into separate rooms in the even cheaper Hotel Louisiana in the Rue de Seine.

Strangely, though, given her huge reputation, I only found one individual plaque to her. There was no plaque at what is now an expensive restaurant with an average-priced brasserie attached, La Closerie des Lilas. This was where Sartre and de Beauvoir organised a ‘Socialism and Freedom’ meeting attended by 50 people in 1941 after Sartre returned from a prisoner of war camp.

From 1948 to 1955 De Beauvoir lived in a three-room flat in the Rue de la Bûcherie. She then moved to a first-floor flat in the Rue Victor-Schoelcher opposite the Montparnasse Cemetery with Claude Lanzmann.

A rare plaque in Paris to a leftist who opposed the Algerian War and was an inspiration to the world feminist movement

This was her final move. She lived there until until 1986, where a plaque recognises her presence.


De Beauvoir’s most important work, ‘The Second Sex‘, was published in 1949. Its central argument is that women are constructed as a subordinate ‘Other’ by men, but that they can choose freedom rather than accept this construction. She certainly did this.

After two hours walking I sat down at another cafe – not far from where the couple had shared much, and near the Montparnasse Cemetery were they now lie together.

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Rue Bonaparte

Arrondissement 6

Numbers 21, 28, 42 and La Hune Bookshop

The famous La Hune Bookshop after the fire and in the background Sartre’s doorway at 42 Rue Bonaparte

Paris is still changing, and sometimes by accident. Having a meal with Nicole (my father’s partner for over 25 years) in November 2017, we chatted about the big fire that had started near the Saint Germain church.

It turned out to be the cremation of the last mortal remains of the famous La Hune bookshop. This had been set up by former resistance fighters in 1949 and had been a centre of Parisian intellectual life for thirty years. It had closed two years earlier after relocating to the corner of the Place Saint-German and Rue Bonaparte in 2012.

Hazan (WTP) remembers it as one of the key left intellectual meetings places of the 1950s and as a street dominated by ‘realist’ art galleries in the 1960s. When we walked past it the day after the fire and smelt the sad pungent aroma of burnt books and wood, it looked as if the fashion shop with which it shared its premises had mysteriously been largely spared.

Across Rue Bonaparte was where Jean-Paul Sartre used to live in number 42 (third window below the balcony). He moved there to be with his mother after the death of her second husband in 1948, The editorial team of his philosophical journal, Temps modernes, used to meet in the flat.  Simone de Beauvoir, with whom he lived there for a while, Raymond Aron and Maurice Merleau-Ponty were among the many Left Bank intellectuals who made up its editorial board.  

Rue Bonaparte in January 1962 after an OAS plastic bomb exploded in the doorway outside Sartre’s house

Number 42 was the address where Sartre’s political support for Algerian independence was rewarded on January 7 1962 with the signature plastic bomb used by the OAS – the Organisation armée secrete – whose music I had first heard out with my father on the Champs Elysée celebrating New Years’ Eve just a week earlier. The traffic jam of cars blocking the street appeared nearly all to be honking ‘Algerie Française’ – da da da, daa, daa. A week later we were walking home when we heard the huge bang when the Rue Bonaparte bomb went off – targeted along with another 16 other addresses that night.

There were no injuries, but Sartre promptly moved out to the much more public Boulevard Raspail.

The 40-year-old French composer of Spanish origins, Francisco Salvador Daniel (1831-24 May 1871) was summarily shot in Rue Bonaparte

Further down the Rue Bonaparte, at the crossroad with Rue Jacob, another story did not end quite so happily. In 1871 the Commune defenders built a barricade between numbers 21 and 28 in Rue Bonaparte and from 29 to 32 in Rue Jacob. There, on May 24 1871 Francisco Salvador-Daniel, the musicologist son of a Jewish refugee from Spain, who had been defending the barricade was captured, and taken back to the barricade and shot by the Versaillais soldiers. He had taught the violin in Algeria and translated and adapted Arabic songs from North Africa for European musical instruments.

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Rue Cels

Arrondissement 14

Number 24

The street was named after the owner of the land just outside the walls of Paris to the South of the Montparnasse cemetery, Jacques Philippe Martin Cels, who was also a renowned horticulturalist. It was opened in 1850.

Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre rented two rooms at the Hotel Mistral at No. 24, and lived there from 1937 to 1939

One of Paris’ rare plaques remembering left-wingers has been put outside No. 24. This is the Hotel Mistral, where Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre rented two separate rooms from the autumn of 1937 until September 1939. They had agreed to keep their individual freedom.

The quotes on the plaque are: ‘I would be mistaken if I said we are as one. Between two individuals harmony is never certain, it must continuously be conquered’. Jean-Paul: ‘But there is one thing that doesn’t ever change, nor can it change. It is that whatever happens and whatever I become I will become it with you’.

After being released from his prisoner-of-war status in 1940, Sartre returned to the Hotel Mistral, where de Beauvoir also moved back to. In 1941 the first meeting of the intellectual resistance group, ‘Socialism and Freedom’ (Socialisme et Liberté), was held in Simone de Beauvoir’s room.

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Rue Clovis

Arrondissement 5

Number 23

In June 1848 Rue Clovis was the site of one of the dozens of workers’ barricades defending the national workshops that were attacked by troops

The Lycée Henri-IV  at No. 23 stands on the site of the  Abbaye-Sainte-Geneviève canteen, cellar and garden hut which, after the fall of Robespierre in 1794, became home to the  Panthéon Club. This was established on 17 November 1795 as a broad assembly of those who wished to carry forward the revolutionary spirit. Babeuf and Buonarroti were among those who took part.

On February 28 1796 the club was closed down by the authorities, with General Bonaparte personally supervising the operation. Babeuf and Buonarroti then pursued the struggle through less legal channels.

The Abbey became the Lycée Napoléon from 1804 to 1815 and again from 1848 to 1870. During the Commune it became a workshop for making uniforms for the National Guard that was defending Paris.

The Abbey finally took its present name in 1873. Among Henri-IV’s alumni are Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, André Gide, Léon Blum, Simone Weil, Baron Haussmann and Emmanuel Macron.

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Rue Delambre

Arrondissement 14

10, 11bis, 33, 35

Named after Jean-Baptiste Delambre, the French astronomist and mathematician who was director of the Paris Observatory, it was first built up on land sold off by Paris hospitals in 1839 and then given its current name in 1844.

In the 1920s, today’s Auberge de Venise at No. 10 used to be called the Dingo Bar. It was a favourite drinking haunt of many of the ‘Lost Generation’ of American writers, including Ernest Hemingway, who met Scott Fitzgerald there in 1925, and John Dos Passos.

On the other side of the street, the Rosebud at No 11bis was a bar Sartre was often at in 1937.

Simone de Beauvoir lived at the Hotel des Bains in the spring of 1937

The reason for Sartre’s presence was that Simone de Beauvoir lived for a few months at the hôtel des Bains at No. 33 in 1937.

Next door, in what was the hôtel des Écoles and is now the Delambre Hotel at No. 35, André Breton lived for a year from October 1920 after giving up his medical studies. There is even a rare leftist plaque on the wall remembering him.

A photograph of Rue Dalembre in 1920 showing the Hotel des Ecoles on the right. Little had changed in the street by 1937 when De Beauvoir moved in to the hotel next door.

Francis Bacon also stayed at this hotel in 1927, coincidentally the same place where Paul Gauguin (the grandson of Flora Tristan) lived in 1891.

The contemporary look of the adjacent Hotel des Bains and the Hotel des Ecoles (now Hotel Delambre) with memories of Simone de Beavuoir, Andre Breton, Paul Gauguin and Francis Bacon.

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Rue Montalembert

Arrondissement 7

Number 7

The swish Hotel Pont Royal occupies much of this short street opened in 1913 off the Rue de Bac leading to the Pont Royal. It was given this name in 1924, after a theoretician of liberal Catholicism, Charles de Montalembert (1810-1870).

In October 1944 this hotel was where Lucie Aubrac was lodged with her children while a delegate to the National Consultative Assembly, before moving to the Rue Marbeuf in January when her husband Raymond was abruptly fired from his job as Commissioner of Marseilles because of his pronounced left leanings.

From the 1930s the basement bar at the Hotel Pont-Royal was used by Gaston Gallimard (1881-1975), head of the Gallimard publishing house as a discrete meeting place with intellectuals and writers such as Hemingway, Malraux, Gide, de Beauvoir, Camus, Sagan, Sartre and many more in the 1930s and 1950s.

in 1928 Gallimard purchased the effectively adjacent 5, Rue Sébastien-Bottin (at the time 43 Rue de Beaune) as his new headquarters. As managing editor of La Nouvelle Revue française (NRF) from, 1911 to 1940, Gallimard gave Gide the literary editorship and was the first publisher of Malraux and Sartre.

In June 1940 Gallimard moved to the South of France trying to please the Germans by leaving a writer, Drieu la Rochelle, who espoused ‘Socialist Fascism’ as Editor of the NRF. Accused by the Germans of employing Jews and communists La Rochelle fired them.

The Gallimard press was accused of collaborationism during the Occupation and La Rochelle committed suicide in March 1945.

In 2011, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Gallimard publishing house, the section of the street Rue Sébastien-Bottin that included No 5 was renamed Rue Gaston-Gallimard.

Two minutes from the Hotel Pont Royal is the publishing house Gallimard, now in a street named after its founder

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Boulevard du Montparnasse

Arrondissements: 6, 14 and 15

Numbers 99, 102, 103, 108, 126, 132, 142, 159, 171

The terrace of Le Dôme reflects the Metro station and La Rotonde café on the uneven numbered side of the boulevard du Montparnasse

The boulevard du Montparnasse crosses three arrondissements. The odd numbers on the north side are all in the 6th; the even numbers from 2 to 66 are in the 15th; and from number 68 onwards the addresses are all in the 14th. It was named with reference to the Greek residence of the muses by 17th century students after a tiny hillock in the area.

One excellent source on the left in Paris, the website Parisrévolutionnaire suggests that both Lenin and Trotsky were at the Dôme in 1905. Hazan (IOP), however, insists the Dôme… should never have been allowed to call itself the café of Trotsky and Kertész.

What is certainly true is that in the early years of the 19th century, the Dôme at No 108 became a major intellectual centre, and attracted many left political and artistic people.

Pablo Picasso as well as Modigliani, Utrillo and Apollinaire all drank or ate at le Dôme (No. 108) and la Rotonde (No. 103). The owner of La Rotonde was denounced by Aragon on July 13 1923 for having been a police informer on Lenin before World War One. Other neighbouring well-frequented intellectual and artist cafes of the interwar years included la Coupole (No. 102-104) and le Select (No. 99) .

Simone De Beauvoir lived in a flat above the Rotonde for the first ten years of her life before the father’s family lost most of its wealth in World War 1.

Diego Rivera was also part of this leftish Montparnasse scene in the early 20th century.

Léon Blum moved to the group of artists studios and flats soon after it was built in 1908 at 126 boulevard Montparnasse.

Léon Blum saw himself primarily as a writer before 1914, moving into the artists’ block of flats and studios at No. 126 boulevard Montparnasse. Henri Matisse lived and worked at No. 132 in 1927.

From 1865 to 1866, after the publication of his first novel, Émile Zola lived in a room at No. 142.

In the 1920s Le Dôme became a meeting place for many English-language writers like Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Sylvia Beach. In 1924 John Dos Passos joined other American writers at No. 171 the La Closerie des Lilas bar.

La Closerie des Lilas used to be a cheapish outside bar with dancing visited by lots of poets, artists and philosophers from the first half of the 20th century is now a big pricey restaurant

At the eastern end of the Boulevard near the Port Royal, this famous restaurant is where in June 1941 Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre organised a clandestine ‘Socialism and Freedom’ meeting of about 50 intellectuals, including Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Yet in the face of increasing repression they did not do much more, and in September 1941 Sartre agreed to take the job of a secondary school teacher who had been fired for being Jewish.

Hemingway was also known to eat frequently in the years 1924-1926 at the Le Nègre de Toulouse restaurant at No 159.

Louis Aragon met Mayakovsky for the first time at the Coupole on November 5 1928. The Coupole was requisitioned between 1940 and 1944 for German-only events

Earlier, under the Second Empire that he satirised so brilliantly, Émile Zola lived at No 142 in 1865 to 1866.

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Rue de Seine

Arrondissement 6

Numbers: 16, 31, 60

The road was initially built on part of the moat around the city of Paris walls leading up to the River Seine, and briefly called the Rue du Sénat from 1867 until the fall of Napoleon III.

It’s well known partly because of the Jacques Prévert poem of the same name.

Maximillien Luce, the anarchist sympathiser and friend of Félix Fénéon, had a flat at No. 16 that he lived in when in Paris.

George Sand lived at No 31 in 1831, soon after she embraced republicanism

1830 was a life-changing time for many. George Sand lived at No. 31 in 1831.

De Beauvoir stayed until 1948 in the Lousiane, that became known in the 1950s and 1960s as a very cheap place to stay for American jazz musicians like  Oscar PetersonMiles DavisBud PowellMax RoachDizzy GillespieArt BlakeyBillie HolidayLester Young and Charlie Parker.

After she was excluded from earning a living by teaching in June 1943, Simone de Beauvoir moved with Sartre to live at the Hotel La Louisiane at no. 60. She lived in room 58, Sartre in room 10. They spent their days (when Sartre wasn’t teaching) at the Cafe de Flore.

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Sorbonne

Arrondissement 5

1, rue Victor Cousin 

The best-known Paris university was not just an added extra to the city. In many ways it and the growth of a complex of partly-religious partly-educational buildings actually created the city. Throughout the Middle Ages the Sorbonne and nearby religious institutions drew the sons of young wealthy people towards Paris from across Europe.

The university was the principal motor of the city’s growth before the Court years. It was founded by Robert de Sorbon in 1257. Richelieu ordered its rebuilding and had doubled its size by 1642.

For nearly eight centuries its students have included many of the most radical thinkers and activists – often ready to challenge the status quo that was more often than not represented by the university’s teachers.

Among the left students who passed through the Sorbonne were Lenin’s younger sister – a few years after he had been invited to lecture there on the Russian agrarian question. Lucie Aubrac, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre also studied there.

One exception to the dominant anti-radical teachers at the Sorbonne was Marc Bloch, who taught there from 1936 to 1940 when he was dismissed for being Jewish.

In May 1968 the Sorbonne was at the centre of the student demonstrations that had begun at Nanterre. Partly as a result it was divided in 1970 into several different institutions and several now include the word ‘Sorbonne’ in their titles.

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Rue d’Ulm

Arrondissement 5

Number: 45,

The Rue d’Ulm, going south from the Panthéon, was opened on January 6 1807. It was named after the crushing defeat of the Austrian army by Napoléon at the Battle of Ulm between October 15 and 20 1805.

It is largely known because since November 4 1847 it hosted France’s most prestigious higher education selective university, the École normale supérieure (ENS) at No. 45. This special institution was initiated by Napoléon on March 17 1808 when he created a ‘standard boarding school’ (Pensionnat normal) within Paris university to train arts and science teachers. The students had to follow military rules and wear uniforms and were chosen from those who performed best in the secondary schools.

Louis Pasteur‘s laboratory was based there from 1864 to 1888, and was where he discovered a vaccine for rabies. The photgraph above shows the ENS in 1905.

From 1888 to 1926 the socialist Lucien Herr was the director of the ENS general library, with one of the students he influenced being Léon Blum. Herr also convinced Jaures there in 1898 of the innocence of Captain Dreyfus.

Students who studied at ENS included Maurice Halbwachs (who died at Buchenwald), Marc Bloch (executed by the Gestapo on June 16 1944), Raymond Aron, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone Weil, Georges Pompidou, Aimé Césaire, and Alain Touraine.

Perhaps the ENS’ most well-known left resident was Louis Althusser. He entered the ENS in 1945. Having passed the final exams with the highest marks, he began to work there from 1948, living in a staff flat provided by the ENS. This was where in 1980 in a fit of manic depression Althusser strangled his partner of 54 years.

In the aftermath of 1968 the Maoist group, La Gauche Prolétarienne (The Proletarian Left), held regular meetings in the Cavaillès lecture theatre. Among their leaders was Benny Levy. On October 21 1970 they used the ENS building to make Molotov cocktails.

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Rue Vavin

Arrondissement 6

Numbers 10, 16-17, 21, 26, 45, 50

Built in 1831 on an old path called the ‘Passage de l’Ouest‘ and owned by Alexis Vavin, a lawyer who became a politician and moved from being a liberal in the 1840s to becoming a monarchist in 1849, the street now runs from the Luxembourg Gardens to cut across the Boulevard Raspail and end on the Boulevard du Montparnasse.

An architectural draughtsman, Eugène Chemalé (1838-?), a mutualist and supporter of Proudhon, lived at No. 10. He was elected to the Paris committee of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) established in France in January 1865. At its first 1866 congress held in Geneva, he successfully opposed giving the State authority to educate children, unless their father could not do it. In February 1868 he was arrested and fined for participating in an illegal organisation.

During the Bloody Week of May 1871 a barricade was built and defended for two days against the Versaillais troops between Nos. 16 and 17. On 23 May, when forced to reteat, the Communards blew up their stock of ammunition.

Living in the Hotel Danemark in an exceptionally cold winter in 1940-41 gave more heat than Simone de Beauvoir’s grandmother’s flat.

After Sartre was called up in October 1939, Simone de Beauvoir moved to the Denmark Hotel at No. 21. Along with many other Parisians she fled the city in June 1940 and, after spending July to September back in her grandmother’s flat in the Avenue Denfert-Rochereau, she returned to the Danemark there during the harsh winter of 1940-41 because it provided a little heat.

This 1941 photograph shows the original step-like 1926 building at No 26 Rue Vavin that was declared an Historical Monument in 1975. It was designed by Charles Sarasin and Henri Sauvage, the leading art nouveau and modernist architect..

One of the few Communards with extensive military experience, the Polish General Jaroslaw Dombrowski (1836-1871) who was mortally wounded on the Rue Myrha barricade on May 23, lived at No 45. He too was a member of the IWMA. He had been given command over the Commune’s defences on the right bank.

The American leftist feminist and journalist, Louise Bryant, who married John Reed in 1916, and covered the Russian Revolution and aftermath, died in No 50. on January 6 1936.

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Literature

Twenty 19th century French writers, including George Sand, Victor Hugo, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine and Émile Zola

Those referenced will include 20th century leftist writers (novelists, poets, song-writers, philosophers such as: Aimé Césaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Victor Serge, Ernest Hemingway, Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Brassens, Marc Bloch, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Andre Gorz, Daniel Bensaid, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Benoite Groult, Andre Malraux as well as many 19th century republicans and socialists such as Victor Hugo, Daniel Stern, George Sand, Flora Tristan, Alphonse de Lamartine, Emile Zola, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarme

Poems from the left