Simone de Beauvoir: Background information when reading The Falconer

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The Falconer

by Dana Czapnik

The Falconer by Dana Czapnik X
The Falconer by Dana Czapnik
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2019, 288 pages

    Oct 2019, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Simone de Beauvoir

This article relates to The Falconer

Print Review

Lucy Adler, the teenage protagonist in The Falconer, is influenced by her older cousin, Violet, a painter and feminist who provides a model of independent womanhood (albeit an imperfect one). In one scene, Violet takes Lucy to a bookstore and buys her copies of French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir's seminal texts, The Ethics of Ambiguity and The Second Sex.

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris in 1908 and exhibited a brilliant and creative mind from an early age. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, becoming only the ninth woman to graduate from the college, which had only recently begun admitting women. She met Jean Paul Sartre there, and the two began their lifelong personal and professional collaboration. They were romantically involved for 51 years until Sartre's death, but never married. After graduation, de Beauvoir taught at the lycée (high school) level until 1939 when she began focusing on her writing full-time.

The Second SexThe Ethics of Ambiguity was published in 1947 and it is considered one of the fundamental texts of existentialism, a system of philosophical thought that stresses individual choice and human responsibility, and the primacy of free will over any sense of destiny or determinism. The problem, de Beauvoir asserts, lies in the outside world – the judgments of other people and societal strictures that try to contain an individual seeking to live an authentic life. Throughout the text, de Beauvoir engages with and criticizes German philosopher Friedrich Hegel's idea of the absolute spirit, a sort of undercurrent of lofty and transcendental feeling that can be tapped into through creativity, philosophy, and religion. De Beauvoir did not believe in any such vague generalities but argued that each person has their own belief systems and goals and must therefore carve out their own best practices of existence. Any sort of fulfillment is highly individual and could not possibly look the same for one person as it does for another.

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul SartreThe Second Sex, published in 1949, focuses specifically on the plight of women in a patriarchal society. De Beauvoir argues that women are treated as inferior because they are viewed as "Other" in relation to men rather than as full and autonomous people in their own right. She declares that woman is "the incidental, the inessential, as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other." The text is multi-faceted and explores gender and sexism from many perspectives, including biological, literary, historical, and psychological, but it is perhaps most famous for de Beauvoir's assertion that gender expression is the result of socialization, not inborn characteristics. "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman," she writes. The Second Sex was, unsurprisingly, very controversial, earning a spot on the Vatican's list of banned books.

Simone de Beauvoir wrote prodigiously all her life and published dozens of books, including philosophy, fiction, and memoir. She played an active role in the women's liberation movement in France in the 1970s and 80s and edited a collection of Sartre's letters after his death in 1980. De Beauvoir died of pneumonia in Paris in 1986.

Simone De Beauvoir in 1967

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Lisa Butts

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Falconer. It originally ran in February 2019 and has been updated for the October 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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