Joanna Biggs at the LRB:
But since April 1986, when Beauvoir died, the idea of her as a feminist heroine has faded. Her letters to Sartre, published four years later, showed her seducing her pupils and then passing them on to Sartre, in a bad modernist version of Les Liaisons dangereuses. She carried on a ten-year affair with the husband of one of her female lovers without the woman knowing. The publication of her letters to Nelson Algren in 1997 made the relationship she had with Sartre look passionless, as did the photo that emerged in 2008 of Beauvoir at 42, pinning her hair up in Algren’s bathroom wearing just a pair of heels. And her insistence that Sartre was the philosopher, not her – because she hadn’t invented a new system as he had done – looks too modest: he often took ideas from her novels, it now seems, not the other way round. The newest volume in the Illinois series of her uncollected writings shows Beauvoir at the beginning of her mythic pact with Sartre wavering between three men; the new memoir by Bair describes a cold, drunk, grumpy old woman; Kate Kirkpatrick’s biography uses the posthumous sources to show where Beauvoir was inconsistent, obfuscatory or even mendacious in her own accounts of herself.